Ashland schools still short on staff; high school returned to in-person learning this week

Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove by a mural created the the Ashland High School Truth to Power Club. Bob Palermini photo
February 4, 2022

District superintendent says in-house GED program might return, pending board action Monday

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Students returned to Ashland High School this week, after the campus closed for two weeks due to staffing shortages. There were more than 85 staff absent district-wide at one point, with more than 20% of AHS staff out at one point, according to Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove.

Bogdanove said staff are glad to see students back in classes, though staffing is still down. More than 40 staffers were still absent district-wide Thursday. He sat down virtually to talk with Ashland.news Wednesday afternoon about the two-week closure, and the numbers behind it, and other topics. 

Student attendance around the beginning of the closure dipped more than 12%, he said, peaking at more than 14%. Not all absences have been COVID-19-related, he said.

“The latter number is likely significant under-reporting because it includes students attending during distance learning at AHS that might not have been able to attend in-person,” Bogdanove said, in a followup email to the Zoom interview. “Students at home on quarantine, COVID-positive or mildly symptomatic were still able to participate in school and did not count as absences.”

As of Thursday morning, more than 40 staff were out at the district, according to Bogdanove, an improvement from more than two weeks ago.

Bogdanove said the district is encouraged about having students and staff back on campus.

“Distance learning last year, while it was effective instructionally for the most part, wasn’t how people liked to learn,” he said. “Classrooms are where kids and staff should be, and so I think folks are really excited to be back in person.”

Athletic events continued on a case-by-case basis during the school closure, with protocols in place to reduce transmission. Spectators are still not allowed at athletic events, but that could change soon, he said, especially due to a steady decline in active student and staff active case rate. 

Students navigated finals week during the school closure, and Bogdanove said staff adapted accordingly, as they have throughout the pandemic.

“Trying to do finals week in the middle of a virus surge, and in the middle of a move to short-term distance learning, is an incredible challenge for teachers, for the staff, and particularly for the kids,” Bogdonave said. “Students were able to access their teachers and the finals online, and I think in many cases, we offered a little bit more flexibility and some creative solutions depending on what was going on for students.”

The GED program could return to AHS, pending a vote by the school board

Bogdanove also spoke with Ashland.news about the slight decline in graduation rates released late last month. While proud of students and staff for a 91.24% rate, a decline from 93.97% the year prior, he says there’s room for improvement whenever the rate is below 100%.

“I think we want to dig deeply into that data and always look at how individuals and groups are impacted by that,” Bogdanove said. “It’s great to feel good about a percentage of graduation, right? But the percentage that isn’t graduating is a percentage that we’re very concerned about because those are kids. It’s important, one, that we take a look at what are the individual needs and what are we doing to address them, and also to look at any kind of trends.”

Bogdanove is specifically interested in looking at any groups who are marginalized and their graduation rates.

“Really, what we want to see is 100% for whom graduation is an appropriate goal, reach that goal,” he said.

A possible way to improve the five-year completion rates, in addition to helping students who didn’t graduate obtain a GED or complete coursework for a diploma, is to bring back to campus the GED coursework.

Bogdanove said the high school eliminated its GED program due to low enrollment among Ashland students in an available program at Rogue Community College in Medford. What the district learned was that the travel for students was a major barrier to completing the program. 

“We know now that we have enough kids that it makes sense to bring back the Ashland High School Continuation Center, which is a late afternoon, early evening program where kids can either work on a diploma or on the GED,” Bogdanove said. “A lot of people think of it as night school, but it’s not quite that late,” he added.

Ashland School Board will discuss the possibility at its public, virtual board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14.

Housing among major factors in enrollment declines

Bogdanove also spoke to Ashland.news about enrollment numbers for the district which, like numbers for K-12 throughout the state, have been on the decline.

 “There’s a lot of speculation about why that could be,” Bogdonave said. “One is, folks that are not comfortable having their child attend a public school during COVID or having concerns about vaccines,” Bogdanove said. “We’ve definitely experienced a drop over the last few years and we’re working on keeping a close eye on that.”

Bogdanove said some of the factors involve a small number of families moving their student to home-schooling or online school. The Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland, is among other major factors that continue to impact housing for students and staff.

“With the Almeda Fire in the valley, we have a lot less housing available and there are some serious housing issues and availability issues here in the community, and the economic pressures for young families to be able to afford housing in our community has definitely had an impact,” Bogdanove said.

Bogdanove said at least one dozen staff lost homes to the Almeda Fire in Phoenix or Talent. More than 50 families in the district were directly impacted by the fire, which destroyed more than 2,500 homes throughout the Rogue Valley on Sept. 8, 2020.

“It’s hard to tease out exactly what is the cause of a particular drop in enrollment. I am hopeful that as we go further along, and through the pandemic and start to come out of that a little bit, that we’ll see some increase, but I think the greater economic pressures have definitely had an impact on enrollment and I don’t think there’s an overnight fix for that.”

When asked about the status of labor bargaining, Bogdanove briefly commented on negotiations, and said bargaining with classified staff continues.

“You can’t necessarily give negotiations a firm timeline, but I think both parties are bargaining in good faith,” Bogdanove said. “We’re dealing with some challenging issues, but I’m optimistic,” he added.

Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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