Elementary schools move to trimester
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:52 PM
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
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 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
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,
"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
"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."