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Medford teachers expect recent training to pay off

Teachers at Medford's five secondary schools hope that canceling classes for a two-day training conference last week will be worth the reward in the coming years.

On Thursday and Friday, roughly 250 teachers and administrators attended the Professional Learning Communities conference taught by Chicago-area educators Richard and Rebecca DuFour.

"I think it's going to help us better direct our teaching," said Vanessa Campbell, a Hedrick Middle School special education teacher.

Campbell explained that the PLC training encourages teachers to work in teams, alongside other school or district staff members with similar jobs.

For example, third-grade teachers would collaborate with other third-grade teachers, or special education teachers such as Campbell would be encouraged to team up with other special education instructors.

"It helps everyone review their practices," said Campbell, while taking a break from the conference with fellow special education teacher Dana Pabst.

"We're going to be able to come together with other special education teachers in the district," said Pabst.

A portion of the district's staff already had received PLC training in the past, and several schools tried to operate on the PLC principle of working together in cohesive teams.

The Medford School Board voted in November to allow staff to attend the training, costing the district $75,000.

"I think there is going to be a renewed commitment," said North Medford teacher Steve Lorenz. "Everyone in the district hearing the same message is very valuable.

"It sets the stage for a common culture," said Lorenz, who teaches English and history and is a volleyball coach.

"The team concept is not a hard sell for us," said Lorenz, who spent his morning break from the conference talking with South Medford volleyball coach Adam Wagman.

"Sometimes you have to give up a little practice-field time," said Wagman, who can understand giving up two classroom instruction days for the conference because of its potential long-term benefits.

Wagman said PLC training was given to some South Medford staff years ago, and the school was already operating using learning communities.

"Today is about getting everybody on the same page," said Wagman, who teaches special education. "It feels familiar to us, but it's a nice refresher."

Both Wagman and Lorenz said the conference has the potential to change teaching in the district, but whether the impact will last could depend on how administrators implement the knowledge.

"There may not be as big of an impact this year since we are already halfway through the year, but next year there could be significant changes," said Lorenz, who hopes schools are able to align class schedules and give same-subject or same-grade teachers a chance to meet with each other.

"Teaming can be very time intensive," said Lorenz.

While the conference took place, Medford secondary students were forced to take two days off school, a move that upset some classified employees in the district, who still worked as part of their contract but did not participate in the conference.

At least three community organizations offered activities for students in lieu of school, though none reported large numbers of students attending.

Rogue Valley Family YMCA offered extra activities both days of the conference and brought in extra staff, but no more teens than usual dropped in, said YMCA director Brad Russell.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long said the conference ran smoothly, and he holds high expectations for the future.

"It's great to have all of our secondary school teachers learning stuff together to impact how we serve kids," said Long. "It's going to be evident why this is such an important investment for our district."