School Board to Seek More Input After Spring Break

The 4J School Board heard more public testimony March 20 both in support of and in opposition to the district’s move to a common high school schedule, and against cuts to health and library programs. And the board’s chair proposed holding more feedback sessions with teachers and community members.

At the start of the meeting, Board Chair Jennifer Geller acknowledged that “in retrospect, we understand and believe that more could have been done to work with additional stakeholders and our teachers to understand the perceived and real issues” regarding the schedule change. After spring break, she said, the board would like the district to convene discussions with parents and teachers. The board also wants the Eugene Education Association (EEA) to set a weekly time for teachers to talk to board members about any issue.

Expecting a large turnout, the board reduced the time members of the public could speak from three minutes each to two.

Public comment about the schedule change ranged from continued requests to delay implementation to concern about teachers not supporting moving ahead. Some 91 percent of teachers at North Eugene High School, 81 percent of teachers at Sheldon High School and 74 percent of teachers at South Eugene High School have signed a petition expressing their concerns about the change and requesting a delay in implementation.

“This is a year when we are facing a very large budget shortfall,” said parent T.J. Forrester. “It’s not the time to be implementing a new program when you do not have a handle on potential problems.” Forrester mentioned a 2011 study of Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s former district, which moved a number of schools to a 3×5 schedule. The study, “The Structure of Time: How Trimester Schedules Impact Teaching and learning in the Jefferson County Public Schools of Louisville, Kentucky,” showed what Forrester terms “mixed results.”

“We need to study, we need to quantify and learn from the academic and financial effects of the schedule change at Churchill High School after the completion of the school year, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence,” he said.

Alex Thies, a recent North graduate, cited several reasons he opposes the 3×5 schedule, but his comments about teacher-student relationships struck a chord amid proposals to cut programs. “Teachers will have less time to learn about their students, and thus be ill equipped to look for the warning signs of problems arising in each of their student’s lives,” he said. “This reduced observation time taking place while we simultaneously cut our mental health professionals will surely lead to students falling through the cracks and being left behind.”

EEA President Tad Shannon said he was disappointed that the board’s work session on the common schedule failed to include a single teacher.

Several people spoke in favor of the schedule change.

South Principal Randy Bernstein said a common schedule won’t end site-based decision-making. “Teachers in every school will continue to be the creative and innovative professionals that they’ve always been,” he said.

Others spoke against cutting mental health services, closing high school clinics and curtailing library services. These have been suggested as ways 4J can trim its anticipated $10 million budget shortfall next year. But even with such cuts, increases in class size and more furlough days are expected. — Anne Bridgman