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Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Trimesters or semesters? Ann Arbor officials consider Skyline High School's structure

By Danielle Arndt


The Ann Arbor school district soon will debate whether to change Skyline High School, pictured here, to a semester calendar, like the two other comprehensive high schools, or to leave it as a trimester, three-marking period school.

Daniel Brenner | file photo

Ann Arbor Public Schools administrators have targeted Skyline High School’s trimester model as a way to save the district $300,000 in next year’s budget.

Skyline — complete with its magnet programs, trimester schedule and mastery learning concepts — opened its doors in 2008. While the school was constructed to relieve overcrowding at Ann Arbor Huron and Pioneer high schools, its innovative teaching and learning models were touted as the key to developing competitive students with 21st century educations.

But now, as central administration and the Board of Education begin to explore potential budget reductions for the 2013-14 academic year, Skyline’s teaching and learning models are being called into question.

In particular, board members want to see evidence of the trimester schedule working — or not working, said Vice President Christine Stead, who brought up the topic at Wednesday’s regular board meeting. She had hoped to place the topic on an upcoming board agenda to let people know when the district would be talking about the trimester concept again.

“I think there’s an active community (at Skyline) that wants to transition to semesters,” she said. “But I’m wondering if there’s an active community that feels otherwise.”

AAPS faces an estimated $17 million budget shortfall for the 2013-14 academic year. And in December, at the board’s request, the district released a preliminary list of possible budget reductions, which included switching Skyline's trimester calendar to a semester calendar.

No formal recommendations on the initial items and estimates presented in December have been made yet.

On the trimester topic, Stead would like to give the public an opportunity to weigh in on what their Skyline experiences have been and what they think is best for students, she said.

Parents have complained about their students’ light academic schedules; inability to take Advanced Placement and other specialty courses, due to fewer teachers and the three-marking period schedule; as well as lengthy gaps in learning in core subjects, such as math and science, from having a second semester course one year to not having the core subject again until fall, or first semester, of the subsequent school year.

“I think we need to be surveying parents to understand what additional tutoring they feel compelled to provide versus the other comprehensive high schools in order to bridge something like a nine-month gap for math and science, especially when they’re trying to prepare for the ACT,” Stead said. “This will give us a sense for is this model working, or isn’t it? And what else do families have to do for their child to be successful in that model?”

Superintendent Patricia Green said at Wednesday’s regular board meeting that administrators intend to bring the topic of Skyline’s trimesters back before the board in February. Green said if a decision on trimesters is made in February, the district still would have time to start a semester schedule at the high school by September.

But Stead and trustees Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot wanted to secure a date and moved to place the topic of trimesters formally on the board’s agenda. However, the motion failed 3-4.

Board Treasurer Glenn Nelson said he wants the administration to take the lead on this and to bring the issue back to the board when they are ready and have ample data and information gathered.

“My concern is putting it on the agenda prematurely,” he said. “I do want the opinion of expert educators on what makes sense and the rationale for that. But I want it to start with our professional team, rather than start as a grassroots political issue.”

Nelson also said Skyline’s trimester calendar was not chosen haphazardly.


Christine Stead

“So I want to see the evidence for the reason the change (to semesters) is better before we rush in.”

But Stead is more interested in discussing the trimester model in practice at Skyline.

“I’m less interested in the theory behind what’s possible, because we have what’s happening at Skyline right now. And to delve back into the academic theory of trimesters versus semesters at that level … isn’t helpful,” Stead said. “We have a reality of how it’s been working, regardless of however it was theorized and planned to be. That we can study and look at the data for. And it’s that data, our experience and our children’s experience, … that will be more meaningful.”

Stead said she would hate for it to be the case that the district was unable to make a decision in time for next fall.

“I heard what I feel is a satisfactory reassurance from Dr. Green that this will be brought forward in a timely manner. … So I would not support a board-imposed deadline,” Nelson said, and Trustee Andy Thomas concurred.

Green said it is not the administration’s intention to study Skyline’s trimester schedule into next year. She added, however, she did not want to speak for Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Alesia Flye, who is leading a committee that’s looking at many facets of the high school experience in Ann Arbor.

Flye was out ill and could not attend Wednesday’s meeting, so Green said she was not comfortable giving a precise timeline for the administration’s recommendation, approval or implementation yet, as the topic is still being studied.

“I haven’t gotten a final report from them. … Everything on that committee was being explored,” she said.

Green said she does not know what the impact of switching to a semester calendar would be on courses, adding it would warrant the involvement and input of the high school counselors. She stressed the administration is aware of the tight timeframe and recognized the registration process for next year’s classes starts soon for high schoolers.

Green also has heard concerns from Skyline parents about the scheduling difficulties and limited options the trimester calendar has yielded, she said.

“It troubles me we have to say no to our young people when they want the option to take another course,” she added.

Switching Skyline High School’s schedule from trimesters to semesters could allow the district to reduce Skyline’s instructional staff by about three teachers.

In December, Flye said there are pros and cons to both the trimester and semester models. But it is difficult, in some aspects, running a school district on two different structures, she said.


