Philomath School Board Chair Rick Wells, left, leads sophomore Jackson Holroyd through the oath of office during the Dec. 12 meeting to become the board’s first-ever student representative. Board member Joe Dealy is seated between them. (Photo provided by Michele McRae/Philomath School District)

Philomath High’s trimester vs. semester debate appears to be headed for new discussions in 2023 with the School Board looking to schedule a work session.

“There have been a lot of questions surfacing as we look at the high school schedule,” Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday told the Philomath School Board on Monday night. “Following some meetings in the fall, there were really a lot of questions about what are the advantages and disadvantages, why does this group like this and why does this group like that? And let’s learn a little more about what it means.”

The work session will apparently be scheduled for early next year. Halliday said she planned to meet with teacher Len Cerny, who represents the Philomath Education Association, to come up with a date to bring back to the board.

“I would very much love it if we gave enough of a heads up for some research to happen and pull some students in here to hear their voices,” School Board member Erin Gudge suggested.

The trimester-semester conversation tends to involve a lot of complexities with both benefits and drawbacks depending on the perspective. Halliday said the work session would focus on “educating and informing on both sides of the issue … to be able just to get information.”

The last major public discussion on the trimester-semester issue occurred in January 2020 when then-superintendent Buzz Brazeau made an announcement to staff that PHS would be moving to a two-semester academic year. A number of teachers opposed the move — the Philomath Education Association advocated staying with trimesters. The labor contract between the school district and the teachers’ union factored into the conversation as well.

In the following weeks, Brazeau announced that the window of opportunity to change Philomath High to a two-semester system in time for the 2020-21 academic year had closed. Disruptions with the pandemic followed, Brazeau left the job later that year and the trimester system has remained in place.

Halliday said the upcoming work session would focus on “educating and informing on both sides of the issue … to be able just to get information.”

The meeting would include all five members of the board. Halliday urged anyone with an interest to sit in.

“I would encourage people to be there to become informed because I think that’s the biggest part of it — people want information and to understand to help us make a good decision,” said Halliday, adding that the issue would be wide open for discussion.

In other news out of the Dec. 12 meeting:

• Vince Adams, Oregon School Boards Association board development specialist, provided information about the superintendent evaluation process with a focus on what standards to focus on in a feedback survey. The board would like to complete the evaluation process by March. The Philomath School Board approved a contract with OSBA on a 4-0-1 vote.

• Philomath High sophomore Jackson Holroyd was sworn in as a student representative on the School Board (a non-voting position).

• Halliday covered several other topics in her report to the board, including school attendance issues related to illnesses, the sewer problem at Philomath High School, the schedule for statewide testing, technology updates, board and superintendent goals, and various other issues.

• The board approved Woodrós A. Wolford to fill a vacancy on the Budget Committee. Sandi Hering was chosen as an alternate. Four residents had applied for the position.

• The board approved on a 3-1-1 vote a resolution to adopt OSBA legislative priorities and principles as recommended by the organization’s Legislative Policy Committee.

• The board agreed to vote for Miriam Guadalupe Cummins of the Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District to fill Position 10 on the OSBA Board of Directors.

• The board approved the second reading of policy updates related to workplace harassment, individualized education program, talented and gifted program and use of restraint or seclusion. The district’s Policy Committee reviewed the OSBA-recommended changes.

• The board tabled a policy update to criminal records checks and fingerprinting and sent the issue back to the Policy Committee to obtain more information on the process and costs.

• Board member Karen Skinkis was in attendance at the meeting via Zoom but because of illness and taking medication, she opted to abstain from all votes.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.