Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Skyline High School: Two Pluses and a Wish

When my children were in their middle elementary years, they had a teacher who would have students read and evaluate other students' projects. In their evaluations, they were asked to write down "two pluses" (things they liked about the report), and "a wish" (something they wish the student had done better).

A typical comment on a project might be:

Plus: I liked the pictures in your report.
Plus: I liked hearing the music they play in that country.
Wish: I wish you would speak louder when talking to the group.

Since I have a recent graduate of Skyline, many people have asked me what I thought of the experience, and I think that "two pluses and a wish" is a good format for me.  The pluses are really strong, and the wish might be even stronger.

Plus: On balance, the teachers and extracurricular staff were truly excellent. I don't mean to say that there was never a poor teacher (of course there were a few), but in general the level of teaching was fantastic and the teachers were not burned out. The same was true of the people who worked with my daughter on extracurricular activities. THANK YOU, teachers and staff!

Plus: Mastery learning. Although it's not always been implemented all that well, I think having a goal of every student mastering material, and grading them for mastery, is fantastic. Keep working to improve this.

Wish: I wish, I wish, with all my heart that the school would drop the trimester system. I've written about this before, but at this point I could add some more reasons:
  • Teachers report to me that when students get behind, it is harder for them to catch up because the pace has to be faster.
  • It causes many more conflicts between classes. As a student moves into their junior and senior years, it is much more likely they will have to choose between AP Biology and Orchestra.
  • If you want to take band, orchestra, or choir, you end up needing to use 50% more credits.
  • It makes dual-enrolling at Community, taking a CR class, or taking a class at Pioneer or Huron much more difficult. (Even if you can get to the other school, it's likely the timing won't work out.)
  • Most students end up taking math over three terms instead of two, so they end up using 50% more credits on math too. This reduces the number of electives they can use.
  • Many of the AP classes end up being three trimesters instead of two. Again, this ends up eating up elective credits.
In my dream world, at lunchtime, there would be a bus allowing students to switch schools to take that German or Mandarin class, that Physics or higher-level math class that can only be offered at a single school. But even if we don't get the bus, can we at least offer students who can figure out how to work things out the opportunity to make sure that the schools are on the same, semester-long, system? That's my wish.


  1. I was interested to see that Scot Graden on the Saline Superintendent's blog wrote about some new furniture they got, the "softer" side of Saline High School. Another thing that the Skyline facility could definitely use is some softening. Read Scot's blog post here:

  2. I'm curious -- are there people who *like* the trimester system? Are there any pro arguments? And if not (or if weak), is the BOE and super responsive when folks bring up these issues? Are they considering a change?

  3. In an ideal world all schools would be on semesters and block scheduling - this has been proven time and time again as the most effective method for students. I teach in a school on trimesters - although it allows students to take more electives, I think it negatively impacts learning in the core classes

  4. Great comments about Skyline. May I add my own 2 pluses and a wish for Pioneer? First Plus is the great extra activities there. My favorite is the Theater Guild which is welcoming, inclusive and has a huge variety of dedicated students participating. Second is the list of classes to choose from. My 2012 graduate never had enough time to take many of the ones she wanted. Favorites are psychology, humanities, and positive peer influence. My wish...I wish, wish, wish that the school would get away from the openly hostile attitude towards parents. I found the principal, coaches, class principals to be rude, dismissive, and outright ignoring of concerns brought to them. This results in angry parents taking problems all the way to the Balas building and even outside sources. I wish that whoever is named principal makes a real effort to change this culture.

  5. I've heard many students and parents complain about the trimesters for similar reasons. What do you suggest we do to change this? My daughter will be attending in an few years and the learning curve for me to pull all the relavent research together to present to the boe or other is daunting. Are there parents or teachers that have already done some of this and asked already? How far has this gone already? Is there an organized movement amongst parents or teachers or students?

  6. Ruth, I have children with that same plus/wish teacher (receiving the same 'speak louder / more slowly' wish - if they ever got a wish at all. So many of the kids just write "no wish!").

    The oldest of that batch is now at Pioneer and I must say that I agree 100% with the first anonymous commenter's wish. The environment there is so hostile - not just to parents, but to students as well. The attitude I perceive is "here are our rules, make sure you follow them. Oh, and if you learn something along the way, good for you." It's distressing.