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Some in Medford call for parent-teacher meetings

A year after Medford parents said goodbye to yearly sit-down conferences with teachers, some believe it's time to bring the meetings back.

The last two-year contract between the teachers' union and the district cut eight noninstructional days and led to the elimination of parent-teacher conferences for at least two years.

"Parents are a little frustrated," said Heidi Gantz, a sixth-grade teacher at Lone Pine Elementary.

Gantz said that since the conferences ended, she feels less connected with parents, and most teachers at her school would agree that the conferences need to be reinstated.

"We need that parent support," said Gantz.

Local education advocacy group Stand for Children is circulating a petition this month and plans to ask the Medford School Board, district administrators and the teachers' union to consider reinstating parent-teacher conferences when they begin discussing the budget next month, and when teachers begin negotiating a new contract in January.

The days were cut as a result of an $11 million budget shortfall last year, and the cuts will continue through at least this school year.

Parents and teachers were expected to keep in touch on their own, without set days for conferences, which usually took place during Thanksgiving week each year.

"It's difficult to know how your child is doing," said Karen Starchvick, a parent and the chapter chairwoman of Stand for Children.

Many working parents — in both single-parent homes and families where both parents work — don't have extra time to talk with teachers outside of the conferences, she said.

"There's been a trend with parents not being as involved in schools," said Gantz, who was one of the first to sign the petition. "People are so busy, and the times are really hard."

Starchvick said Stand for Children wants teachers to know they aren't upset that the conferences were cut through negotiations, and the organization realizes cuts had to happen.

"We understand that difficult choices were made," said Starchvick.

Stand for Children approached the Medford School Board over the summer to express its desire for the conferences to return and were happy to hear that the board was in support of reinstating the meetings, if possible, Starchvick said.

"I certainly would support bringing the conferences back," said board member Sally Killen. "When you're dealing with a teacher, a parent and child, it's good to have everyone there at the same time."

Killen, a retired Medford teacher, said the district plans to begin bargaining with the teachers' union in January, though the process could last for months.

Starchvick said support for the petition is strong. It was rapidly shared on Facebook when it was released earlier this month.

The group hopes to present the petition to the board and district administration in November.

The petition can be signed online at www.stand.org/oregon, and will be available at Stand for Children's annual education summit Saturday, Oct. 27, at Jackson Elementary School in Medford.

The summit will address how the state is working to reform education and provide an opportunity to educate parents and the community about changes in local school districts.

The summit will include workshops with a state education policy adviser and with Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long and School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas.

The summit takes place from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Jackson Elementary, 713 Summit Ave., Medford.

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