Alesia Flye

The district’s curriculum coordinators have highlighted challenges aligning curriculums across the comprehensive high schools. Flye said professional development often has to be conducted separately for Skyline teachers or sidebar conversations have to take place during broad-scale PD to apply various aspects of the PD to the trimester model.

A committee of 14 people from AAPS was established to look at start times and other aspects of the high school experience in Ann Arbor. Out of this committee stemmed several possible next steps, one of which was moving all of the comprehensive high schools to a semester schedule.

In general, according to a committee report, students at Skyline have five class-period days with 72-minute periods. However, in many cases, students take two or three courses every 60 days to earn six to nine credits per year.

At Huron and Pioneer, students have six class-period days with 56-minute classes. These two comprehensive high schools also have a seventh-hour option for students.

District officials said students must take six classes to be considered a full-time student under the semester schedule. As of Fall Count Day 2012, 335 students or 20.3 percent of the population at Pioneer took advantage of the seventh-hour option. At Huron, 220 or 13.6 percent of the population did.

Officials said the total cost to offer the seventh-hour program is 4.44 teachers or approximately a little more than $400,000.

Stead said in December that Skyline had its first graduating class in 2012 and thus, by now, the district should be able to say without a doubt whether the trimester schedule has been successful in terms of student achievement, attendance and engagement as well as teacher satisfaction.

Flye said at the December meeting, one of the benefits she has heard of the trimester model is teachers see fewer students during the day, giving them more time for individualized instruction. Teachers also have an extended time for planning and students have more time for reflection and less information to process during the course of a single school day, she said.

Some disadvantages the district highlighted are three sets of final exams for students, greater difficultly building teacher-student relationships, year-long AP or music courses that can reduce choices available to students, and more stress for students due to the frequent schedule and lunch period changes.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 10:18 p.m.

Since it is brought up in the article: why is mastery offered at Skyline but not Pioneer or Huron. Mastery allows the kids to retake exams to improve their grades or even possibly delay in taking an exam until they are ready. This is unfair playing field then for kids coming from Ann Arbor schools where at Skyline they can take retrospective action to improve their GPA while in other locations they can not. Mastery should be allowed at all schools (or none).


Tue, Feb 5, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

The majority of Skyline teachers and students are in favor of keeping the trimester system. This shouldn't even be up for discussion. The magnet programs are excellent opportunities for the students. My daughter welcomes the breather from having math 1st and 3rd tri this year, and she is not worried about forgetting the material. She loves the fact that she has more electives to choose from and can take two foreign languages along with AP classes in a school year. She is definitely looking forwad to being a part of the magnet program, which is going away if they switch to semesters. How about this for an option? Keep Skyline unique in this community, and those parents who want the semesters, why doesn't the BOE entertain the idea of letting them transfer to the other high schools? There's a lottery of students who would love to attend Skyline...let them come! As for the argument of taking classes at the other schools that are not currently offered at Skyline and vice versa, how about a committee of teachers/admin get together and evaluate what courses are popular and add that to their own mix of classes, be it semester or trimester? There were definitely a few classes at Community that my daughter would like to take, but there are also electives at Skyline that are equally great. I think that students welcome choices. Data is available from the AAPS district showing the success of students at Skyline in all areas compared to the rest of the district. I would like to see that posted and discussed by the BOE. Don't change something that is working for the community. There are two BOE meetings left...Feb. 13th and Feb. 27th, when a recommendation is to be made. It's time for the Skyline community to speak up! If you can't make the meetings, I highly encourage you to email them at

Niraj Patel

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

If switching to semesters means cancelling the magnet programs then I don't want to. I'm in Skyline's Engineering magnet designing a new portable wind turbine that can charge devices for camping, power outages, refugee camps etc. There is nowhere else that high school students are allowed to do real self-designed projects.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

I am a student at Skyline, and I like trimesters, because they are shorter than semesters, so the whole year seems to go faster than with semesters. In addition to that you can choose way more classes, for example if you come for just one year as an exchange student, you can try more different classes than with semesters. The main point is that we have less homework with five classes a day instead of seven classes a day and when we have finals there are only five finals instead of seven.

Bob Shallagenburger

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

So I'm a student at Skyline. Going into my senior year, I want to be able to take as many classes that I can to get as much college credit as I can. It would be a lot nicer taking 15 classes next year than just 10. I'm going to have to take an art class, and I would rather take it for 12 weeks than 18. So if they decide to do this, it's going to suck for the seniors. I know that the administration is not too keen on allowing students to make any decisions about anything ever, but they should really listen to them on this one. Just trying to keep it real for all my juniors out there.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

I am a student at skyline and I think we should keep trimesters. Every one like's the opportunities it gives us. We don't have to take a class all year. We get to meet new teachers and students. Our classes are 72 minutes long therefore, we get more out of class time. If we switched to semesters, our class time would almost be cut in half. It breaks up the year nicely and we graduate with more credit hours than needed. If we got rid of trimesters, that would also mean getting rid of the magnets. That would highly upset a lot of people.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

As a student of Skyline and one of the magnets, I think the trimesters are great. If we didn't have the trimesters, my magnet wouldn't exist. Most of the students learn independence and great study skills due to the two trimester. Other students that do not develop these skills have the option to take 3 tri-classes. Also if we get rid of the trimesters, we get rid mastery learning. This helps almost everyone at Skyline achieve the grades they need to be successful. I think this is a great tool to help get into college and give Skyline students a head up. Also I don't understand why Ann Arbor would want to make Skyline the same as the other two high schools. Ann Arbor is one of the most diverse cities in Michigan. Shouldn't Ann Arbor like the idea of diversity among the high schools? I would do anything to keep trimesters and the magnet at Skyline. The magnet teachers have worked so hard to keep the magnets at Skyline, my teacher was almost in tears on Friday because Ann Arbor wanted to get rid of the trimesters and along with them the magnets. All the magnet student are working feverishly to keep the trimesters. We have almost all the teachers and student body on our side. I would hate to see the magnet disappear, because that's why I choose to go to Skyline.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:18 a.m.

