District to hire teachers, add kindergarten day

Ashland School District will hire three elementary school teachers and extend kindergarten to five days per week next academic year to help bolster staff and services after drastic cuts were made last spring, the superintendent said.

The district's budget allows for small staffing additions, including a couple of positions at Ashland high and middle schools, which will help reduce large class sizes seen this academic year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told the School Board Monday.

The largest staffing additions will occur at the district's three traditional elementary schools, she said. The district plans to hire a new teacher for each of the schools, Bellview, Helman and Walker.

"As we came to the end of budget development, it seemed quite clear to Jill (Turner, the district's business manager) that we were able to take a look at restoring some cuts that were made at the elementary level," Di Chiro said.

The district's Budget Committee will review the proposed budget at 7 p.m. today in the board room at the district office, 885 Siskiyou Blvd.

The budget also calls for adding a half-time teaching position at the middle school and one-and-a-half positions at the high school, Di Chiro said.

The district is hoping to hire elementary teachers who are proficient in Spanish, which would enable the district to more easily create a Spanish immersion program in the future, she said.

Board member Ruth Alexander urged district officials to hire Spanish proficient teachers.

"We actually can use this to get our program started — after years of talking about it — and it will cost us no money," she said.

Kindergarten will be held five days per week next academic year, an increase from the four-day week this year. Classes will be held from 8:15 to 11:45 a.m., an extension of five minutes, enabling kindergartners to eat lunch in the cafeteria after class, Di Chiro said.

Hiring three new elementary school teachers will enable the district to reduce kindergarten class sizes to 20 or 21 students each, she said. Some classes have as many as 25 students this year, she said.

The schedule of classes at the middle school will be reorganized next academic year to allow for longer classes on alternating days and smaller class sizes, Principal Steve Retzlaff said.

"It's got a lot of great flexibility for kids," he said. "It allows us to do a lot of things for students that we just have been unable to do in the past."

Seventh- and eighth-grade class sizes will be reduced from an average of 33 to 34 students this academic year to an average of 26 students next year, Retzlaff said.

The middle school will bring back its Spanish program for seventh- and eighth- grade students, which was cut last spring, he said. The school also will create an intervention program for struggling students, Retzlaff said.

The school's elective offerings will be increased to include drama, leadership and after-school choir, he said.

Several board members praised Retzlaff and Assistant Principal Ken Kigel for reworking the middle school schedule.

"I just want to compliment you on really creative problem-solving," board Vice Chairwoman Heidi Parker said. "It sounds like you've addressed a lot of things that weren't really going well this year."

The new schedule will result in smaller classes, but teachers will teach more classes, giving them more work to grade, Retzlaff said.

"I've heard from some of the staff at the middle school that it's been difficult to have so much change, but overwhelmingly the staff at the middle school is really flexible."

Administrators are still working to determine which classes will be added at the high school, Di Chiro said.

"One of the things we're trying to avoid at the high school is those core classes of 35 kids," she said. "We know where the problem areas are and we're trying to really address those in master scheduling."

Di Chiro said she hopes the bleak job market for teachers will enable the district to be especially selective in hiring.

"I think that the job market being what it is, we may be uniquely positioned to get some great candidates," she said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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