Middle Division switches to semester system


Athena Rem, Staff Writer

This school year, the Middle Division (MD) moved from a trimester system to a semester system. Though the MD has used the trimester system since the division’s implementation, the change will ultimately improve MD education, Dean of MD Faculty Eva Abbamonte said.

The transition has been a possibility for over two years, history teacher Katherine Rudbeck said. When the Upper Division (UD) switched to semesters for the 2018-19 school year, MD administrators wanted to do so as well, but the change did not come immediately, Dean of the Class of 2028 Michelle Amilicia said. The faculty had planned to implement semesters for the 2020-2021 school year, but the administration prioritized planning for COVID-19 protocols, delaying the switch by one year, she said.

When Head of the MD Javaid Khan first came to the school three years ago, he wondered why the UD used semesters while the MD used trimesters and started to consider the switch, he said. To make the decision, Khan consulted the MD Leadership Team, which works on MD policies, curriculum, schedules, and all other issues pertaining to MD life, Head of Math Department Quentin Brooks said. This faculty group includes Abbamonte, all department chairs, the three grade-level deans, Service Learning Coordinator Caitlin Hickerson, Scheduling Coordinator Tom Petras, Advisory Coordinator Norma Rodriguez, and Khan. They finalized the decision last spring and the administration finished planning schedules over the summer, Khan said. 

Before he made the change official, Khan asked all department chairs to check for any potential flaws in the plan, he said. He also spoke with Petras to confirm that scheduling would not be an issue since the MD’s arts program is accustomed to running on trimesters. They  solved the problem by splitting the year into quarters, giving students more opportunities to try different rotations, Amilicia said.

One of the plan’s advantages lies in grading under a semester system, Abbamonte said. If a student starts out slowly in the beginning of the year and messes up in the first trimester, it would be much harder to resolve their grades for the rest of the year, she said.

Dean of the Class of 2027 Della Brooks shared a similar sentiment. “If you mess up in the first trimester, rather than in the first quarter, it would be harder to remedy that,” she said.

Loewy Miller (8) said that receiving four sets of grades — one per quarter — instead of three will make it easier for him to evaluate his performance and to set goals for the next quarter.

While two mid semester grading periods means that students have fewer evaluation periods than they would with three mid trimesters, Khan made adjustments to keep proper communication with families. Thus, families will have three new checkpoints to communicate with advisors: one meeting at the beginning of the year, one in the middle, and one concluding conference to reflect on the year.

The shift to semesters will also align the MD with the UD since the UD already uses semesters, Rudbeck said. Since the UD shares some faculty with the MD, it is better to have a singular grading system, Abbamonte said.

While helpful, the new system will take some getting used to, Abbamonte said. “We have a reporting system of grades and checklists that is on a trimester system,” she said. “We have to figure out how that makes sense in a semester system.”

Since the start of school, Miller’s science class still seems to follow the same organization it did under a trimester system. His class will have three key units, which would have each matched up to a trimester. It will take some reorganizing to get every subject fully accustomed to semesters, he said.

Rudbeck also experienced adjustments in the history department, she said. “For example, with our eighth grade curriculum, we used to do three projects, and we still will, but that is the kind of thing we have to go and look at to see where it will fall,” she said. “It’s in the large structural approach that we need to look at things.”

However, the math department needed little change, since the coursework is not divided into trimesters, Mr. Brooks said. This made the change much easier for his team.

Though there are some questions to think about, the switch to semesters will be beneficial for both students and teachers, Abbamonte said. “It has been a long time coming, and it will be very good for middle schoolers.”