I spoke with a magnet leader who was unconcerned about the possible switch to semesters. This teacher was 100% confident that the magnet would thrive and students would be just fine. A rich, varied program always, by definition, introduces inefficiencies and extra expense into a system. These are times for streamlining and cutting costs. If Skyline can hang on to its teaching philosophy and magnet curricula with a cost-saving change to semesters, it's likely to happen.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

Our 2 kids are at Skyline by lottery. Our experience has been positive. While not ideal, a trimester gap in math & Spanish was not an impediment to learning . An online class, required of ALL to graduate was quite manageable. So was a summer class. Both can help limit "summer learning loss." My child embraces those tradeoffs so she can take choir. Students in Magnet & AP classes have to make tradeoffs, too. (BTW, the magnets are why 100+ students lottery in each year.) Ann Arbor academic culture assumes that all students are Ivy League bound. Not true. Trimesters with 5 longer classes provide a critical safety net for those who fall through the cracks. With a few minutes to for everyone to start homework, teachers can assist students who don't understand—especially in math, which is required all 4 yrs. Others can take the challenge of an online course & the AP classes which ARE offered at Skyline. Education is not one size fits all. We routinely try to fit square pegs into round holes. This is a strong reason that 400+ students try for 110 spaces at Community. Skyline blends some CHS educational philosopy into a traditional school for those 400 + students who chose Skyline. Pioneer has a dog-eat-dog culture. Our square peg would be devoured. Each high school has its strengths. ALL offer an excellent education. If we were to allow open enrollment among the 3 comprehensiive high schools, every AAPS student could choose the best fit. Those who don't favor trimesters would be more than welcome at Pioneer or Huron. Maybe the demand for Community would be alleviated. And some families who opt for charter or public schools might not leave the district—adding much needed per-pupil funds. Our focus should be helping ALL students to learn & grow to their potential.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

This article is quite biased. The reasons in favor of semesters are given, but there is barely any mention of the advantages trimesters lend to many students. It's quite ridiculous to suggest that trimesters limit the amounts of classes a student can take. Trimesters allow at least one extra elective class per year for every student. Having five periods versus six or seven also reduces the amount of stress on students; they have less fields of study to focus on. One of the biggest aspects of Skyline is their renowned Magnet program. This program allows students to gain college credit in specialized classes while they are still in high school. It allows students to be more prepared for later life. When students are enrolled in an intensive study course in which they are serious about, it helps them organize their priorities for the future. Getting rid of trimesters will do more harm than good. Many students depend on them, and I do too.

Sweet Life

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4:45 a.m.

As the parent of a Skyline senior and of two Huron graduates, I think the trimester system is a complete failure. On paper, the ability to schedule 15 classes per year on a 3 trimester 5 period per day system would seem to have an advantage over the 14 classes per year on a 2 semester 7 period schedule. But if you are taking music classes and AP classes, which meet all three trimesters, the extra classes quickly get used up, and it is impossible to complete all requirements without taking on-line courses (we have had universally bad experiences with AAPS on-line courses). We did not have this problem with comparable course schedules at Huron. Combine that with the long gaps in some courses (as long as March to November in some cases), and problems trying to schedule a class at the other high schools and you have a system that just doesn't work. Why do AP classes require the equivalent of an extra semester at Skyline (3 trimesters) compared to Huron and Pioneer (2 semesters)? Because a 2 trimester course would be over in March, 2 months before the AP exam? I've never understood this aspect of the Skyline schedule.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:11 a.m.

You are correct about the reason for AP running 3 trimesters. This was not part of the original model, it was an adjustment. AP teachers could not teach Tri 1 and Tri 2 and expect students to do well on a test 7-8 weeks later, nor could they teach it Tri 2 and 3 and get the material in before the AP exam. Two-semester teachers can pull it off.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 1:35 a.m.

The Ann Arbor school system and all its administrators do not have the acumen to pull off a successful trimester system as evident with Skyline. Their priorities are skewed. Cut the budget from football- convert school sports into club, like the Pioneer Crew. Quit trying to re-invent the wheel!

Sweet Life

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4:26 a.m.

Not really sure what your point is. The athletic budget has nothing to do with the success or failure of the trimester system.

Yuxuibbs DiNozzo

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:26 a.m.

