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School Board OKs training conference

Classes at Medford's secondary schools will be canceled for two days this January, following a school board decision to allow staff members to attend a training conference.

The board Monday voted 5-1 in favor of allowing staff to attend the Professional Learning Communities Conference, scheduled Jan. 12-13 at Central Medford High School.

"This will be a P.R. nightmare," said board member Kim Wallan, who voted against the conference. Wallan said that if the training was vital for staff, they would have known about it sooner and worked it into the school calendar in advance.

"I am very frustrated by the fact that we are being asked to let school out for two days at the end of November," she said.

Teachers and principals from all five secondary schools spoke during Monday's meeting, championing the benefits of the training and urging the board to approve their request.

"The stakes have never been higher for our kids," said Sean Warren, a North Medford High School social studies teacher. "We've got to be able to work together in a way that goes across the district."

The PLC Conference, led by educators Richard and Rebecca DuFour, is aimed at training staff to work as cohesive teams to improve school achievement and student learning.

Many of the principals who spoke said their schools already operated with PLC strategies in mind, but said the conference would be useful so that all staff are on the same page.

"My staff has been begging me for this training for several years," said McLoughlin Middle School Principal Amy Tiger.

Some of Tiger's staff received PLC training years ago, which she said they still use today.

"We have great challenges before us," said Tiger. "And we have fewer and fewer resources."

The conference will cost the district $75,000 and be available for roughly 250 employees.

Superintendant Phil Long is in favor of the conference and said it would help the district work toward the four goals set by the school board previously this year.

The four goals are to focus on increasing communication within the district and community, eliminating the achievement gap between traditional students and those learning English or in special education, increasing the high school graduation rate, and extending student learning beyond proficiency.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity," Long said. "We have been looking for strategies that give us sustainable results."

Members of the Oregon School Employees Association — the union representing classified staff — spoke at Monday's meeting requesting that the board not approve the conference.

"Why is additional training needed at this time?" asked OSEA President Lyndy Overacker.

Classified employees will still be required to work on Jan. 12 and 13 under the terms of their contract.

Long said classified staff could offer extra help in elementary schools during the conference or catch up on clerical work.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email tristow@mailtribune.com.