Overworked teacher at a desk
Teachers will receive a little extra time each month to decompress and focus on needs. (Photo by Getty Images)
Correction: A previous version of this story showed Feb. 18 as one of the non-student contact days for teachers and staff. Although that date had been discussed as a possibility, the school district office said Wednesday that after discussion with other staff, the administration decided Feb. 11 was the better option.

A few months short of two years since the pandemic first interrupted American lives, folks in all walks have been forced to cope. Families have certainly experienced the full spectrum of challenges from child-care shortages to in-home learning.

Not forgotten within the educational realm are the teachers and other staff members who have turned on a dime to provide the best-possible learning experience for students while maneuvering their way through COVID-19 restrictions, fears and infections.

“The expectations and requirements for our staff members continue to be high and the length of the COVID-19 pandemic creates additional expectations for our staff members,” Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said during last week’s School Board meeting.

Teachers, counselors, administrators and classified staff have all covered for one another in different classrooms and work situations because of illness or other issues. Said Halliday, “People are jumping in to be able to help out.”

For example, teachers have given up prep periods to assist with student or school needs. On top of it all, Halliday said educators and staff are addressing and adapting to the social-emotional needs of students and as well as adults.

Halliday sat down and started playing with the schedule to see what could be done to ease workloads over the final five months of the academic year.

“The proposal asks that we provide at least one day each month during the remainder of this school year in which staff members have time to catch up with work tasks,” she said. “We know of a number of districts who have made changes in their school year based on staff needs and time around COVID and especially in relation to mental health.”

Halliday had a conversation with the district’s leadership team to come up with workable dates. Easily working into the plan were Jan. 28, March 18 and April 14-15 — those days corresponding with various grading and assessment days. So, Halliday had to figure out what days to propose only for February and May.

“The request would be to change two days in our current calendar to non-student contact days — both on Fridays — meaning students only miss a half a day of instruction,” Halliday said.

Staff would still be on campus but “it gives staff time to be able to decompress a little bit and address some of the workload concerns that are coming up,” Halliday said.

After discussion with the School Board, the other dates worked in were Feb. 11 and May 13.

Halliday said that although the January, March and April dates have some designated work to be completed, there would be additional time to address individual needs.

Students would not be in school on those dates — which amounts to an extra half-day off each month.

The state requires a specific number of hours for instructional time over the course of an academic year.

“Our annual instructional minutes at each school and grade level remain above Oregon requirements,” Halliday said. “So although we’re getting closer, we won’t get below that, so we won’t be out of compliance there.”

Halliday mentioned that the district will work with local partners — Philomath Youth Activities Club, for example — to provide possible assistance with child-care activities on the Feb. 11 and May 13 dates.

Bus and food service providers will be notified of the changes, she said.

School Board members had a warm response to the proposal. Board member Karen Skinkis said, “I wish there was more we could do to help our staff at this point” but at least this was something. Chair Rick Wells added, “To me, this is the best we can do right now and it’s not a huge thing but it’s a small thing that hopefully will be well accepted.”

Classified staff will not lose paydays because of the decision. Said Halliday, “A lot of them are in the same place as the teachers” in relation to the workload and mental challenges.

The board unanimously approved the proposal.