Citing a need to improve academic performance and ease the transition to high school, Buffalo High School administrators said Monday that the school would prefer to move to a five-period three term (trimester) schedule. 

During a sometimes-contentious parent meeting Monday night, BHS principal Gib Ostheimer told the approximately 100 parents gathered that over the past several weeks, administrators and teachers have looked into a number of schedule options — ranging from alternating block to accelerated block — to address lagging academic achievement in ninth grade. Administrators focused their research on either a seven-period day in a semester calendar or a five-period trimester schedule. BHS currently operates on an eight-period, 18-week semester schedule. 

BHS counselor Michelle Dahlberg told parents Monday night that the schedule change is necessary to help the students at the high school who are struggling in the current schedule. 

“The reason we keep changing is we’re trying to help our bottom 15% of students find where they can be successful academically…,” she said. “We just are seeing year after year our freshmen are just struggling more to come in and balance those classes.”

Dahlberg said the current eight-course schedule is too many courses for students to balance and that students are not seeing their teachers frequently enough. 

Ostheimer said teachers have gathered information on the options, visited Cody High School — the only school in the state that uses a trimester schedule — and have participated in three staff meetings and department meetings to map out how their classes would work in potential schedules. This process eventually led to a 22-7 staff vote to pursue the five-period trimester as the preferred schedule option. 

On Monday night, Dahlberg walked parents through the trimester schedule, which she said would help achieve the administrators’ goals of reducing class load and increasing student contact with teachers. 

“The biggest takeaway that we had from Cody is that is kind of a perfect amount of (class) time,” she said.

However, the move to trimesters at Cody High School has not been without its challenges, according to Park County School District 6 Superintendent Peg Monteith. In an interview, she said one of the most challenging aspects has been aligning the calendar with the other schools in the district that do not use trimesters. 

“That’s the other piece we’ve talked about is … everybody moves to it or we go back to semesters,” she said. “That has been one of the issues that has not been the smoothest.” 

She said trimesters have also made it difficult to maintain consistent class sizes. And because there are fewer sections of each course offered in a trimester than there would be in a semester, students who wish to take electives — especially fine arts — have sometimes struggled to schedule those electives around core courses — not because the students don’t have enough time in the day, but because the course is only offered at the same time as a required course. 

In the trimester schedule, students would be in class for three, 12-week trimesters, during which they would take five classes per day for 77 minutes each class. While the trimester schedule would decrease the number of credits earned each year from 16 in the current schedule to 15 — eliminating a credit of electives each year — it would allow students greater flexibility to follow a particular path they wish to pursue, Dahlberg said. Students would still be able to take an elective, such as band or choir, all three trimesters if they wished. Dahlberg also said the decrease in credits would not affect graduation times or students’ ability to get scholarships, such as the Hathaway Scholarship. 

Dahlberg said another major positive for administrators to the trimester schedule is that it allows remediation for students immediately in the next trimester, instead of having to wait until the next year. 

Parent feedback ranged from disappointment in not being involved in the process so far to concern over the loss of electives to frustration with another schedule change for their students. Some parents who had experienced trimester schedules themselves provided negative feedback, while others said the schedule had worked for them or their children while in school. 

In response to parent concerns about changing schedules, Dahlberg said that in her time at BHS, the base schedule at the school has remained the same for about 12 years, with schedule adjustments only occurring for student intervention or district-wide schedule changes. Last year, Buffalo schools switched to a four-and-a-half day schedule with early dismissal on Fridays. 

Dahlberg and Ostheimer encouraged parents to visit with their students’ teachers or reach out to school administrators if they had further concerns or wanted to know more about the schedules.  

Ostheimer said the next step for BHS administrators is to discuss the parent feedback and continue visiting middle school teachers and administrators in the next week to discuss the potential changes. 

“Whether we make this shift to something, I would like to do it in the next week to two weeks,” he said. “I don’t want to push it to make a bad decision, but we do believe we can do better for kids.” 

Ryan Hanrahan joined the Bulletin in October 2020 and covers county government, schools and health care. If you have ideas or feedback, reach out at ryan@buffalobulletin.com.

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