As a result of current pandemic and economic conditions throughout the nation, high school administrators should begin to face the challenge of reshaping the master schedule for the 2020-2021 school year. The following factors should be reviewed:
- Administrators should be ready for possible reductions in the number of FTEs (full time equivalent positions) due to fiscal limitations at the Federal, State, and local levels. Responses include increasing average class size, eliminating specific electives and/or reducing the number of periods in the school day. For example, a high school with 1,300 students and 69 FTE might reduce staff by nine teachers. To maintain an average daily pupil load of 154 students, the number of periods in the school day might be reduced from nine to eight. Students would be limited to seven instructional periods plus lunch.
- Schools should be ready to open in one of three ways:
- Primary structure of the 2019-2020 master schedule,
- A virtual schedule,
- Alternate day or morning/afternoon schedules capping the number of students in a classroom.
- To accommodate all three options, two primary structural formats are offered for the design of a master schedule for the 2020-2021 school year that can be easily converted to virtual teaching as well as the alternate day (in the building) possibility. Choices are semester 1/semester 2 or trimester platform. In the semester 1/semester 2 schedule, students choose eight courses for the year; they complete four of the courses in the first semester and the other four courses in the second semester. Classes are typically 80-90 minutes in duration, and teachers are assigned three classes per semester. A student can earn eight credits.
A trimester approach divides the school year into three 12-week segments. A course such as English 10 is divided into English 10A for one trimester and English 10B for a subsequent trimester. Classes are approximately 72 minutes in length, and teachers are assigned to four classes per trimester. Schools that have been reduced to a six-period day may prefer trimester because a student can earn seven and one-half credits rather than six. Schools operating on the traditional six-period day typically eliminate elective courses. In each option, teachers have fewer sections to teach and students take fewer courses at a time.
Convertible or interchangeable schedules set the stage for schools to transitions, if necessary, in light of the pandemic. Once the structural model is chosen, students should indicate course requests. The master schedule can then be created.
- Principals should be ready to set a cap of 10-15 students in a classroom at one time. Using blended strategies, with greater specificity than past experiences with virtual instruction, half of the students could report on day 1 and the other half on day 2 or there could be morning and afternoon sessions. Both semester 1/semester 2 and trimester place fewer demands on teachers and students than traditional 7 or 8-period day schedules where periods are shorter, more transitions would occur, and both teachers and students would have more classes on a given day.
- Contractual questions are likely to arise in implementing semester 1/semester 2 and trimester platforms. In many districts, teachers are responsible for 5 of 7, 5 of 8, 6 of 8 or 6 of 9 periods. In semester 1/semester 2, teachers are with classes 3 of the 4 periods each semester. In trimester, they are with classes 4 of 5 periods for each third of the year. Teachers need to accept that this is a “new normal.” Staff reductions may have occurred, some teachers may have been riffed and/or average daily pupil loads may have increased. Teachers are hired to serve the needs of students within available financial resources. Adjustments for the teaching/learning process must be made factoring or including virtual learning.
- A three-pronged professional development program is mandatory prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Student anxieties must be addressed. Teachers must orient students to the schedule, nature of virtual instruction and potential transition from in-school to virtual learning. Students and teachers will not have been in school since February or March 2020. A new normal is being established. Another phase of the professional development should focus on teaching/learning strategies for the 72 or 85-90 minutes of instruction. Instructional periods should be sub-divided into a sequence of engagements based upon a conceptual lens, target learning(s), and essential question(s). Creative uses of technology should drive curriculum delivery. A third aspect of the training sessions should focus on appropriate strategies for virtual and/or blended learning in specific content areas. In content area groupings, teachers should develop a menu of strategies to be utilized as appropriate to the unit, lesson, or project.
- Provisions for special needs and ELL students must be addressed regardless of the pandemic and/or economy. As principals allocate FTE, replacement and co-taught classes should remain an integral part of the master schedule.
- More than ever before, communication with parents and community is essential. Parents must be fully aware of how the master schedule functions, especially when virtual instruction or alternate day/split sessions are implemented/terminated. Students must be able to communicate with teachers for assistance and other students to complete specific assignments.
Master schedules for the 2020-2021 school year must be based on available FTE. The school year might begin with a virtual model, alternate day/split session attendance or a full-day paradigm and might need to change formats during the school year. Semester 1/semester 2 or trimester should be considered. Professional development must occur well in advance of the opening of school so that the teaching and support staff understand how to support the schedule. An advisory component is essential to support student social/emotional development in this new normal.
Zoom, Skype or Webex conferences can be arranged to further explore these suggestions for a specific district or school. Please contact us to learn more.
With Barbara A. Kalina, Elliot Y. Merenbloom co-authored “The Educational Leaders Guide for School Scheduling: Strategies Addressing Grades K-12” published by Routledge-Taylor and Francis Group, 2017. Questions may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.