Source: Sherman Publications

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Trimesters on trial

by Phil Custodio

October 16, 2013

The time for trimesters may be coming to an end in in Clarkston.

A Scheduling Task Force of administrators and teachers is recommending Clarkston Community Schools go back to two semesters per year.

"This is a much different time," said Assistant Superintendent Shawn Ryan, reporting to the school board, Monday. "We've faced struggles we couldn't have imagined."

Budget reductions, and the staff and program cuts along with them, reduced the benefits of the trimester change in 2008, Ryan said.

The school district adopted trimesters, with three grading periods per year, in the 2008-2009 school year to help students meet new Michigan Merit Curriculum standards. With three periods per year, it was meant to provide more opportunities to take core classes, retake them if necessary, and explore electives.

Evaluation of the trimester program showed series of classes were often separated by a trimester in the middle, breaking up the flow, said task force member Gary Kaul, Clarkston High School principal.

Traditional semesters allow more continuity and flexibility, with more opportunities for team teaching by science, math, language arts teachers, Kaul said.

Board member Susan Boatman asked how the change would affect electives.

"It's great for kids to be able to explore different elective classes in the high school setting, to get a better feel for what they want to do later in life," Boatman said. "How are they going to be impacted?"

Students would have fewer elective choices with semesters, but the difference would not be that much, Ryan said.

School board goals this year focus on increasing academic achievement, which the change to semesters would support, he said.

The message from the state and colleges is increased rigor, Kaul said.

"Building relationships, I feel, can produce tangible results," he said.

Budget constraints have limited trimesters' promise, Ryan said.

Staff cuts meant limiting chances to remediate or advance, and choices for students. Trimester concerns also include timing of state mandated testing, difficulty in teacher recommendations for scheduling, too much teacher prep time, pacing of classes, and review of additional scheduling, he said.

The task force also considered six-period semesters with a spring term, seven-period semesters, and seven-period semesters with rotating blocks.

The task force recommends two equal semesters per year, with six one-hour classes per day.

Implementation plan calls for discussion bythe school board at its next meeting, with decision in November. If approved, the district would update its curriculum, graduation requirements, and courses, and meet with parents and students.

The change would go into effect in September 2014.

"We want to give enough time to the board to reflect, then send us questions, and discuss it at the next meeting," Ryan said.

School board questions at the Oct. 15 meeting also included how the change would affect use of computer labs, impact of Common Core curriculum, and how it would affect elementary and middle school schedules.

The next regular school board meeting is Monday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m., at the administration building.