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Parent-teacher conferences can wait a year

The Medford School Board's decision not to revive parent-teacher conferences this school year was regrettable, but under the circumstances it was the right decision.

The 20- to 30-minute sessions with parents and teachers were a fixture of the school calendar for years, but in 2011, the district eliminated the three days devoted to the conferences as a cost-cutting measure. This year, district officials surveyed parents and teachers, and found 92 percent and 90 percent, respectively, were in favor of reinstating the conferences.

Parents appreciate the opportunity to discuss their children's academic progress, and teachers like the chance to connect with parents, some of whom they never meet otherwise.

In the abstract, the conferences are a positive part of the school year, and they should be reinstated when it makes sense to do so. There are some very good reasons not to try to accomplish that this year, however.

Barely six months ago, the district was rocked by a divisive teachers strike. A new contract was signed only recently. Parent-teacher conferences are a contractual issue, and reinstating them would mean reopening the contract for that purpose. School Board members are understandable reluctant to do that so soon after settling a strike and only weeks before a new school year begins.

The conferences also mean reducing the time students spend in class. Even though the state considers parent-teach conferences to be instructional time, district officials don't want to reduce classroom time any further.

Finally, a newly hired superintendent is still getting familiar with the district and its personnel. Brian Shumate says he wants to stick to the calendar the board approved and revisit the issue next year under the guidance of a calendar committee that would evaluate how the contracted teacher days are used for instruction, professional development and parent-teacher conferences.

Those are all solid reasons to stay with the calendar that has been adopted for this year. Meanwhile, parents who want feedback from their children's teachers should reach out and make contact. A formal half-hour session may not be possible for the parents of every child, but that doesn't prevent communication entirely.