ONTARIO — With passage by the Ontario School Board of the 2018-19 academic calendar during its meeting on Monday, Ontario High School will officially head into a trimester calendar for the upcoming school year.
In discussions since December of 2016, the high school will move to a 12-week per trimester system beginning Aug. 17.
The main question officials addressed while discussing moving to such a system was: “How do we offer more for our students with the same amount of staff?”
Nathan Sandberg, assistant principal at the high school, has been helping spearhead the research into such a transition.
In fact, Sandberg, along with instructional coach Ken Martinez, had first visited four schools in Eugene in April 2017 to observe the implementation of their trimester system; three of those schools, Molalla, Cascade and North Marion, “were a gold mine of knowledge,” Sandberg said, because of their similarities to Ontario High School.
After their visit, Sandberg said the staff knew such a transition couldn’t be made in time for the 2017-18 school year, so the school continued to work on planning the transition. After the board passed the new academic calendar this week, Ontario High School hosted a public informational session designed to provide parents answers on what the upcoming year will look like. One of those topics was on the new schedule.
Four more classes per year
As it currently exists, the high school uses a two-semester, seven-classes-a-day system. This translates to high-schoolers getting, in total, 14 classes in one year, Sandberg said. With a trimester system, that number of classes would jump to 18 per year, with six periods of classes each day. In addition, the duration of classes will increase from 50 minutes to 60 minutes. By making the move, students will gain four additional classes every year that would need to be filled by electives.
It so happens, however, that moving to the trimester system will also free up teachers to allow them to offer more elective classes, Sandberg said. Electives on the forecasting sheet for the next school year, which doesn’t guarantee that they will available, include: Russian literature, debate, drama, drumline, Latin American art, watercolors, cartooning, geography, anthropology and history through music, among others.
The start and and end time for school days will remain 8 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., Sandberg said, but it’s what “goes on in between” that is going to change.
The first day of classes will also be the same: Aug. 17 for all high school students, with the first trimester scheduled to end Nov. 16. For the remainder of the 2018-19 school year, the second trimester will be from Nov. 26 to Feb. 28; and the third trimester will start March 4 and wrap up on May 30.
Because of lengthened terms, parents can expect to receive more progress reports on their child’s academic performance, Sandberg said. This will include a six-week progress report halfway through the trimester followed up by a 12-week trimester report.
Credit recovery and challenges
With a trimester system, officials say students will be able to recover credits easier should they fail a section of some of the core classes required for graduation.
For example, Algebra II will require two trimesters to complete. If a student fails the first section of the class in the first trimester, they can still retake that section in the second trimester and finish up the class in the third trimester, Sandberg explained, “instead of waiting until the next academic year.”
With the move to a trimester system, “condensing will need to take place” in classes to meet the shortened terms. There also can be no overlap between different classes, such as in mathematics, for example. Each high school department has had curriculum maps and pacing guides since October to increase the efficiency of their courses.
Another challenge high school administration will address and curtail is ensuring students don’t have too large a gap between taking one class then a subsequent class that requires the prerequisite.
Returning to the example of mathematics, if a student took Algebra II in the second and third trimester, they could theoretically not be taking the next math class until after the summer and after the first trimester: after they have forgotten much of what they learned, Sandberg explained.
“We have to be diligent to make sure that doesn’t happen to students,” Sandberg said.
New for the incoming high school freshman is what is being called the Freshman Academy. High School administration came up with the idea after visiting Molalla, Cascade and North Marion, which are utilizing a similar approach in their freshman classes.
In essence, half of the freshman class will spend three consecutive class periods in the morning, in the same two-period block of sophomores, juniors and seniors, attending science, English language arts and math, one class period each. The second half of the freshman class will do the same during the last three periods of the class. One teacher will teach each subject.
The whole idea is based around a cohort model, in which classmates move together from one class to the next. The intent is to engage high school freshman with the approach as soon as they step into the building and make the transition from middle school to high school that much easier, Sandberg explained.
“Seniors who are off track to graduate can be traced back to their freshman year,” Sandberg said.
Because the same teachers will remain with the students all-year long, they will all “be speaking the same tone,” and can communicate amongst one another should they feel they need to move students from one class to the next because of behavioral issues.
For more advanced students, one class of advanced English will be offered, along with two sections of integrated algebra, Sandberg said.
In preparation for the Freshman Academy, counselors at Ontario Middle School have been discussing the academy with current eighth-graders, Sandberg said.