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Kids Unlimited instructors to get raises

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWhitney Hanlin teaches her class math and measurements Thursday at Kids Unlimited in Medford.
KU will get $700K from state that will increase financial support among charter schools serving primarily vulnerable students

Thanks to legislation meant to help charter schools serving students with low incomes or language barriers, Kids Unlimited Academy is able to give its teachers a raise.

House Bill 2166 came out of the Legislature last year, but only now are schools able to apply for funds, which will arrive as soon as July 1.

Kids Unlimited, with campuses in Medford and White City, will be able to tap into more than $700,000 in grants from the Statewide Education Initiatives Account, according to school CEO Tom Cole. That means KU instructors can expect anywhere from a $10,000 to $19,200 increase in pay.

Cole touted the news in an interview with the Mail Tribune earlier this week. He talked about it by noting how the Academy recently implemented a new instructional calendar.

“The expanded, almost full-year school calendar — with the exception of the four weeks we have off in July — was one thing, but we believe this (extra compensation) can be a huge game-changer in terms of valuing teachers,” Cole said, noting as many as 81 instructors are eligible for a raise.

“We can retain teachers who are excellent in the classroom and motivate the best teachers to consider employment at KU Academy by having an elevated compensation that puts us in a very different position than any other traditional public school district in this area, and quite honestly, the state.”

When Cole spoke about elevating compensation, he was referring to the intent of HB 2166, which is to lift schools that served high percentages of children of color or disability to an “equitable average daily membership” compared to other schools serving different demographics.

Average Daily Membership weight, or ADMw, refers to a school’s daily attendance of students on a regular basis, which is weighted by the state as part of a greater formula to dole out funding to institutions.

“In this case, this initiative (HB 2166) has said, ‘We want equity for those students who represent those vulnerable communities of color and disability,’” Cole said, “‘and we are going to fund an infinitive that supersedes the district’s agreements that says we believe in order for those kids to be successful, they need to have the full allocation of resources.’”

For KU, this translates into a 15% increase in support because the school has a contract with the Medford School District now that reflects 85% ADMw, according to Cole.

He told the Mail Tribune in an email that he believes HB 2166’s purpose elevates not only the teaching profession, but Kids Unlimited’s other accommodations, including full-time teaching aides and behavioral support teams. These new resources, in turn, are what can attract and retain KU teachers.

“The reformation of the traditional salary scale model is something that we recognize is not only innovative — especially considering our school demographics — but also potentially transcendent for the profession of public education,” Cole wrote.

HB 2166 notes that grant funds must be used to “increase academic achievement, including reducing academic disparities.” Before receiving grant funding, however, eligible charter schools must describe to the state how that money would be used to advance such a purpose.

Medford KU instructor Whitney Hanlin had “been hoping” for a boost in pay after two years of a pandemic that made her feel “disconnected” from her class during virtual learning. With the return of in-person instruction, “Being back in the classroom has never felt better,” Hanlin added.

But when she learned about the compensation increase, Hanlin described being in a state of shock.

“The increase is more than I ever expected,” she wrote. “After the shock wore off, I realized how grateful I am to work in an establishment who does value its employees and realize our worth.”

Hanlin, who has taught first and second grades in her time at KU, maintained that the extra cash flow wouldn’t change her motivation to teach. But as the mother of a 2- and 4-year old, “it will be amazing for my family.”

Rose Alvarez also teaches at KU’s Medford campus; she is in her first year instructing kindergartners, but has been with the Academy for seven years in a variety of jobs.

She and other instructors have “worked harder and more hours than before” the pandemic, making sure students “feel loved and supported by our school.” The teacher-student relationship as things return to normal are “much stronger than before,” Alvarez wrote in an email.

She is “blessed” KU teachers received pay raises as a result of the legislation.

“I am aware of receiving a raise at the end of every year; however, through this large raise, it made us teachers feel appreciated — and that our hard work, the extra hours we put in unpaid to better our teaching — is being seen,” Alvarez wrote.

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