Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 19, 2014

High school considers trimesters, longer classes

By DIANE VANCE | Jan 30, 2014

Fairfield High School will see facility changes through the next two years with construction and renovations, and the daily structure of classes also may change, but not because of building remodeling.

“We’ve been operating on an eight-period day for four years,” FHS Principal Aaron Becker told the school board Monday. “Feedback from staff and students about having eight, 48-minute periods each day is having us look at a possible change to trimesters.”

A trimester schedule would break the school year into thirds instead of quarters and semesters, and also create 60-minute classes in a six-period day.

“Students and staff have told us eight periods a day is a lot to handle every day,” said Becker. “Some can handle it, but it’s a lot of homework for some students and a lot of prep work for teachers. Fewer periods a day could be less stressful.”

Adding 12 minutes per class can provide more time for science labs, hands-on learning and more teacher attention per student during a period.

“The feedback we’ve had is teachers feel rushed now,” said Becker. “We are still in the research phase of looking what we can do.

“We are looking at the urgency for change — should it be for next year, 2014-15, or do we do more research and practice and wait for school year 2015-16? If we make the change, we have some curriculum work to do so schedules fit the time frame.”

Superintendent Art Sathoff said FHS staff levels need to be considered also, because the district is not in a position to hire additional staff.

Becker said high school guidance counselors are working on a mock-up schedule to show teachers what a school year would look like in trimesters.

“We wouldn’t be asking teachers to extend lecturing from 48 minutes to 60 minutes,” he said. “We intend for the extra time in the classroom to be used for things that might get shortened or spread over two days now.

“And we’re looking at a one-on-one initiative [one computer per student] down the road. Having a longer class period gives more time for depth and breadth.”

Semesters at FHS are 18 weeks. Trimesters would be 12 weeks long.

Becker said what are now semester-long classes would be a trimester-long; yearlong classes would be two trimesters. Classes such as band, choir and Advanced Placement subjects would remain yearlong, or three trimesters.

“Shortening the length of a class from 18 weeks to 12 weeks has advantages and disadvantages,” said Becker. “If a student in September is looking at being stuck in a class until January, they may be more inclined to drop it. But from the beginning of school until Thanksgiving sounds more doable.”

Students have three days at the beginning of a semester to drop or change classes. Being in class for 60 minutes instead of 48 can provide students a better feel for the class and teacher.

The trimester and six periods a day at 60 minutes still exceeds the state requirement for 1,080 hours of instruction per school year, said Sathoff.

School board member Joe Carr was one of three board members who visited the high school government class in December to listen to seniors’ exit surveys, when the 12th grade students have the opportunity to note what is good and what could use improvement about their high school experience.

“During senior exit interviews, it was brought up more than once that science classes want longer class periods and teachers don’t communicate with one another when scheduling tests, and it can snowball,” said Carr.

Sathoff said switching to trimesters would sync the high school with Indian Hills Community College’s Career Academy classes in Fairfield, because the college uses trimesters.

A group of six FHS teachers, two guidance counselors, Becker and FHS assistant principal Brian Stone, recently visited Grinnell high school, which has operated on a trimester schedule for 14 years.

“We sat in on classes and were given an opportunity to sit with Grinnell staff and ask questions and have a discussion,” said Becker. “The administrators left us alone with the teachers so they could feel more free to share.

“The teachers like it. Some of them had worked both semesters and trimesters systems, and they preferred trimesters. They said Grinnell began trimesters on a two-year trial basis, and then held a staff vote. It was 45-2 to continue with trimesters.”

Grinnell has 20-25 minute enrichment or guided studies period at the beginning of the day, which is optional for students.

He said other Iowa high schools he knows using the trimester system include Cedar Rapids, Oskaloosa, Parkersburg, Council Bluffs and La Porte.

Sathoff told the board to change to trimesters for next school year a decision needs to be made by March.

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