School district rethinks class schedules

Last week many Island parents and students received emails from the Vashon School District, asking them to give their thoughts on the middle school and high school’s class schedules. For the first time in more than a dozen years, the school district is taking a serious look at Vashon High School’s class schedule, a study that may well result in a change from the current trimester system and changes at the middle school as well.

“It’s been a long time since the high school looked at its schedule,” said Stephanie Spencer, vice principal at VHS. “There’s been little things along the way, but not a major study of the five-period trimester.”

Spencer, along with McMurray Principal Greg Allison, now heads a 14-person schedule committee that convened this fall and has been tackling the in-depth study.

In recent years, Spencer said, she and other staff have heard increasing concerns about the high school’s current class schedule, one where students have three trimesters and take five classes at a time.

Some core classes are only assigned for two of three trimesters in a year, creating what some consider to be gaps in instruction. The gaps, some say, can become problematic, especially in skills-based classes such as

math or foreign languages, where continuous practice is helpful.

“Kids might have a history class in the fall and then not have it again until the spring,” Spencer said.

The system also means that when state testing comes around, some students have had more instruction time in certain subjects than other students.

“Some have had more time to prepare,” Spencer said. “It would be preferable if everyone was finishing right at the time that the testing is occurring.”

The district decided that while looking at the high school schedule, it would also consider the middle school’s, with hopes of creating a common schedule shared by both schools. Spencer said this type of schedule would make it easier for advanced middle schoolers to take classes at the high school and for staff to teach at both schools, something that happens to a certain extent already.

Islander Stephanie VanDevanter said that when her daughter was in middle school she qualified to take a high school math class, but couldn’t because of the schedules.

VanDevanter, who now has two children at the high school, said she also thinks semester-based classes, which most high schools offer, would be easier for colleges’ admissions offices to translate.

“I think it would be fine to go to semesters. I would love to see it aligned,” she said.

Carrie Van Buren, however, said her two high-school children have appreciated that the current trimester schedule allows them to take a wide variety of electives and change classes more often than a semester schedule would.

“They fear that variety and the change that comes with each tri would be taken away,” she said. “That it would be more mediocre.”

While it’s too early to tell what the best solution may be, Spencer said, the committee is open to reconsidering all aspects of the school schedule, Spencer said, including the number of terms, and number of periods in a day.

“There are a whole variety of ways you can configure (class) time,” she said.

Earlier this year the group looked at the schedules of the nation’s top performing schools, talking with some of their administrators over the phone. Now it will look at what Vashon students, parents and teachers say should be priorities in the new schedule, and this winter the district will hold at least one community forum on the topic.

“Hopefully by then we’ll have a better idea of which way we’re leaning, and we’ll gather feedback,” she said.

With a clearer vision, committee members will then do site visits at other schools before working to craft a plan for Vashon. Spencer said she expects the committee will have a recommendation for the superintendent and school board to consider this spring.

“We’re getting to the exciting part now,” Spencer said. “Now were going to start diving in and get opinions from a whole variety of people.”



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