The Viking’s field hockey and football teams were celebrated at the Oxford Hills School District SAD 17 Board of Directors meeting Monday night. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Members of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s varsity field hockey and football teams were invited to Monday night’s SAD 17 Board of Directors meeting to be recognized for their fall season achievements, including making the playoffs. Each member was introduced by the coach of their team, as Superintendent Dr. Monica Henson congratulated them on their successes.

During the meeting, board members tentatively approved a plan that will make early release on Wednesdays an hour earlier, to grant teachers more time to spend on class preparation and improve online classroom spaces.

The move is a temporary measure that will start Jan. 7, 2022, and expire at the end of the school year.

During the meeting, Henson proposed adding Friday as an early release day, telling directors that with staff shortages, educators do not have enough time for lesson prep or to meet with their supervisors to discuss progress toward annual goals. She said of particular concern is the requirement that educators do robust online learning, an area of weakness for some and one area that will be measured after June to see if more time for planning creates a more stable remote experience for students.

Jeni Jordan, a teacher at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and president of the Oxford Hills Teachers Association, surveyed members of the group and reported to the board that more than 50% said they are spending four or more hours in lesson prep on a weekly basis because of the strain COVID has put on their workdays.

Kathleen Fraize, a teacher at Oxford Hills Middle School, provided some examples of the pressures she and her colleagues face due to COVID. In September, she missed a week of school following a death in the family. While a counterpart teacher was set to cover for her absence, that teacher then contracted COVID and passed it onto her whole family, including her husband who also works at OHMS. She said when there are fewer teachers and support staff in the buildings, others become regularly responsible for teaching twice as many classes.

“How does this change our class prep?” Fraize posited. “It doesn’t, if we’re a quality teacher. What it changes is that our prep happens at 10 o’clock at night. We don’t give up the quality of our days, but we’re exhausted and (still) prepping for class at 10 p.m.”

Some directors commented that Friday early release would take students out of class, a contradiction of the district’s mission back in September to keep kids in school.

Lew Williams of Hebron was against students losing an hour of class time, and suggested that hours be adjusted on other days, so that teachers get 30 minutes each day during the week. He questioned whether scheduling prep time for the final hour of the work week would provide meaningful results.

Despite opposition to the proposal the measure passed by a vote of 12-5. But, by Tuesday morning, Henson told the Advertiser Democrat that directors were negotiating a plan to keep early release to one day a week, Wednesdays. Students would be let out of school an hour earlier that day.

Final approval of the adjusted plan was still pending by press time.

In other business Monday night related to COVID and staffing, directors considered providing $500 stipends to administrators in recognition for exemplary attendance, $20-per-event stipends to certified staff for loss of schedule preparation time when substituting in classrooms, $10-per-day stipends for ed techs II and III who are pulled from their regular duties to substitute teach, and $20-per-day stipends for ed techs I for the same. The entire cost of the stipends was estimated at about $91,000.

Directors unanimously voted down the proposal for a variety of reasons, with one reasoning that the funds covering stipends should be applied toward taxpayer relief. Others opposed it on the grounds that teachers were excluded from receiving similar recognition, with some stating that financial bonuses should be distributed at the end of a school year rather than in the middle.

The board then approved a job description for the new position of elementary multi-tiered system of supports coordinator, a pilot position that will be funded from vacant ones. Henson said the goal is to add a layer of support to implement the district’s multi-tiered system of support in assessing student needs. Students falling into the first tier are able to progress in class with no additional support; those in the second tier need a level of extra attention and those at tier three require an intensive special education plan or one-on-one support to address both behavioral and academic challenges.

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