Thursday, December 19, 2013

Planning Ahead, One Class at a Time...

One of the best parts of the school year is when you take down the magnetic master schedule from the wall and begin working on what classes will be offered for the next school year. This reboot often happens in late February and then undergoes nothing short of radical changes over the next few months until finally settling a few before the start of school. However, like many schools in our district, we are growing over the next few years and are expecting a significant jump in enrollment (between 5 to 10% more students) next year. Given this expected increase, the assistant principal, school counselor, and I decided to start the process a bit early... as in today.

As previously mentioned, the master schedule is an animal to control, to maintain, and to finesse. An administrative team has to balance who is credentialed to teach what subjects, how many sections of each class we need per subject and per grade, and most importantly what's best for kids. Often, in the perfect world of scheduling, all three elements fuse together to form the masterpiece we call the finalized master schedule. Today, however, we just focused on three small goals:

1) Ending the year long "core teaming" pilot in 6th grade

For many years past, our 6th grade teachers were scheduled for two "core" subjects - English-Language Arts (ELA) and Science OR Math and Social Studies. While these seem like rather odd pairings, the system worked for our school, for our staff, and for our students. Nevertheless, with the impending transition to Common Core Standards, I asked our 6th grade teachers last year if they would have any interest in piloting a Social Studies - ELA core and Math - Science core. Of our eleven sections, eight teachers were eager to make the switch. 

And so, these eight teachers have piloted these subject pairings for the 2013-14 school year. I've regularly spoken with each of them as well as our students and parents on what each interest group likes about the switch, what they would prefer in future years, and what concerns they may have over a permanent switch. Thus far, every conversation has been exceedingly positive about the pilot, enough so that we've decided to end the pilot and officially complete the transition for all of our 6th grade core sections. 

2) Trying our best to not have teachers on multiple teams

One of the more frequent concerns I hear from the teaching staff about the schedule is how some teachers have students on both grade level teams. I try to explain how the master schedule is set up and how it is nearly impossible to avoid without creating additional teams and ensuring that each team is as balanced as possible. I will get the usual head nods after my diatribe, and they're return to their original request: please don't have teachers on multiple teams.

If nothing else, I'm listening. And I'm trying to figure out a way to have as pure as teaming as possible for our teaching staff. They are right; it does make a huge difference in supporting the students if teachers aren't on multiple teams. We spend a lot of our weekly time focusing on collaboration and have seen great results from these efforts. If I truly support these collaborative moments as I repeatedly share with my staff that I do, it's my administrative duty to address this concern and try my best to fix the problem. Today, with our preliminary schedule, we have made great progress toward doing so. While it's just the 2014 master schedule 1.0, we would end up with three completely balanced 7th grade teams and two almost purely balanced 8th grade teams. This would be a huge improvement from our current year's schedule. Credit goes to the our amazing school counselor for her eye-opening suggestions that cleared the way for this early version to happen.

3) What's best for kids

Every Spring, we ask our students what electives they're interested in taking for the upcoming school year. With this input, we alter our elective offerings to best support our students' requests. Almost every students receives their "first choice" elective and for those who don't, they are guaranteed their "runner up" choice. When we move certain classes, whether it be intensive, double block periods or our semester/semester option, the first (and sometimes only) thought in our mind is what's best for the student. 

This isn't to say that we don't take teacher preferences and teaching requests into consideration. If there's an opening at a certain grade level and I have a current teacher interested in making the switch, I'm definitely open to the idea. If a staff member has an idea for a unique elective to add to our schedule, I look forward to discussing their vision for the class and hopefully adding it to our master schedule. It's important to note that both of these teacher-requested changes must align with what's best for kids. If not, it's unlikely to happen for the upcoming school year.

I'm quite impressed with how much we accomplished today in the short period of time allotted to a first draft of next year's master schedule. Based on this preliminary sketch, I'll begin my conversations with staff members, gauging how they feel about a small shift from their current assignment to what is being considered for the upcoming school year. We are still weeks, if not months, away from an official master schedule blueprint for 2014-15, but today we produced the bones of what should one day be the end result. 

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