Schools face exhausted staffs while planning summer help for students
Oregon school leaders want to offer expanded learning this summer, but they are bumping up against a worn-down staff.
Scott Herron, president of Tigard-Tualatin Education Association, said teachers around the state are exhausted from the shifting teaching modes and technical hurdles and any sort of mandatory summer work requirements would launch a teacher exodus from the profession.
“If they were to extend the school year, that would break the back of most teachers, that would be the straw,” he said.
The state and federal governments are offering school districts buckets of money to repair damage after COVID-19 disrupted school for more than a year. Summer offers a chance for additional classes and other activities, and school leaders are exploring ways to excite staff and students about returning. (Story about students’ needs coming Thursday)
Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said superintendents have told the Oregon Department of Education that an extended school year is a nonstarter. She said her district in the suburbs of Portland recognized that as much as students need additional support, the staff and students also need a rest to be able to do their best work.
Tigard-Tualatin is planning a three-week break once school ends, programs through much of July and a four-week gap before school restarts. The hope is to have at least one program at every school, but student interest and staff availability will determine final plans.
Tigard-Tualatin’s summer programs will be optional for teachers, and it will look for community partners to fill in the gaps. Rieke-Smith hopes that allowing more creative summer lesson plans, though, will lure teachers.
“Everyone is tired, but you can be more relaxed in summer and still be learning,” she said.
Herron said giving teachers an opportunity to design the kinds of classes they have always wanted to do would increase teacher participation and create models for future summer programs.
Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe said that kind of creative opportunity has been a real draw for her teachers. Umatilla, in the eastern Oregon Columbia River Gorge, plans to hire 25 teachers and 25 assistants for its summer programs. Within days of opening it up, Sipe said, she had 21 teachers and all the assistants.
Sipe is playing up the “let’s have fun” aspect of summer classes. She is encouraging lots of outdoor activities such as hiking or gardening that can incorporate academic lessons.
With longer days and more students, Umatilla is planning to increase its summer program spending from about $120,000 to about $630,000 this year, Sipe said.
New streams of state and federal money are making that kind of summer planning possible.
The federal government has promised Oregon schools $1.7 billion in emergency money, some of which can be used for summer learning. On top of that, the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown have directed $195.6 million in state funds and $10 million in federal funds to schools for K-12 summer learning, enrichment activities and child care to facilitate school programs.
ODE hopes to be able to release that money in mid-May. School districts will need to put up 25% in matching funds for a broad list of eligible expenses, including extra staffing, food, facilities, supplies and students’ expenses.
Even as ODE is frantically trying to write the rules to use that money, it put out advice for school districts’ planning. The “Summer Learning Best Practice Guide” emphasizes the equity lens and supporting the whole child.
School districts are scrambling. The compressed timeline doesn’t leave much room to set up whole new systems, especially for smaller districts that don’t have a lot of district office staff.
The Port Orford-Langlois School District on the southern Oregon coast typically offers a preK-2 summer program. Superintendent Steve Perkins is looking at expanding the districts’ enrichment programming through eighth grade as well as adding grade 9-12 credit recovery options.
Staffing, however, will be a challenge. Port Orford-Langlois typically hires two of its teachers for its summer programs. Perkins estimates the district might need as many as four more, but of his 17 teachers, he expects at least 10 to be a hard no.
He said carefully choosing dates and times for the classes as well as paying his teachers the same rate as their fall contracts will help entice some, but it’s still a burden on teachers’ families. Teachers already have plans or just want some time with their own kids.
Bill Patterson, program supervisor for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program, said Klamath Falls City Schools had plenty of teacher support, but the extra money is allowing the district to bring in new summer partners, including Patterson.
Partnerships include swimming lessons with the YMCA, robotics with Klamath Community College, outdoor classes with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cooking classes with Fred Meyer, and sports camps with coaches from Klamath Union High School.
“The day after the state funding announcement, I was meeting with coaches,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the funding availability has been stunning and is making it possible to address more of students’ needs. He said it also called for thoughtful actions now and for the future.
“How can we use this in a way that will really help kids and be effective rather than just throwing money at stuff?” Patterson said. “We need to do something that can last.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA