Schools move to trimesters

Sean C. Morgan

The District 55 School Board approved a return to a trimester schedule at the Sweet Home Junior High School and the Sweet Home High School Monday evening and gave Supt. Don Schrader a green light to prepare an all-day kindergarten proposal for next school year.

The board voted 6-0 to change the schedules, and by consensus the board told Schrader to include a kindergarten proposal as part of the upcoming budget process.

The High School moved to a semester system with seven-period days three years ago rather than cutting programs, said Principal Keith Winslow.

“It hasn’t gone as well as we wish it could,” Winslow said. Even for the students who find school easy, it’s been overwhelming and a struggle.

The trimester schedule will give teachers and students only five classes in each of three terms throughout the year and add an opportunity for another half credit per year, allowing more options for credit recovery and more variety in class offerings, Winslow said. “It gives students a fresh start three times a year instead of just twice.”

Longer periods allow teachers to be more creative structuring their lessons, he said, and they won’t be so rushed trying to cover their material. Students will be able to seek help immediately from teachers.

One of the chief concerns with the schedule is the gap in learning that students may face in math, for example, if they take just two classes in the subject during the year, Winslow said. That’s something the school can resolve, using the schedule to “double dose” a senior who missed the standard during testing his junior year, for example.

The schedule provides more student seat time, switching from 54-minute periods to 81-minute periods, he said, and he hopes will allow the school to bring back more electives.

The switch should be about cost neutral, Winslow said.

The Junior High will switch from a quarter system to the trimester system, matching up with the high school schedule.

The staff members at the Junior High is split about 50-50 on which schedule they prefer, said Principal Colleen Henry. The school previously had to switch into a quarter schedule to provide more elective choices.

Board member Mike Reynolds wanted to change the schedule for elementary schools too, but elementary staff and administrators had not had a chance to look at a trimester schedule yet. Henry and Winslow brought it to the board and requested action Monday night so they could begin planning staff assignments and class schedules for next year.

Supt. Don Schrader said he would present the idea to elementary school staff and return with input from teachers throughout the district next month when the board may decide to change the elementary school schedule as well.

All-Day Kindergarten

Schrader told the board he wanted to plan all-day kindergarten for 2014-15, something some other districts are doing as well.

At this point, the district anticipates a 10-percent cut in federal Title I funds, which help pay for the existing extended kindergarten program, Schrader said. The state will require all day kindergarten starting in 2015-16.

He doesn’t know yet whether a program nexts year would be districtwide or operate as a pilot program at one or two schools, he said. It could cost around $200,000 and require up to three new kindergarten teachers.

Research shows that all-day kindergarten provides a boost to young students, Schrader said. “We really don’t need the research to tell us it’s a good plan.”

Board member Chanz Keeney told the board that all-day kindergarten was a luxury, and the district should hold off until it is required by the state, focusing instead on class sizes.

“It’s not a necessity that we have to spend this $250,000,” Keeney said.

“I think it’s pretty important,” said board member Jason Van Eck. “They’re sponges that young. They’re less spongy in high school.”

Children probably learn the fastest in their first six or seven years in school, he said.

“It has to come from somewhere,” said Chairman Jason Redick. “What are giving up to do this?”

The district will receive about $1 million more next school year than this one, Schrader said, and the larger classes are moving through the upper elementary grades right now.

Business Manager Kevin Strong said the district is only projecting one classroom to reach 30 students next year, and that’s a large class moving through Holley School.

“Given the cost, where can we get the biggest bang for the buck so to speak?” Strong asked. “The research points to all-day kindergarten.”

After next year, it’s funded by the state, he said.

Redick said it’s difficult to decide outside the context of a budget and suggested the superintendent bring a proposal as part of the upcoming budget process.

Keeney said he agreed if it’s part of the process and the board can have a lengthy discussion about it.

Present at the meeting were board members Leena Ellis, Van Eck, Keeney, Redick, Reynolds and Jenny Daniels. Absent were David VanDerlip, Kevin Burger and Dale Keene.

In other business, the board:

n Approved the siting of a 32-foot by 28-foot modular building at Holley School.

The building will be used as an area for group work, Schrader said. Right now, the school is packed, and students are all over the place.

The district purchased the building from Banks for a dollar, Schrader said.

It will be located in the gravel parking lot along Highway 228, but it shouldn’t impact more than one staff parking space, said Maintenance Supt. Dave Goetz.

n Accepted a $1,500 grant from the Sweet Home Community Foundaiton to pay for a spot photo screener for the Digital Vision Screening Program.