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(Almost) everyone gets a package

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneCasey Ultch, left, and ethan Allred, work with Troy Pomeroy during math class at Hedrick Middle School in Medford on Friday.
Medford School District announces benefits, including stipends and flexible hours, to staff for hard work during the pandemic

In a news conference Friday morning, Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion thanked all of his teachers for doing their jobs for the last few years during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

But that “thank you” was not in the form of a card or box of chocolates as Valentine’s Day fast approaches. The district’s leader was announcing what the school board, at a meeting the previous day, had approved: staff appreciation packages that include a range of benefits, including extra pay and flexible scheduling.

Those perks were awarded to not just classroom teachers, but educational assistants, office managers, secretaries, counselors, principals, nurses, district office staff, custodians and IT personnel. The only group it will not impact is Medford School District’s executive team.

Still, it was instructors Champion focused on in his opening remarks during the news conference.

“We know that the place that our students learn best is in our amazing classrooms, where they are taken care of by our terrific teachers (and) our incredible classified educators,” he said. “We know that happens every single day, and as we have been working through this pandemic, we know all of that work has doubled.”

Champion blamed the workload on substitute shortages and “absenteeism.” His comments came a week after 375 McLoughlin Middle School students were sent home to learn virtually for two days due to COVID-19 related issues — the largest transition outside the classroom for Medford schools since the pandemic began.

During the Friday press conference, Medford Education Association President Troy Pomeroy, who is a teacher at Hedrick Middle School, said instruction has become “exponentially difficult” during the pandemic.

“And yet, they have persevered through all the many challenges and changes that often come out of a moment’s notice,” Pomeroy said, speaking for the teachers he represents. “They always come out on top for students no matter what circumstances, and they’re awesome, so I’m proud to be counted among them.”

Oregon School Employees Association President Kristina Morgans, who works for the High School Pathways program, told the Mail Tribune the packages are a great acknowledgment of the hard work classified staff put in.

“I’m proud of the work that classified staff do in any regular given year, but this has been an incredibly difficult year, and there’s been a lot of extra things heaped on all of our shoulders,” Morgans said. “I think each individual is going to use this in many different ways. We’re all excited to have this opportunity.”

Champion explained that district officials wanted to find a way to help teachers without sacrificing a day of student learning, as some Rogue Valley school districts have done. The solution was to take the amount of money it costs to have a respite day for teachers — $2 million — and use it for the appreciation packages.

“I’m proud to say our board directors took that action last night and approved a budget amendment … to say thank you to our employees,” Champion said. “Truly, it is unprecedented.”

Full-time district employees who were with the district Feb. 1 will receive a $500 stipend, while part-timers will receive half that amount. If either of those employees remain with Medford schools through the start of June, they’ll receive an extra $250.

“How are they going to spend it? I don’t know. My guess is, they’re going to be able to fill up gas,” Pomeroy said. “Whatever it is, it’s going to bring a little joy to people — and they’re thankful for it.”

Champion emphasized that the stipends are “nothing compared to what we wish it were and what folks deserve.” He noted the packages’ other benefits were based on teacher feedback.

They include flexible scheduling, allowing teachers to come to class 15 minutes before students arrive and leave shortly after school is out as long as instructors are “meeting their professional obligations.”

District officials will also relax typical teacher evaluations, shortening the process for certified staff this year “while still complying with state requirements,” according to a press release from the district. This reduction includes eliminating the formal midyear check-in and the number of observations.

Two classified Positive Attendance Support positions will be added to help reduce student absences and tardiness.

A focus group of Medford teachers will be used to “engage conversations” on the issue of student behavior, which staff have noted is still a problem despite the return of in-person learning.

“Nothing can fully recognize the incredible work of our staff,” Champion said in a prepared statement ahead of the news conference. “The work you have done and continue to do for our students is simply outstanding. This recognition is simply a small appreciation for your great work. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.