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Education | local | Learning With Less

Learning With Less: Fewer Teachers Times More Students Equals Many Changes

Schools across Oregon are running classrooms with tighter budgets, as the new school year starts.

Over the course of the year, OPB is looking at what effect budget cuts are having in the classroom.  We’re calling our series “Learning with Less.” 

We’ll hear from families with kids in school, from a high school principal. To start Rob Manning catches up with two teachers we first met, back in June.


School districts all over Oregon cut teachers. The David Douglas schools, in east Portland,  cut nearly 80 teaching positions, last spring. The cuts fell heaviest at David Douglas High – Oregon’s largest public high school.

Both Angela Nurre and Lon Morast taught health at the high school, last year. Only Nurre still does.

Lon Morast

Rob Manning / OPB

Lon Morast got a pink slip. Back in June, he was hoping to get work as a substitute. But even if he subbed every day, he’d have to pay for his health insurance out of pocket. He was worried for his family.

Lon Morast: “My wife is pregnant, so she’s going to need me around the house even more, so it’s hard for me to pick up other jobs. But I’m going to do as much as I can.”

Angela Nurre fretted about her colleague, but also about the effect that his absence – and that of other teachers – would have at the high school. She was worried she would have too many kids in her classes.

Angela Nurre: “How are we going to make those connections, when we have so many more students?”

The hot first days of school this year brought fans into Angela Nurre’s class. They’re directed at 40 desks packed into her room. Sophomores sit in almost every chair.

Angela Nurre: “All of my classes have had – so far, 37, 38 – which is about ten to twelve more students than I had last year in each class.”

Nurre says it’s one thing to know the numbers, but quite another to stand in front of the classroom, and actually teach the kids.

Rob Manning / OPB
Angela Nurre

Angela Nurre: “I mean I sort of knew it was coming, but to actually see all those faces, it’s a little overwhelming. It takes more time to hand out stuff, and collect stuff, and to transition from one activity to the next activity, just because there’s so many more bodies and so many more papers. I didn’t really anticipate that that would take time.”

The fall is not what Lon Morast expected either. It’s better. He’s back as a full-time teacher in the David Douglas school district. But he’s not at the high school, and he’s not teaching health.

The first week of school, Morast is standing outside the gym at Floyd Light Middle School, thanks to the “recall process.” That’s when laid-off teachers can come back, if a position opens in the district.

Morast was hired to teach phys-ed at both district middle schools. It worked like this: a teacher at the high school took a sabbatical, which moved a middle school teacher up to high school…

Lon Morast: “…which moved me into this position, teaching half-time here, and half-time at Ron Russell.”

Rob: “Have you taught PE before?”

Lon Morast: “I have. Not a whole lot, but I have. I’ve done a lot of basketball camps, and things of that nature.”

Morast has a little experience with middle schoolers, but again, not a whole lot. He’s learning that younger kids are different.

Lon Morast:  “Right now, there’s a lot of, what do you say, energy, a lot of enthusiasm with the kids. You know, you have to settle them down a little bit, but I’m excited for that. Something different.”

Morast says he feels like a new kid himself, trying to learn the ropes at two new schools. Morast was still meeting his students, and didn’t have a handle on how middle school programs might be different this year from last. Mostly, he’s just relieved.  

Lon Morast: “So glad to have a job right now. I know it’s been a tough year for a lot of people, including myself. I’m just so glad to be, to be here.”

Morast is worried that if the economy and school funding don’t get stronger, jobs like his could be at risk again, in the next year or two.

Back at David Douglas High, Angela Nurre is helping one of her students figure out how to get to his next class. The longtime health teacher is anxious about finding her own way this year, too. 

Angela Nurre: “Just worried, worried that it’s going to be a lot. It seems overwhelming, to be honest.”

There’s one other thing Nurre didn’t expect. Even though the classes are bigger – they’re quieter. She wonders if kids are intimidated by having so many more classmates next to them. And since she hopes for lively classroom discussion about drug use, domestic violence and other health issues teens may face, the big, quiet classroom is a concern.

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