As a Skyline student, I have almost always enjoyed being on the trimester schedule. First trimester finals are right after Thanksgiving but having to avoid crazy family members because you have to study is always better than having to study for finals during winter break. Many of my friends were able to graduate with their class because they had room in their schedules to retake failed classes. They did not have to wait an entire year to take the same class again. First trimester of sophomore year, I had to take four core classes with one elective class that was more like a core academic class than an elective. I could not balance my academics and extracurricular activities because sometimes I had up to three tests in one day and did not have enough time to study for all of them. The trimester system allowed me to fly through the classes I did not enjoy so that I could take classes I did enjoy. I have taken 3 AP classes (all were year long courses) and having 72 minutes a day in class allowed me to learn more material and have a deeper understanding of the material. If the trimester system were switched to semesters, I would not be able to graduate with my class due to the weird schedule I have. Some people on here say that students forget a lot of material. I never had much of a problem remembering the material because the teacher understands if you forget a few things because it has been 12 weeks since you took that class. The teacher just reminds you of the concept again and most of the time, that is enough to make your brain remember most (if not all) of the material that was buried in the back of your mind during the break from that class. Some teachers (mostly language and math classes) spend the first few days reviewing so that students don't feel stressed out about all the material they forgot over the break.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

"bridge something like a nine-month gap for math and science" That is just wrong. It is a four and a half month gap. The second tri begins on the last day of November and ends in the middle of March. That's comparable to summer break (fine, just a little bit longer).

Haran Rashes

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:40 a.m.

If a student takes, let's say Spanish, during the first two trimesters of his or her freshman year, they complete the coursework for Spanish 1 in the middle of March. If, the next year, they end up with Spanish during the second and third trimesters, they will have gone from March until the last day of November without speaking Spanish. That is too long to go when you are trying to learn a language or math.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

This is my third year at Skyline. I have thoroughly enjoyed the trimester system and cannot imagine switching to semesters. With the trimester system, I have been able to take 2 AP courses as well as 2 languages, along with all my required classes. While it is true that there can be a gap trimester between two sessions of a class (such as math course or a language), I believe the issue is being exaggerated. All it takes is dedication and (oh no!) a little bit of effort to overcome this challenge. As far as being "stuck" in an AP course for three trimesters, I do not see it this way. We are able to cover more content in these three trimesters and the AP teachers use the time wisely. While no system is going to be without its flaws, I believe the trimester system to be best suited for Skyline and its students


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 9:21 p.m.

a - very nicely stated.

Niraj Patel

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

I'm a senior at skyline. I used to love trimesters, because I love only having 5 classes a day, and how if you don't like a class it finishes more quickly. We also get more credits than the other schools. But because so many classes are 3-tri scheduling is just too difficult. I'm taking 2 AP classes, a Magnet class, and choir. That's 4 yearlong classes, so I've had to take a bunch of classes in the summer to make my schedule work. As much as I love trimesters, they're too difficult.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:07 a.m.

Bluejunk has the sorely mistaken idea that teachers can decide how the schedule is built. Certain three-tri classes were a part of the model from the beginning, before teachers were hired, because the admin understood the best practices of other trimester-based schools.

Niraj Patel

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

To the two people who replied to me: I love Choir being all year. I don't think I could handle a school day without it, certainly not for an entire tri. If we used semesters, it would be all year but because there would be more classes per day it would be easier to fit.

Haran Rashes

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:48 a.m.

"What?" and BlueJunk who both imply that the three trimester classes such as Band, Orchestra and Choir could be fixed by making them 2 trimester classes fail to recognize the ensemble nature of these programs. These classes come out of the year sounding as one. I do not know how the teachers (Mr. Smith for Band, Ms. CieChanski for Choir and Ms. Cowper for Orchestra) could get their students to the level they current do if they did not have them all year. Imagine how difficult it would be to do any collaborative project (and that is really what a music class is) if 1/3 of the class floated in and out each trimester. At Huron and Pioneer, Band, Orchestra and Choir are full year programs as well. Not enough people realize that our music programs are the crown jewel of AAPS and should not be messed with.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:43 a.m.

Band and choir are only three trimesters because those teachers demand that of their students, but it should not be enforced as it was never intended to be that way when these teachers were hired.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

I'm sorry that you've had to take so many classes during the summer, but that could be fixed by making some classes 2 -tri, like band and choir. It's really because of trimesters. And even if we had semesters, you would be taking them all year anyways.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

They both feel like "sighmesters" to the kids.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 6:07 p.m.

One tidbit that did not make it into the story is Christine Stead brought up the idea that if all of the comprehensive high schools are on the same trimester or semester schedule, then if one school did not have enough interest to, for example, offer an AP French class, students could Skype in to the class at another high school from their designated school. It is unclear whether or not AAPS has the technology in place to be able to implement something like this or if it would cost the district any money to implement, but I was just wondering if any readers had thoughts on this sort of virtual, off-site learning? Or any personal experiences with skyping in to a college course or other class before? Just curious.

Haran Rashes

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:34 p.m.

