Parents met with Superintendent Scott Crane at the Grand County School District office the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 23 to discuss concerns.
Crane said that the informal meeting was originally scheduled with only a few parents, but as the meeting progressed more parents arrived. The fifteen to twenty parents mostly had children in high school.
Most expressed concerns about having a trimester schedule and 70-minute classes.
“We’re not complaining about teachers. For the most part, they are doing a great job,” said parent Gail Wakefield. “It is the system, not the personnel.”
Grand County School District moved from a quarter-system to splitting the school-year into thirds in the late 1990s. Grand County Middle and High schools also changed to their daily schedule from seven 45-minute periods to five 70-minute periods at the same time.
“They did a study and looked at the ramifications to determine what was best for the schools,” said district business manager Robert Farnsworth.
High school teacher Ryan Anderson said that faculty and staff began looking at best practices as they contemplated their move to the new high school building in 1997.
Administrators from the Jordan School District were invited to Grand County to observe how the high school operated.
“One of the suggestions was to do research in scheduling options that would work best for both the student population and the teachers,” Anderson said. “We spent almost a full year going to different schools that had very effective systems.”
In 1998 a retreat was held for Grand County’s faculty to discuss and debate different options. As a result, the 70-minute classes, five period a day schedule was adopted; as was the trimester schedule for the year for both the high school and middle school.
“We also recognized that with the trimester system and five classes every day, we could cover more classes with fewer teachers, provide more offerings for the students,” Anderson said. “It also allowed us to identify those students who were not doing well, and to provide make up time for them more than we would in the other systems.”
Farnsworth said after a few years the middle school chose to return to seven 45-minute periods to facilitate having core classes such as math, English and science throughout the year.
Grand County is one of six school districts in the state that splits the school year into trimesters.
A repeated concern expressed by different parents regarding the trimester schedule is that classes aren’t taken throughout the year, which can affect the continuous learning of subjects, such as foreign languages.
Kim Call, the mother of twelve children, said that she was concerned that her children that have been on the trimester system have had gaps in their core classes.
“My son isn’t taking math this trimester,” she said.
Merrie Knutson, the mother of five sons, said that she has seen a difference in her children’s education when the district moved from quarters to trimesters.
“It eliminated one of their electives,” she said.
She expressed that if one of her sons chose to stick with band all year round, he wouldn’t be able to take an art class, too.
“Then it got to the point that kids stopped taking band all three trimesters,” Knutson said. “Some would take it only the first two trimesters, then the band was left decimated.”
She said the school saw huge declines in choir, as well.
“There’s now only a half a dozen kids,” Knutson said. “We used to have both a choir and a show choir with lots and lots of students.”
She pointed to how colleges look to see if a student is well-rounded and involved in activities.
“I can see how the trimester system has been a hindrance to students that do want to have a broad range of academics and fine arts and extracurricular,” Knutson said. “This has been a frustration to me since we’ve moved to a trimester system.”
Valerie Brown said that her son plans to major in music when he attends college, however, he isn’t taking any band classes this year, because none are offered during the day.
“He can take jazz band if he takes it during zero hour, for kids that show up at 6:30 a.m.,” Brown referred to the class that begins before school hours. “Then they sleep through the 70-minute classes.”
The 70-minute long classes were the second most commonly expressed frustration.
Both the limit of only five classes per day and the long class time were an issue for some parents.
Call expressed concern that the 70-minute long classes couldn’t keep the student’s attention during core classes.
“What we’re worried about are the core: the academics,” Call said. “Seventy-minute classes are too long for my kids.”
Knutson asked if the benefits of the longer classes outweighed the negative impacts.
She said that the 70-minute class schedule affected her sons’ study habits.
“It was purported as a plus that students would have time in class to do their work so they wouldn’t have to have homework. My sons that went through that kind of program got their assignments done, but when they went to college, they were not prepared for the amount of work they have to do outside of class,” Knutson said. “It was detrimental to them. It wasn’t good training to prep for college work.”
Mother Connie Wilson said that due to the 70-minute classes, it limited students to five classes a day, which also limited access to Advanced Placement classes where students can earn college credit.
“You can save $600 in tuition by taking a math AP test at the end of the year,” Wilson said. She referred to one of her children passing an English AP class. “I loved that I didn’t have to spend tuition money on English 1010.”
Mother Heider Weiner said she was concerned about her child being able to take AP classes without having seven periods.
“I’m not sure if my child can get there and he’s an honor student,” Weiner said.
Crane spent most of the meeting listening.
“We will do research,” Crane said. “We will take suggestions.”
He expressed caution about changing for change sake, because that could cause confusion.
“But positive change to improve what you’re doing becomes a consistent pattern in the framework to be able to do new things,” Crane said. “We will look at the positives and negatives.”
Parents expressed appreciation to Crane for listening.
“We’ve grumbled about this for a decade,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen you get other things done. We thought maybe you can get this done.”