August 30, 2009 in City

Duties shift for dozens

But educators not complaining: Spring’s pink slips didn’t stick
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Gail Madsen, a sixth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, prepares her classroom for the first day of school. Madsen was among 103 certified staff who received pink slips last May when it looked like the district was facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall. She got her job back when federal funding came through.
(Full-size photo)

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Jake Lemmon used to be a principal’s assistant at Garry Middle School; now he’s teaching elementary P.E.

Scott Rademacher, who previously taught at one of Spokane Public Schools’ high schools, has moved to Garry Middle School.

Molly Via went from working with at-risk kids in middle schools to teaching elementary school.

Gail Madsen, a sixth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary, was fortunate: She’s back in the same classroom.

More than 50 educators in Spokane Public Schools had to change jobs to help bridge the district’s budget gap. That’s much more than the usual handful of teachers who are moved around to accommodate increased enrollment in a certain school or to fill vacancies left by retirees.

But compared with the situation last spring – when 103 teachers in Spokane’s largest school district received pink slips – the teachers affected said they’d take this alternative.

“I think given the economy, there are a lot of people without work, not only in education, but across the board,” said Lemmon. “I don’t know how you could be mad about having a job.”

Spokane Public Schools saved many of the teaching jobs with the aid of federal stimulus money.

“It was a huge relief to have a job back,” Madsen said, adding, “It was a bonus to be back in the same school, in the same classroom.”

Madsen, 41, is now a second-year teacher. She has five educational endorsements – K-8, reading, English, history and social studies – “just in case,” she said.

She knows the importance of being flexible because the public school environment is always changing. For example, enrollment currently is increasing at the elementary level, but when those kids get to middle school, the demand for teachers there may be higher.

When Madsen returned to her job at Jefferson Elementary, “some were surprised to see me back, but glad,” she said. “It just sounded so gloomy (last spring).” She found out on the last day of school that her job was saved, so she hadn’t been able to tell many co-workers.

No one knows yet what will happen in two years when the federal stimulus money goes away.

“Any time we are going to lose money or funding, I know I’m still low on the totem pole,” Madsen said. “I’m worrying about this year right now.”

Lemmon taught in Oregon for several years and said that before the economic meltdown, his career had been geared toward administration. He’ll be returning to his teaching roots in physical education, and while “the change presents itself as a challenge … it’s fun to go back,” he said.

Via had to change jobs because the district eliminated her program.

She was one of 12 teachers working with struggling middle school students – tutoring, designing homework programs – who were sent back to the classroom.

She will be teaching sixth grade at Lidgerwood Elementary School.

“I look at it as another experience for me,” Via said. “I’ve been in the middle schools for 18 years. And now I am going to elementary. It’s a new challenge for me.”

Still, she said, “I do hope to get back to middle school at some point.”

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