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Homestead ready to unveil trimester concept

Schedule realigns curriculum; gives staff, students more face time

Aug. 29, 2012

Updated to include summary of trimester effectiveness measurement tool.

Mequon - When the bell rings in the first period at Homestead High School on Tuesday, students and teachers alike will begin the district's first foray into the trimester scheduling system.

The trimester is the brainchild of a Homestead Schedule Study Team, which began meeting in October 2010 to address concerns over a schedule implemented in 2008 that had teachers teaching six of seven periods in a semester format.

Though the trimester system has been a longtime in the making and has faced criticisms along the way, district officials are excited for the switch, which they say will ease the burden on teachers and offer more time for students to seek out and engage them.

"I am confident that our students are going to have an exceptional educational experience this year," Homestead High School Principal Brett Bowers said.

Extra time

The driving force behind the study team and ultimately the trimester was the cost saving maneuver in 2008 which had teachers go from teaching five of seven periods to six of seven.

That change created instructional and organizational problems, Superintendent Demond Means said, since the added teaching period increased teachers' workloads by 20 percent.

"That impacts the quality you get," Means said, referring to the tendency teachers had to use machine-graded multiple choice tests - which save time while grading - in lieu of papers and written tests.

Under the trimester system, school days will be split up into five approximately 70-minute periods instead of seven 50-minute periods, of which teachers will teach four.

The four of five setup means teachers will spend 80 percent of their day teaching, compared to 71 percent in the five of seven and 86 percent in the six of seven systems.

Accompanying the longer periods and lessened teaching loads is what district officials are referring to as "flex time," which Means describes as an opportunity for students to work together in study groups, or seek out staff.

"Now there's a time for a student to pull a teacher aside and ask for help," Means said.

Reviewing the goods

The district is anticipating three primary advantages to the trimester system, according to Bowers. First, that the lengthened periods and flex time will increase student engagement with their subjects of study and their teachers. Second, that the added time will allow for more personal instruction, since teachers should be getting more face time with individual students. Third, Bowers said that curriculum and courses will align better, since each course was reviewed and revised in the process of switching to the trimester.

He likens the curriculum to a typical basement.

"It fills over time with stuff that seems important at the time," said Bowers, adding that the trimester switch has allowed the district to determine what is important and essential. "It's given us the chance to evaluate everything that's there."

In addition, Bowers said that re-evaluation had staff "looking internally but externally as well," which led to a further alignment of the curriculum toward ACT preparation and standards for university success.

Winning over the community

The largest upcoming challenge, in Bowers' mind, will be gaining the full confidence of the residents when it comes to the trimester system.

"It's probably safe to say we don't have that now," Bowers said. "I'm not sure if there's a universal way to win over the community."

To measure and report the success of the new schedule, the School Board recently approved a trimester effectiveness measurement tool to evaluate: the amount of added preparation time teachers gain, as well as "office hours" students use to engage with their teachers; the quality of assignments as decided by administrators; collaboration among teachers, as measured through surveys and focus groups, as well as the voluntary enrollment of staff in professional development; and student achievement as a result of AP, ACT, and WKCE scores.

To Means, there's one surefire way to vet the trimester in the eyes of the community.

"It's ultimately about results," he said. "It comes down to productivity and that we're providing the same amount of instruction."

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