While that sounds great in theory, I wonder how it would work in practice. For example, if it was several students taking a distance learning course at one school that originated at the other, can they be left alone in a room without staff? And if you need to staff the room, what does that cost. Also image several students in a room skyping into different classes, though I could see headphones being used, how would interaction work? Would they all be talking (possibly in different languages) at once? Also for the teacher at the main classroom, how would they recognize and respond to the distant learner?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Skyline's trimester scheduling is working well. All freshmen & sophomores take science all 3 trimesters, so there is no mid-year break for this core class. Also, most AP classes are 3 trimesters, so there is no mid-year break for those classes either. The longer class periods are useful for classes requiring labs (advanced sciences) and those requiring in-depth exploration (advanced math). Finally, it is not a problem for students to take a class at Huron or Pioneer or online. It is actually a valuable life lesson to juggle a class with a different time frame.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4 p.m.

I completely agree. Why these points weren't mentioned in the article--I don't know.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:25 p.m.

I think you are completely right, and made a very valid point. People just don't like that you are so reasonable.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

Jrileyhoff: My pro-trimester comments are getting downvotes as well. It seems like there's some folks who don't like hearing from those who are happy at Skyline.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

Not sure why I'm getting so many down votes. One of my Skyline students is currently taking 2 AP classes, band, a foreign language, and an online semester class through Community. My other Skyline student is looking forward to being in the business magnet starting next year. We are a satisfied Skyline trimester family.

Haran Rashes

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

I am a current Skyline parent and have a daughter who graduated in the first graduating class. I have very mixed emotions about the trimester system at Skyline. My son graduated from Huron, so I also have experience with the semester system. I definitely do not like the fact that my daughters have, on occasion, had to spread out languages and math and may have to go as much as seven months without having a core subject. My youngest daughter had to take summer school this year because of the five class per trimester limit. In order to "fit" choice classes such as Band, Spanish, and the Design Technology and Environmental Planning (DTEP) magnet program into her schedule, she needed to get two other classes out of the way before the year started. One thing that has always surprised me about the trimester system at Skyline is what courses are offered for all three trimesters. For example students take Band, Orchestra or Choir for all three trimesters, but Math, English, Science, and Foreign Language for only two. (Please don't take that as a criticism -- I give especially credit to Skyline's Choir Teacher, Lyn CieChanski, for developing skills (leadership, academic, presentation, and interpersonal) in my daughter way beyond anything one would expect of any High School teacher in any subject) On the other hand, my daughter loves the DTEP Magnet program. The magnet programs allow Skyline students to concentrate on areas of interest to them and excel in those areas. Would magnet programs be protected under an move to semesters? Magnet programs are currently offered for two of three trimesters. I also like the fact that she has longer class periods each day. I think teachers can more efficiently educate students during a 72 minute class than in a 56 minute session.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

I strongly disagree with the comments that music teachers have "argued" for three-trimester long classes. Please keep in mind that (and please correct me if I am wrong) Pioneer and Huron's music classes are also year-long courses. I think it is vital that music classes are structured as such because without meeting all year long, band, choir, and orchestra would not be able to compete in both MSBOA and MSVMA ensemble festivals as well as solo and ensemble festivals. Since their class would not be meeting during the time of these events, as well as possibly during football season in the case of band (can you imagine not having a marching band on the field?), a significant amount of community credit would be lost because of fewer performances. In addition, music classes being year long allows for a tremendous amount of community outreach and welcomes wonderful support for the arts at any high school. As an enthusiastic music student myself, I somewhat resent being told that music should not be held as a year-long class. There are so many more opportunities in each ensemble, and there is a more cohesive sense of community for students with the three-trimester, full year set up. I would not want it any other way, for any secondary institution.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:02 a.m.

Blue Junk is reporting information that is patently incorrect. Music teachers did not have to argue for year-round instruction at all! They had not even been hired when the model that included year-round music was finalized. It is a well understood "best practice" and a facet of every successful trimester model. There is no practical way to deliver the curriculum when students rotate in and out each trimester.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

How could you say that. What if your child saw that?


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

It is most likely that Magnet programs will get cut if Skyline makes the switch to trimesters.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:40 a.m.

It must be stated that band, orchestra and choir were not intended to be three trimester courses. That was the instructors decisions, but no student should be forced to take these classes all three trimesters. Parents need to speak up.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

Haran, you bring up a good point. Will be there a transition year or two for the magnet kids to let them finish? Or will the kids be left in the cold? I just cannot envision a scenario where the magnets could continue with semesters. I just spoke to a woman last week who was considering purchasing a home in our neighborhood. The family is from out-of-state and their son really wants to attend Skyline because of the Engineering magnet even though it means a long commute for the dad. Hopefully her realtor will warn her about these new developments.

Haran Rashes

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Danielle, thank you for your response here and above. One other thing to examine is if the Magnets are in jeopardy, what about those existing students who have invested the time in them already. Will they be just left in the cold? Also we should remember that approximately 200 students a year CHOOSE to attend Skyline over Pioneer or Huron and many of them do so for the Magnet Programs.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

Hi Haran, thanks for your thoughtful insights. About the magnet programs, please see my response to Kris in a comment above. To make a long story short, it is not clear yet whether the magnet programs could continue to exist on a semester schedule.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

I don't see how Skyline's Magnet programs can survive the move to semesters. There is no way kids can fit a three year, three class program into their schedules with all the English, science, foreign language, math and history plus health, personal fitness, 2 classes of art etc they need to take. And it's always a challenge, either at Skyline or Pioneer/Huron to fit everything in if you're also in a music program.

