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New Medford superintendent restructuring administration

Many parts are moving across the Medford School District, and the faces of those in senior positions are changing with them.

Michelle Cummings, who for more than four years worked as the Medford School District’s chief academic officer, confirmed from her new home in Manhattan that her chapter as a Rogue Valley educator closed in December.

She’s now vice president of content for Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace where educators nationwide can buy and sell curriculum they’ve created.

“It’s just an extraordinary opportunity,” Cummings said, adding that moving closer to family was another incentive. “I ... have so much respect and love for the educators I’ve been able to work with, and the idea of being able to help teachers and students regardless of their ZIP codes is really exciting to me.”

Cummings’ departure wasn’t the first or last among high-level administrators in Medford in the past year. But the handful of resignations and retirements come as even broader change is unfolding across Medford’s administrative landscape.

Superintendent Bret Champion said he began reimagining the organization of the district’s administrative positions shortly after his July 2019 arrival in Medford. He used the feedback he gathered while creating his entry plan as well as research to decide what positions to create and change.

“It’s just a matter of, what makes sense,” he said. “How do we organize this in a way that supports those things in the center best?”

That center, he said, is students and teachers.

The Medford School Board will at some point need to approve the changes to the structure, but for now, Champion said the system still is in flux, with some positions open and others subject to change.

Because of that, Champion said, he doesn’t yet know the exact budget impact of the changes, but said he thought it would ultimately bump up the district’s overall personnel spending.

The new structure organizes positions into specific but interconnected “buckets,” Champion said. People make up one bucket. District resources, including finances and facilities, make up another. Programs fall into a third, he said.

“I said to myself, ‘What if we were to arrange it some way around that?’” he said. “That’s (how) we ended up where we are.”

The top two positions under the superintendent now reflect that change. Brad Earl, formerly the chief operations officer, is now assistant superintendent for operations.

Debbie Simons, formerly the director of human relations, is now the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Much of what’s now grouped as teaching and learning was once overseen by Cummings and an elementary and a secondary student achievement director. Kevin Campbell left his position as Medford’s secondary student achievement position in 2019 for an equivalent position in Eagle Point School District.

Rather than hire a replacement for Campbell, district leadership went in a new direction. Three directors of teaching and learning will serve as middle managers, embedded in the schools they’re assigned to and providing particular support and supervision to principals.

“They’re district office folks, but they’re not sitting tied to their phone,” Champion said. “Because they’re actually out on the campuses, they’re in classrooms — they’re working as if they’re second principals, to some degree.”

All three of those positions are open.

Troy Pomeroy, president of the Medford Education Association, said teachers he’s spoken with feel good about the changes proposed.

“We’re actually optimistic,” he said. “We think (Champion is) being very intentional about the restructure.”

Pomeroy pointed to another aspect of the reorganization, which separates the area of special education from student services.

The director of special education now reports to Simons, while a new student wellness official reports to Jeanne Grazioli, executive director of teaching and learning.

Pomeroy and Champion both said the change clarifies the difference between the two areas of support. While special education services are for students who require individualized education plans, other students who don’t qualify for special education services can receive behavioral support to help deal with other issues besides a disability.

“Pulling those things apart generated this idea of student wellness on one hand and special education on the other,” Champion said.

Tania Tong, formerly the district’s director of special education and student services, resigned in January, citing personal reasons, according to Champion. Following her departure, Michele Cleveland was hired as interim director of special education while the district looks for a permanent hire.

Multiple phone calls to Tong were not returned.

Even as the district faces a slew of changes, from relocating schools and drawing new attendance zone lines to applying for grant funding through the Student Success Act, Champion said the structure will help keep students at the focus.

“We sometimes think that once it’s adopted, it’s going to be like this for life, and it’s not,” he said. “The reality is, we need to adapt to what the needs of the students are at the center of all our work. And if we need to do that, we’ll do it.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Debbie Simons, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Medford School District
Bret Champion