Elementary schools move to trimester

SNOQUALMIE _ In the Snoqualmie Valley School

District's continuing challenge to provide better education to the students of

the Valley, all of the elementary schools will pilot a trimester schedule

next year.

The principals at the four schools _ North Bend, Snoqualmie, Fall

City and Opstad elementaries _ along with each building's Learning

Improvement Team, have decided to give the system a chance for at least one

school year.

School officials started discussing the possibility of the switch more

than three years ago when staff began learning more about how the

elementary-aged student's brain developed during the early years, said Opstad

Principal John Jester.

"A lot of people studying development continuums said that

setting goals and involving parents are important," he said.

So the staff at the elementary schools will use the first

parent/teacher/student conference in October to familiarize the parent with the

learning expectation of their child for that particular year. It will also be a

time for everyone, including the student, to set goals and create realistic

methods to help the child reach those standards.

Changing to the trimester system and implementing the

goal-setting process are the first steps for the

district to fulfill the state's Essential Academic Learning Requirements,

which are the standard academic skills and knowledge all students are required

to meet.

Under the semester system, the parents would first meet with

teachers in November, which is a little too late to set goals for the year,

officials said.

"My perspective is that the enthusiasm and interest in trying

something new with the intent to improve parent conferences and feedback would

lead to better student achievement," said Superintendent Dr. Rich McCullough.

The district has already developed a reading program that will help

students reach the new state standards, and staff will be working on

curriculum development in the other areas including writing, social studies,

math and science.

"But it takes time to implement these things," Jester said.

With the higher demands of academic accountability being

expected of educators, teacher Debbie Fratter said it was also time to revamp

the current report card system and replace it with one that matches the

current requirements.

"The old reporting and conference system doesn't work with the

new standards," she said, pointing to the report card that only asks teachers

to give an "O"utstanding,

"S"atisfactory or "N"eeds improvement. "The

report cards are too vague; [they don't] say how the student is developing."

But that will be another change for the elementary schools at a later

date, Jester said.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District already has one school that

has proven that trimesters are a suitable option. Snoqualmie Middle School

is in its second school year under the new schedule.

One advantage to the trimester system, said Assistant Principal

Sharon Gillaspie, is that it gives teachers one more opportunity to report

the progress of students to the parents. Under the semester system,

students are only graded two times a year, but with the trimester, they are

monitored three times.

The school has also implemented a "full team" schedule where two

or three educators share the responsibility of nurturing the same group of

students. For example, a teacher who is gifted in language arts and

literature might be paired with someone who excels in math and science.

"The students see fewer adults who get to know them

better," Gillaspie said. "It gets harder for

the kids to fall through the cracks."

"It's a model that has flexibility and uses the strengths of the teacher."

The trimester system also gives students more class time in

exploratory courses such as art, music, technical education (shop) and foreign


SMS has committed to trying out their new program for at least

three years before even considering returning to a semester schedule.

The elementary schools, however, have said that they will try the

trimester system out for one year. At the end of the period, the district will

evaluate the success of the program through teacher surveys, parent feedback

and test results, McCullough said.

"We'll know if people like it or don't like it and that's a big deal,"

he said. "If we have to disconnect like we've allowed SMS to go with

trimesters, I have no reservations of letting [the elementary schools who like

the new system] stay with the trimester."

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