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4J Board Pursues Bond Measure, 3x5

The 4J School Board last week voted to place a bond measure on the May 21 ballot and addressed teachers’ concerns over schedules at middle and high schools.

The $170 million bond would replace or renovate four schools (Roosevelt and Jefferson/Arts and Technology Academy middle schools, and Howard and River Road elementary schools); improve technology and security, repair schools, and update instructional materials; and cover additions or remodels at Gilham Elementary School and Kelly Middle School’s track and field. Property tax rates would rise about $42 for the median homeowner, the district estimates.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, Superintendent Sheldon Berman announced that he was postponing for a year implementing the common schedule at two middle schools — Roosevelt and Kelly.

“I asked the superintendent to grant RMS [Roosevelt Middle School] more time to process the change so that we could review many of the assumptions in our current schedule,” said RMS Principal Chris Mitchell. Administrators at Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

Much of the public comment period at the meeting focused on the district’s plan to switch all high schools to a 3x5 (three trimesters of five classes daily) schedule. A group of South Eugene High School teachers had written the board expressing their concerns.

Several teachers said the 3x5 schedule would weaken relationships with students. South teacher Scott Zarnegar said he spoke “mainly because I want to see my kids all year.” He added that it was a “waste of time” starting with a new group of students three times a year.

South teacher Lynette Williams suggested waiting to see how the schedule change affected students at Churchill — which implemented the 3x5 this year — and at other Oregon schools. She noted that Thurston High School and schools in Dexter and Portland have discontinued 3x5 schedules.

Eugene Education Association (EEA) President Tad Shannon says that “there remain far too many questions,” including the schedule’s impact on academics and the cost savings. “Teachers, students and parents were not adequately involved in the decision,” he said.

All four high school principals spoke in favor of the new schedule. South’s Randy Bernstein said there will be more time for collaboration and more opportunities for mobile students, and noted that South will gain 20 percent more class sections under 3x5. Churchill’s Kim Finch said the schedule provided more acceleration opportunities.

Board Chair Jennifer Geller said that “the opinions of teachers matter a lot,” but urged moving ahead with the common schedule. Even though questions remain, she said, schools can learn from each other. Other board members present also spoke in favor of moving forward.

Berman said he appreciated hearing the teachers’ comments. “I know there is no perfect schedule. There never will be,” he said. “Every schedule is a set of choices.” But he said the schedule selection process was democratic. At the same time, 4J should learn from Churchill’s experience and address the concerns raised by South’s teachers to smooth the transition.

South’s teachers are considering other courses of action, including enlisting parents’ support, as a next step. The EEA will ask teachers to sign a district-wide statement of concern seeking a one-year postponement of the schedule change.