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Local teachers meet 'highly qualified' criteria

More than 95 percent of core classes at Jackson County public schools last school year were taught by highly qualified teachers, exceeding the state average, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Education.

Statewide, 94 percent of public school core classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, according to the federal definition. That's an increase from 92 percent last year.

Highly qualified means a teacher is endorsed either through an exam or coursework in the core subject that they're teaching and is different from their state teacher certification. Teachers are expected to be highly qualified in math, science, English, social studies, the arts and foreign languages.

Medford Opportunity High School, Rogue River High School and Crater High School's four "small schools" had the most gaps in highly qualified faculty in multiple subject areas.

About 40 percent of core classes weren't taught by highly qualified teachers at Medford Opportunity, followed by Rogue River with 31 percent.

Officials from Medford Opportunity — which is an alternative high school in the Medford district — and Rogue River said they have already taken steps to remedy the problem, which usually involves the teacher passing a subject area test or completing coursework in the subject they are or want to teach. A Central Point School District official could not immediately be reached to discuss Crater's teaching staff.

Doug Jantzi, Medford schools secondary education director, said it's a difficult task in a small alternative school such as Medford Opportunity, which has slightlyt more than 200 students. For all classes to be taught by highly qualified teachers would require individual teachers to be endorsed in multiple content areas.

"What we would love to have is people who are multiply endorsed, but that's not always the case," Jantzi said.

Harry Vanikiotis, Rogue River schools superintendent, said the trickiest part of meeting the requirement is that state and federal standards differ. The state allows teachers to teach subjects outside of their certification area, whereas the federal government expects teachers to be certified in every area they teach.

The following secondary schools had 100 percent of their core classes taught by highly qualified teachers: Eagle Point High School, Phoenix High School, Armadillo Technical Institute, Ashland Middle School, White Mountain Middle School in White City, Eagle Point Middle School, Hedrick Middle School and Talent Middle School.

Nearly all of the county public elementary schools also had all highly qualified teachers in core classes. The exceptions were Rogue River's Evans Valley Elementary and Ashland's Bellview Elementary, both of which had just one class each taught by a teacher not designated as highly qualified.

Math classes last year continued to be the primary subject where Jackson County schools had difficulty staffing classes with highly qualified teachers.

Ten math classes last year lacked a highly qualified teacher at Rogue River High School, along with five at Ashland High School, five at South Medford High School, four at Medford Opportunity High School and one each at North Medford High School, Medford's McLoughlin Middle School, Central Point's Crater School of Business, Innovation & Science; Prospect School and Butte Falls Secondary School.

There was a huge math teacher influx in the '60s and '70s because of the space race with the former Soviet Union, said Donnie Frazier, South Medford assistant principal.

"Many teachers went on to teach 30 years, and all retired at once," Frazier said. "With the technology boom and the information age, math brains often go into fields like technology and engineering. It's been challenging nationally to find math and science teachers. A lot of the ones we've found have gone into teaching as second careers."

The deadline to have 100 percent of core classes under the instruction of a highly qualified teacher was the end of the 2006-07 school year. If a district failed to meet the requirement for two consecutive years, it is required to develop what is called a Continuous Improvement Plan, said ODE spokesman Jake Weigler. The plan spells out how they will comply with the requirement. Weigler said there are no other sanctions associated with failing to meet the requirement.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.