Haran Rashes

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

(never knew AnnArbor.Com had a 2000 character limit on comments) This is a difficult decision that Ann Arbor Public Schools must make. I certainly hope they will look at it from the perspective of what is academically best for Skyline students and not solely from the perspective of the district budget or an attempt to make all three comprehensive high schools cookie cutter copies of each other.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

I am not in favor of trimesters. My daughter graduated from Skyline and the magnet program was the saving grace for her. She had to take French as an independent study during the summer in order to continue language the next year. She also had very limited options for electives and twice had independent studies in lieu of an actual class. My impression from the early days at Skyline is that the administration thought that trimesters would be so great that all AAPS would be on a trimester schedule by now. Also, Dexter switched from trimesters to semesters this year. Why?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:22 p.m.

I am in favor of trimesters. The magnet program (which you seem to like) would be cut without trimesters (not enough room in schedules), and 7 classes would just be too many, and there wouldn't be enough time to actually learn anything in any of the classes.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

I am a student at Skyline high school, and I do not like the trimester system. I have and had math first tri and then again in 3rd tri, and I forget a lot of the material that was taught in first tri. As well as many other core subjects, the same is true. I don't like how I and many other students go about 2 months without a core subject and then are expected to remember the information for 3rd tri. I REALLY want Skyline to switch to a semester system. Maybe I missed this in the article, but would this mean that there would be 7 classes? I don't like the 72 minute schedule, it is hard for me and many other students to concentrate for that long, if classes were 56 minutes long, that would be better. I really hope Skyline is a semester school in the 2013-14 school year.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

A simple solution would be to keep your notes and study periodically during 2nd Tri. And teachers understand that you might not remember the material, so oftentimes they spend the first couple of days reviewing. I find breaking up the classes like that calming, as I don't have to take a science, math, and latin class all at the same time. Personally, the stress would kill me. And if you are going an entire trimester (which is more than two months) without a core class, you might want to look at your (long term) schedule, because that is not supposed to happen.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

I work with a community group that draws kids from local high schools. Before Skyline opened, scheduling was relatively easy: we knew when everyone would need study time for final exams and could avoid scheduling events on those days. When Skyline opened, it meant there were 4 blackout weeks each year we had to schedule around instead of 2. And despite Mr. Nelson's assertion that the Skyline calendar is not set arbitrarily, the choices of timing never made any sense to me: Skyline often has first trimester finals for two days immediately after Thanksgiving break. Good luck enjoying your vacation with that kind of schedule. I don't have anything against trimesters. But it never made any sense to have one school on trimesters while the other schools are still on semesters. Just choose one schedule and stick to it.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

I do not see the reference in the story that Mr Nelson says the calendar is not chosen arbitrarily. I do see one that it is not chose haphazardly. Not close to the same. 'Nelson also said Skyline's trimester calendar was not chosen haphazardly.' In fact, the dates of finals are kind of arbitrary. Just take the number of school days in the year and divide by 3, then look at a calendar. Schools have little control over the starting of school (state mandates it begins after Labor Day); and absolutely no control over holidays (Thanksgiving is day-dependent rather than date-dependent, making it less predictable). As it works out, sometimes those 1st Tri finals will be just before Thanksgiving, and sometimes just after. While that is an inconvenience, ultimately it is a minor one and the fate of trimesters should not hinge on when 1st Tri finals are. Although I will admit that it is a bigger issue than the fact that students may have to change their lunch schedule twice during the year instead of just once. I can't believe that such a thing could make anyone's list as a real disadvantage. (See last paragraph of story.) If people can't even separate potentially serious educational issues from this type of minor inconvenience, then the discussion will never end and worthwhile decisions will be next to impossible to come by.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

One of the nice things about the wide variety of resources in AAPS is that HS students can take courses at schools other than their own. In theory. The trimester system has some advantages (students juggling fewer classes at a time so a bit closer to an immersion experience in a subject) but it makes it close to impossible for Skyline students to take courses at Community, Pioneer, or Huron. I think the District should be addressing which system is better and whether all high schools need to be a on a single calendar rather than making this decision in isolation.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

Exactly! I really want to do a CR course next year, but I am not sure how it would work with a 5 class schedule and a trimester system. From other people that I talked to, doing a CR course would be better if there were 7 classes and/or a semester system.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Regarding Stead's comment about only considering how things are working in actuality vs. theory....Skyline has only been open for just over 4 years and has faced all the challenges that a new school has. If trimesters are tossed aside, rising seniors (an probably juniors) are going to need to spend significant time with counselors. Their schedules will be drastically affected, given that they will not be able to take 1/3 of the classes they had planned on during their previous 3 years at the school. Also if trimesters are eliminated, how will that affect the four magnet programs? I would imagine they would be eliminated as well. Kids won't be able to fit them in their schedule, with all the required classes plus the added pressure for college bound kids to study a language and take AP classes. I know my Pioneer grad would never have been able to fit it in her schedule. My son is in the Communication/Public Policy magnet which he loves... and says his teacher is one of the best he's ever had. It's the only class he has ever talked about around the dinner table.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:52 a.m.

