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Schools going full steam ahead as reopening looms

About half of the educators in the Medford School District had received the first dose of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, and roughly 300 of its 14,000 students had requested a transfer to Medford Online Academy, according to Superintendent Bret Champion.

The district is less than three weeks away from a planned Feb. 22 reopening that will be rolled out in stages, and with that deadline approaching Champion said administrators are busy working out a laundry list of details, from training staff for state-mandated screening procedures required at every site to determining staffing requirements at each site.

Accomplishing the latter was particularly difficult before Friday, because that was the deadline for families to decide whether their students will attend their neighborhood school or opt instead for MOA. Close to 600 students signed up for MOA, the district’s first-year online-only school, at the start of the school year, so the 300 transfers represents a significant jump in head count.

Even before the final number was known, however, administrators were mapping out possible staffing solutions.

“We are starting all the machinations,” Champion said, “because it’s clear we are going to have several hundred students move to Medford Online Academy. It does look like it’s ... pretty evenly split between elementary and secondary who are interested in moving, and so the good news on that is there will be opportunities for teachers from a variety of grade levels and subject areas. For some of those teachers who need to move over to Medford Online Academy, they should be able to do so.”

The district’s addition of MOA could prove fortuitous because it’s the natural landing spot for teachers who don’t feel comfortable returning to classrooms during the pandemic. Not that there are too many of those.

According to Champion, about 90% of the 600 teachers surveyed are planning to return to school buildings when the district reopens.

Once the final numbers per school are locked in, the district will have a much better idea of staffing requirements at each site — MSD is composed of 13 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools. As of Wednesday, Champion said, the district was looking at roughly one teacher per grade level at each site, but those numbers could change.

Staffing secondary school is much more complicated because students have several teachers throughout a school day.

“So those case loads — or the number of students per class — are higher because they’re subject-area specialists, and so they see a high number of kids during the day,” Champion said. “So right now I don’t know at the secondary level exactly what that looks like because doing the math isn’t as easy — it depends on how many biology teachers we already have at Medford Online Academy and does this trigger a full biology teacher or do we need somebody who is certified or licensed in multiple areas. It’s all these complicating factors, which is why it takes longer to get secondary up and running.”

Hedrick and McLoughlin middle school and North Medford and South Medford high schools start their new hybrid model March 29. Central Medford High, which has many fewer students than the other two high schools, is scheduled for a Feb. 22 reopening.

Champion couldn’t suppress a laugh when asked to name a few of his priorities that will require his attention in the days ahead. The number of loose ends that need to be tied over the next two-and-a-half weeks is high, he said, and each one poses its own unique challenge.

Take the COVID-19 testing centers. The state will provide the tests, but each district must organize its own procedure at each site and each of those must conform to the state’s rigid requirements. Champion said he’s thrilled that the tests will be provided, “but it doesn’t just magically happen. It takes training and it takes submitting stuff to the state and getting confirmation and getting rooms ready and all of those kinds of things.

“So down to these little details, that’s where we’re working right now and trying to make sure that we’re at 100%. ... That’s one very concrete example in a much bigger picture, which is called our blueprint.”

Every aspect of the school day is represented in that blueprint, including student dropoffs and pickups. And like everything else, those transfers must be reconfigured to work in a coronavirus world.

“We’re used to driving our kids and dropping them off at school, and they go over into the gym or on the blacktop or something,” Champion said. “We can’t do that now. We have to keep them 6 feet apart, even out there. So we are literally staging and practicing what parent pickup is going to look like because we know that is going to be a pinch point whenever we put these things into practice.

“So it is about ensuring that when we open our doors in a more complete way that we are offering the best possible experience for kids from day one, recognizing that we’re going to have to go through an iterative process in order to improve it once we get kids actually there. But we want to have a high-quality process when kids walk in the door.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

File photo Molly Nutting, left, freshman, and Ashley Rowton, Junior, take a resource class at North Medford High School.