Across the country, educators and school administrators are working to find innovative solutions to problems in urban school districts. Charter schools and other private institutions have taken the lead in restructuring their schools with longer school days and school years, an idea that is slowly gaining prominence with public schools also.
On Jan. 26, the school board will vote on a recommendation by the East End Region Advisory Committee to establish a trimester calendar schedule at the two 6-12 single-gender academies soon to be created at Westinghouse High School.
“Moving to a trimester provides students fewer classes per term, allowing students to focus on core academic subjects,” said Assistant Superintendent Derrick Lopez. “The new calendar also is more representative of what our students can expect at a college or university.”
Westinghouse would cost an additional $514,701 in operations with a trimester schedule, which would be paid for primarily through a federal School Improvement Grant. This would include additional compensation for teachers who would be working an additional 20 days throughout the school year.
“Teachers have breaks at different times throughout the year. Even though they are teaching 20 more days total, they will be getting breaks throughout the year,” Lopez said. “Though there may be some apprehension because of the 20 days, there will be teachers who appreciate having that extra time with students.”
When asked how a trimester calendar would impact Pittsburgh’s teachers, John Tarka, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, declined to give specific comments. He said if the board approved the proposal he would begin discussing his concerns with the district.
“The proposal is an issue that still needs to be resolved with the PFT. Matters of school year and compensation are collective bargaining issues,” Tarka said. “We will make sure the concerns I have for our members are addressed.”
The trimester schedule would break the school year into three semesters with vacations approximately one month long in between. The new system would also add an additional 45 minutes to the traditional school day, which would give the students 1600 hours of instruction per year, compared to the state’s requirement of 990. The calendar for seniors would be modified to allow them to graduate with the city’s other high schools.
Students will take three core courses each term in subjects such as math and English and two elective courses, allowing students to focus on only five courses total as opposed to the traditional eight. If a student fails a course they will be able to retake it in place of an elective course the following term.
“What they’re able to do is remediate children who are failing. I think it will allow our kids to focus on areas where they need improvements,” Lopez said. “In addition students can focus on the core curriculum more directly. It also allows us to dig more deeply into content. I think it’s an effective schedule period for high schools.”
The trimester calendar, which was modeled after City High Charter School located Downtown, would set Westinghouse apart from all other schools in the district.
“We explored various options. We wanted to figure out how we could concentrate on the core courses,” Lopez said. “One of the things we love to do in the district is try best practices and if they work, it could be something we would consider for the entire district.”