Formatting was lost. Try again: Semester . . . . . . . Trimester Orch Orch . . . . . . .Orch Orch Orch Biz Biz . . . . . . . . . Biz Biz Biz Total: 4 . . . . . . . . Total: 6 Other: 8-10 . . . . . Other: 9


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:49 a.m.

7x2 and 5x3 is not the whole picture. If you take just ONE of the three-tri classes (Music, AP, magnet) you lose any advantage. Take this typical kid, who has Orchestra and the Business magnet: Semester Trimester Orch Orch Orch Orch Orch Biz Biz Biz Biz Biz Total: 4 Total: 6 Rem: 8-10 Rem: 9 As far as access to more courses is concerned, trimesters are a WASH at best. Don't forget that classes you'd like to take aren't offered in the trimester you are available.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

The magnets would be cut, and the three jobs lost would be those of magnet teachers. (The CMPP teacher really is great :) Niraj: 5 classes x 3 trimesters = 15 classes 7 classes x 2 semesters = 14 classes, so actually changing to semesters reduces the amount of classes you can take

Niraj Patel

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

We have 5 classes a day, and if we switched to semesters we'd probably have 6 or 7 like the other schools. I'm assuming your son is a junior. Once he's a senior, his magnet will be 3 tris. (I'm in the senior year engineering magnet and I love it). That takes out the extra time he would have with trimesters anyway. Trimesters reduce the amount of classes you can take. That's why my schedule's been difficult all 4 years.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:52 p.m.

Hi Kris, thanks for your comment and for sharing your son's positive experience in the communication/public policy magnet. You also raised a great point/interesting question about how the switch might impact juniors and seniors. It is not clear yet whether or not the magnet programs would continue to exist if the switch takes place. A few board members did discuss how back when Skyline High School was being planned, it was believed the trimester model was necessary for the magnet programs to be successful. However, board members also had questions about whether the magnet programs could remain in place without the three marking periods and they will be looking for administration to provide answers to these questions when Patricia Green and her team bring the topic back before the board.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Saline has trimesters and it works out well. I grew up with semesters and I actually realized I missed out on a lot (and my district was one of the top ones in the state at that time). I love that the trimester does not end right after the holiday break (Christmas); the two weeks back always seemed to be review and a waste of time when I was a kid with semesters (the stupid forced start after labor day may have fixed some of that). Saline has AP classes (some of the most in the state as I recall) so trimesters are not an inhibitor to that. The three sets of exams does add to it - but arguably it is easier for the 3 trimester classes as their exams would cover less material. Also, keep in mind, it probably ends up to a similar amount of actual exams (or fewer amount of class options). So it's not a matter of trimesters. AP classes and some alternative classes like AgriScience are year round, so it does limit the number of electives, however it's all about choice. If you want electives and diversity, you chose to take 1 or 2 tri classes, if you want depth then you take AP or alternatives that are 3 trimesters. Sounds like some tweaking of the system may be in need - not sure as I must say I do not have a student at Skyline.

Katherine Griswold

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

"I'm less interested in the theory behind what's possible, because we have what's happening at Skyline right now. And to delve back into the academic theory of trimesters versus semesters at that level … isn't helpful," Stead said. "We have a reality of how it's been working, regardless of however it was theorized and planned to be. That we can study and look at the data for. And it's that data, our experience and our children's experience, … that will be more meaningful." The AAPS community is very fortunate to have Christine Stead on the board. Thanks to Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot for supporting the resolution to hold the superintendent accountable and to put this issue on the February agenda. I am troubled that the resolution failed.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

I have two kids at Skyline. The oldest is a junior who loves the trimesters which have allowed him to take two languages...Chinese and Spanish and join one of the magnet programs. So far he has taken 3 AP classes...AP US History, AP Gov, and AP Eng. He likes the longer class time especially in math. The required classes like Personal Fitness, Health, Economics can be fulfilled in one trimester, allowing space to take other classes. He chose Skyline over Community because of it's unique programming.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

This is what folks in Saline have found too. It's not perfect, as nothing is, but it does open up a lot of other options that normally would not be available. It needs to be tweaked to work with the school schedule, and budgets, and that sounds like the challenge here. It's also new, and with new things there are kinks and of course humans don't like change so much so there are some hurdles.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

"Green ....added, however, she did not want to speak for Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Alesia Flye, who is leading a committee that's looking at many facets of the high school experience in Ann Arbor....Green said she was not comfortable giving a precise timeline for the administration's recommendation, approval or implementation yet, as the topic is still being studied...."I haven't gotten a final report from them. … Everything on that committee was being explored," she said. Green said she does not know what the impact of switching to a semester calendar would be on courses, adding it would warrant the involvement and input of the high school counselors." Just wondering....does Dr. Green DO anything besides receive reports from her staff? Does she know anything about anything? Does SHE make any decisions?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Could not have said it better myself! Amen!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.



Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:41 p.m. - could you get a response from the principal, Sulura W. Jackson? This is a glaring omission from this story.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:04 p.m.

