Parkway’s Board of Education is set to vote on Aug. 23 on plans to shift from a trimester to a semester-based calendar for middle schools, starting with the 2018-2019 school year.
During a work session at the board’s Aug. 2 meeting, members of an administrative study team said that the change is needed to ensure increased personalization opportunities and class choices for middle school students.
Such a change would create greater middle and high school alignment and increase opportunities for a more student-focused experience for Parkway students in grades sixth through 12, the team members said.
“Using a semester-based system will unblock and unlock student elective choices,” Michael Baugus, principal of Parkway Central Middle, said. “Currently, student elective choices in sixth, seventh and eighth grades limit student choice by linking course content in a trimester-based, or year-long, rotation.”
For instance, in sixth grade, the trimester schedule now allows students to choose courses in predetermined six-week cycles, such as in fine arts, career and technical education, and modern and classical languages. In the new alignment, students would be able to have four elective choices in nine-week cycles, such as being able to take either drama or art; technical education, family and consumer science, or business/marketing/information technology, and global studies/world languages, Baugus said.
In seventh grade, kids now can choose two courses that rotate each 12 weeks and count as one elective course, in fine arts or technology exploration. With the change, they will be able to select two semesters of interest – among a number of options, in both fine arts and tech exploration – per year-long course but may select two year-long courses if they want to.
In eighth grade, students now can select a year-long fine arts elective course and a practical arts elective. With the change, they can select two semesters of interest – among a number of options, in both fine arts and tech exploration – per year-long course but may select two year-long courses if they want to. And they’d be able to take the same course for both semesters, Baugus said.
Courtney Yeager, the district’s middle school curriculum coordinator, added that the proposal would also align middle and high school calendars, thus increasing opportunities for professional development to be made available to increase collaboration between teachers.
Baugus added that “there would still be time in schedules for remediation and enrichment for students with special needs and parents would continue to get student reports six times per year.”
He said the recommendation resulted from numerous discussions with students, parents and staff.
Kevin Beckner, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and accountability, said students would continue to follow the same course request and registration timeline as under the trimester system, with courses requested annually in January. He added that courses offered at various middle schools will be determined by the number of students who sign up for them.
“If only four kids are interested, a class may not fill,” he said.
According to Baugus, the plan does not require additional funding allocations.
“As under the current trimester system, staffing decisions would be made based on student course requests,” Baugus said. “While preliminary analysis suggests staffing would be minimally impacted, any effects would be monitored regularly and changes to staffing allocation would be made through attrition and re-allocation.”
Baugus added that other St. Louis County school districts, including Rockwood, use the semester system for middle schools.
District Superintendent Keith Marty said the change “will allow for a lot of course exploration by students over their three years [in middle school].”
Board member Kim Appelbaum noted that “students can better determine if they like an area of study or not, so their high school path may be different.”
Baugus said the change likely will require more conversations between students, their parents and counselors on course choices and added that the change will be aided through events like parent and curriculum nights to explain the changes.