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Thursday, January 19th, 2012

High school may switch to trimesters

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - School officials on Wednesday agreed to move forward with transferring the high school into trimesters for next school year.
Principal Dave Lewis said he began looking into the schedule change as a possible cost-saving measure. He found that trimesters are more beneficial academically, streamline the schedule and offer students 152 additional instruction hours each year.
"That comes to an additional 22 days of instruction without lengthening the school year," Lewis told school board members during a meeting Wednesday. "I say trimesters are better for our kids academically."
The board gave Lewis its approval.
High school students currently have the same class schedule all year, broken up into four nine-week grading periods. Each class period is 41 minutes with four minutes between each class. Students also have 33 minutes of Rider Time everyday, or free time before or after lunch.
The average student has 322 minutes of classroom instruction each day and 103 minutes of non-instruction time. With a trimester schedule, instruction time would increase to 375 minutes and non-instruction time would decease to 50 minutes, which includes eliminating study halls, Lewis said.
With a trimester schedule, the school year is divided into three 12-week grading periods with five class periods per day, 60-70 minutes per class. Students would schedule 15 courses per year.
Most traditional year-long courses might be completed in two trimesters, Lewis said. Elective courses could be one, two or three trimesters. Students also could work ahead, or if they fail, they might be able to take the class over in the next trimester, he said.
Lewis admitted he didn't know how much money would be saved, if any, by switching to trimesters but said it wouldn't cost more. The school board needs to cut about $1.5 million by next school year to avoid a deficit.
Celina High School switched to trimesters at the start of the 2010-11 school year. Superintendent Matt Miller this morning said the switch could bring cost savings if more free time is offered and fewer courses. However, Celina chose instead to offer more courses.
Board member Ronda Shelby strongly supported the decision after visiting a school using trimesters.
"I went to Mason to see how it all works, and I loved it," she said. "When I taught, I would have given my right arm to have that extra time to spend with my students."
Shelby warned, however, that officials likely would not complete the switch by next school year.
"It will take a year or two to implement and iron out all the wrinkles," she said.
Celina High School Principal Jason Luebke this morning said the change-over process in Celina took two years. They spent the first year researching the best scheduling system.
He also said an informal survey showed a vast majority of students and teachers like trimesters.
"One advantage to St. Marys is they already have an area school they can use as a model," Luebke said, adding he has been meeting with Lewis to discuss the process.
Board member Ralph Wiley said he was concerned about public perception.
"Your asking the board to give the nod to something when there are still a lot of unknowns, and we won't know those until April and May," he said. "I would like to see this planned over a longer period of time so the public has time to digest it. We've put this district through so much change in the last few years, they won't be happy with this."
Shelby said the public would more warmly accept the schedule change than past issues.
"This is different from us spending money on a sports stadium or field," she said. "This is something that will help the student academically ... No parent would say this is a bad thing."
Lewis said if they wait until April or May for the official budget and know which teachers are retiring or resigning, the change would have to be pushed to the following school year, when more unknowns would arise.
"In a perfect world, I would agree, but we'll have these unknowns and scheduling issues every year no matter what system we have set up," Lewis said. "We don't have the luxury to wait."
Wiley said he would support the decision if Lewis presented a plan of action for educating the staff and community. Lewis said he would have it by next week.
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