Vashon High School will overhaul its class schedule next school year, changing from its current three-term schedule to a semester system.
A 17-person committee tasked last fall with rethinking the middle school and high school class schedules recently put forward a proposal to move the high school from a three-trimester school year with five classes each term to a two-semester school year with six classes each term. Superintendent Michael Soltman approved the plan and announced the change at last Thursday’s school board meeting. The high school has been on a trimester schedule for more than a dozen years.
“Their recommendation was based on good, solid research of the best practices of high-performing school districts and really answered some of the deepest concerns we had about the current trimester schedule,” Soltman said in an interview.
School district officials say there have been concerns and complaints about the trimester system at VHS for years. Many core classes are only assigned for two of three terms in a year, creating gaps in instruction that some say can be problematic, especially in skills-based classes. And when state testing occurs, some students have had more instruction in certain subjects than other students.
The committee, headed by VHS Assistant Principal Stephanie Spencer and McMurray Middle School Principal Greg Allison, spent months researching high school schedule options, surveying top schools, visiting other campuses and gathering feedback from students, parents and teachers.
When it put forward its recommendation last month, the committee said a semester system would not only eliminate the troublesome gaps in instruction, but align the high school’s schedule with the middle school’s, making it easier for advanced middle schoolers to take classes at the high school and for teachers to split their time between the two schools.
Many VHS students, however, voiced concerns about the plan, saying it would give them fewer opportunities to take elective classes and would allow them to earn fewer credits, potentially giving them a disadvantage in college admissions. One student even created a Facebook page and online survey to protest the change and spoke against the plan at a school board meeting. The survey garnered more than 80 digital signatures.
Spencer and other administrators, however, said the committee vetted those concerns and still felt the semester system was the best option. College admissions offices take into account class schedules, Spencer said, and while some students would see their elective options limited, each student will be affected differently, and there will also be more opportunities for advanced placement classes.
Next school year is a good time to implement the new schedule, Spencer said, as many teachers are already reworking their curriculum to meet new state guidelines. The district is currently working out how various classes will look under the new schedule, and it will likely provide teachers training as they work to adapt their curriculum. Spencer said the plan had wide support from teachers, especially those who wished to have students in class for an entire school year.
“Like anything, when there’s a change there’s a significant amount of work that needs to happen, and you want to make sure it goes smoothly,” Spencer said. “In general, we’re feeling very good about the decision. We made it with a lot of research and a lot of feedback, and we’re looking forward to making the switch.”