2>3: Moving from Trimester to Semester (and Why It Matters)

Why is the OJCS calendar organized into trimesters?  What difference does it make?

The answer to the first question is simple.  The answer to the second question is meaningful.

Why trimesters?

Well, when I arrived at OJCS, we were technically operating on a semester model, but when one looked at how and when teachers were reporting on academic progress to parents, it kinda looked like trimesters with the distinction failing to find meaning.  Technically, parents received a “progress report” about a third of the way into the school year and then had two report cards and two rounds of parent-teacher conferences.  The “progress report” and the “report cards” were not entirely the same, but they were not different enough to warrant the difference.  So…if we were offering feedback three times a year anyway…why not simply divide the year into thirds and keep it simple?  And so we did.

Is there anything educationally more significant for a JK-8 to operate by trimester?  Does it matter how you divide up the year?  Why not operate by semesters?

Good questions!

Let’s begin with the end in mind.  Beginning in 2023-2024, OJCS will operate by semester.  Partly why we haven’t (yet) given out the full calendar is that we are working with the teachers to clarify what that will or won’t exactly mean by way of parent engagement.  But even as we work to clarify and disseminate by the end of the school year, let’s name what will and won’t be true next year.

If you think of the year with a narrative arc for parent engagement, it would look like this…

  • PTA Back to School BBQ
  • Back to School Night (September)
  • Goal-Setting Meeting (October-November)
  • First Semester Report Cards & Parent-Teacher Conferences (January-February)
  • Second Semester Report Cards (June)

On the one hand, this represents the same quantity of opportunity, even if distributed differently.  However, there are four things to pay attention to with this proposed shift:

  1. We love the idea of bringing parents (and possibly students) together in late October-early November to share the goal-setting that we have done with our students.  It is a great opportunity to strengthen and clarify the school-family partnership, to personalize the learning, to build in student accountability and to set students up for success.
  2. Moving to a semester model increases the odds of our successfully making the switch in (some) grades from traditional Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences.  More time to prepare, more artifacts to collect and an easier connection to goal-setting, all lend themselves to our students better “owning their own learning” (North Star Alert!) by playing a more active role in giving and receiving feedback.
  3. We may need to build in an engagement point between late January-early February and June.  Whether that comes in the form of (true) “progress reports” or updates from “goal-setting” or something entirely new, it may be true that we cannot reasonably go that long without formal parent engagement.
  4. We have not yet clarified the timing/structure of either the “goal-setting” or the Parent-Teacher (or Student-Led) Conferences.  We are actively working with the teachers on doing so since we need to provide parents with all partial and/or full school closures with proper notice.  But with more students than ever and a greater desire for engagement, the way we have allocated time for these conversations may shift if they are going to be meaningful.

We are looking forward to using the process to clarify the quantity of parent engagement to amplify the quality of parent engagement.  We will share out soon (this June) the calendar implications.  We will share out later (August?) the additional educational implications once decisions have been made.  We look forward to strengthening our partnership with parents and setting up our students for success through better engagement.

Consider this the second brief (for me!) blog post (last week’s update on the building being the first) in a small series attempting to name and clarify important updates and changes as we begin the gentle pivot towards next year.  More to come in the weeks ahead…

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon is studying to be a rabbi at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is on the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.