The article is extremely biased against the trimester system, this is poor journalism.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

The BOE continues to push the decisions back to the people who can't make a sound decision in a reasonable amount of time if there life depended on it. We should have all 3 high schools on the same schedule, why Skyline went to three semesters is beyond me. Someone that has a leadership role in this district needs to start learning to making some decisions, because tougher decisions are on the horizon.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

School of choice makes that not the case - allowing those who want something different have the ability to goto that school. It get complicated with bussing and transportation, which impacts the budget.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Clearly no one is in charge. Not the board, Dr. Green, or Dr. Flye. Why even discuss it here? The principal was probably directed to start with a trimester schedule when the school first opened, by a long-gone administrator with no budget responsibility. The schedules and curricula should be identical at every school. Pick one way and stick with it.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

The BOE should do what is best for the whole district not just the Skyline students (or Community students). They should really think about the resources used for the magnet programs. The rooms are huge 3-4 times the space of regular classrooms and are used for very few students while the math, English, and science rooms are crowded. This doesn't make sense.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

While you are right, that doesn't make sense, it doens't mean that we should get rid of trimesters and it doesn't effect the entire district, just Skyline.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

"Some disadvantages ... year-long AP or music courses that can reduce choices available to students" I'm not sure who benefits from trimesters, but this is a serious problem for us. And this doesn't mention taking a foreign language. You can't do as well if you break up performing arts classes, foreign language courses, or many AP courses. My daughter has had to split her foreign language classes, and we're all cringing at how quickly she's getting rusty at it. But the state is adding a language requirement. I really hope they get around to ending the expensive trimester experiment before my son goes to Skyline.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

You know what is even more expensive than Skyline? Community. And the passing rate for Algebra 2 (at Skyline obviously) is really high, so the students benefit. Sometimes you have to pay more for better results.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

For the record - I am doubtful about the studies that show year round schooling adds no value - but I just point that out for discussion.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Saline students appear to do fine with this model. Kids get rusty, but their brains are different than adults and like a bike, they pick back up very quickly, just like they do over the summer time. So the argument that is laid out here is just like that of a year round school versus the agrarian school year (off for summer) which many studies have suggested that it does not matter - kids don't do better if they have a (summer) break.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:25 a.m.

My kids go to Skyline. The trimester option sounded good on paper: for example, the ability to take the two halves of French I in trimesters 1 and 2, then start right in on French II in the third trimester, allowing a student to get all the way to AP French in senior year (ability to take 12 French classes over 4 years, instead of only 8). In practice, class offerings are limited, and what students actually get is, say, the first half of French in trimester 1, the second half in trimester 3, and then no French again until trimester 2 of the following year, meaning weeks and months go by without picking up a subject again. My students have had this issue with languages, math, and science, so that they have had less immersion in a subject rather than more. Then there's the scheduling mess that ensues if a student takes a class at any of the other high schools. My children have had occasional classes at Community and at Pioneer during their time at Skyline, and it throws everything on the schedule into chaos to do so. I can't think of a single compelling reason to have trimesters unless the school is able to offer a full schedule of classes in each trimester, but why should they when they could just have the same two-semester plan as the other schools?

Sweet Life

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4:54 a.m.

Sorry, but most of the science courses you listed (anatomy, forensics, etc.) are jokes. At the same time, Skyline canceled the non-AP physics class - so kids who were interested in a serious science class, but not up to taking an AP class, are stuck wasting their time in courses like Forensics.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:32 a.m.

Science at Skyline in the first two years is all six trimester. Students complete the 3 credit requirement for science at the end of 10th grade. This gives them to option to take more sciences electives in 11th and 12th. Courses like Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, Forensics and Ecology would be eliminated leaving only AP options for 11th and 12th graders. Students who normally would not sign up to take up to 5 or 6 credits in science are doing so at Skyline. Music does not have to be taken all three trimester it is only the teachers who demand this, but it is not required. We need to look at the number of freshmen who are failing Algebra and Biology at Pioneer and Huron and compare this to the number of students failing these course at Skyline in ninth grade where a student can take three-trimester Algebra instead of taking summer school. It comes down to what is best for all students not just the ones who can't take their AP class along with language and music, but students who are struggling and are given the extra time for classes. We also need to look at the Achievement Gap at all three schools to see which system is working.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:57 p.m.

With trimesters, though, students get more credits, more time in each class (daily) to cover the material, less classes to stress over (7 and 8 are just way too many), and magnet programs. With a semester, there wouldn't be enough room on schedules for the magnet programs.

Thinking over here

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

Same experience here at Saline - used to be you could take 8 credits of math or science (1 each semester). Now you are at the mercy of the schedule and if you have to wait a trimester to finish a prerequisite you're doomed. How is this good for economy? we need to be pushing math and science for our students to just stay even and get GOOD jobs and be contributing citizens.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

LSB, I found your "on paper" versus "in practice" perspective interesting. Thanks for sharing your children's experiences!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

This sounds like an implementation problem, and be careful, moving to semester may not solve that problem but reduce the variety of classes or options for kids to jump in into the middle.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:21 a.m.

Just close skyline. That would save a lot more money. We didn't need the school anyway.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

You know what would save so much more money? Shutting down Community.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

Bazoon, I guess you didn't have any students at Pioneer when the student body was ~ 3,000 students. My oldest graduated in 2009, and another high school was badly needed. The parking lot was full of portable classrooms, and most students had to tromp through snow and muck to get to classes outside.