Master schedules are road maps for delivering curriculum opportunities for students in grades 9-12. At this point, schools are encouraged to build full-in person schedules that can pivot to hybrid or virtual models, if needed. The following twenty-one steps provide specific directions for providing an efficient and equitable master schedule to guide staff and students. Ultimately, the final product is a mechanism for students to receive courses requested to reflect their unique needs, interests, skill levels and career aspirations within the resources available.
STEP 1: Connect with the mission/vision statement of the school/district.
- Review statement; update if necessary.
- Use as standard when making scheduling decisions.
STEP 2: Provide for the three tiers of RtI or MTSS.
- Tier I is the responsibility of every classroom teacher and is enhanced when schedule contains extended time periods.
- Tier II occurs in the Flex/Advisory/Intervention period when teaming options such as Freshman Academy, Career Pathways, or International Baccalaureate programs feature interdisciplinary cohorts or teams.
- Tiers II and III may appear as electives or remediation opportunities as one or more of the assigned periods during the school day.
STEP 3: Choose a primary framework or basic organizational plan for the school.
- Traditional schedules feature 6, 7, 8 or 9 periods per day, one of which is a lunch module or period.
- Semester 1/Semester 2 schedules are based on an eight-period day. Four classes meet daily for one semester at 80-90 minutes each. The other four classes meet during the second semester at 80-90 minutes each. Lunch is a module connected to periods 3 and 7.
- Day 1/Day 2 schedules are also based on an eight-period day. Four classes meet on the first day at 80-90 minutes each while the other four classes meet on the second day for 80-90 minutes each. Lunch is a module connected to periods 3 and 7.
- Trimester schedules are usually implemented by schools limited to a six-period day plus lunch. This model provides greater opportunity for electives. Divided into three 12-week segments, classes meet for one, two or three trimesters at approximately 70 minutes each. Lunch is a module connected to periods 3, 8, and 13.
- Rotating-drop schedules are usually constructed as an 8-period day with a common lunch for all students and teachers. Four classes rotate in the morning dropping one class each day. In the afternoon, three of the four classes meet each day. Class length is usually 60 minutes; all students and teachers have lunch between the morning and afternoon rotations.
- Schools may utilize a 9-period rotating schedule. The day is divided into three portions; two of the three classes meet daily in each portion. Lunch is scheduled on a modular basis within the mid-day portion.
STEP 4: Choose inserts.
- Options include single subject, combination, interdisciplinary and career pathway cohorts.
- Inserts can function within any of the structural options to provide opportunities for flexibility, curriculum integration and focus on standards or competencies.
- Credit recovery programs enable students to increase the likelihood of students graduating in four years.
STEP 5: Create bell and lunch schedules.
- Structural frameworks impact bell and lunch schedules.
- Lunch and passing times can vary in length.
- Teachers’ contract may determine length of the lunch period.
STEP 6: Determine composition of cohorts or small learning communities.
- Purpose of each cohort/SLC/Pathway should be defined.
- Freshman Academies ease the transition to high school.
- Specific teachers should be slated for specific cohorts.
- Common planning time enhances achieving desired outcomes.
STEP 7: Prepare curriculum handbook and assemble registration materials.
- Determine required and elective courses.
- Students’ requests can be online or printed form.
- Include information to inform students and parents of unique programs/opportunities.
STEP 8: Establish student database.
- Numbering system reflects specific department, course number and cohort.
- Database becomes a dynamic counseling and administrative document that is constantly updated throughout the remainder of the school year and summer.
- Database becomes the foundation for decisions about courses to be offered, sections needed, and teachers required in a cohort and/or department.
STEP 9: Create department summaries.
- Student course requests become basis for equitable distribution of available staff.
- Chart includes number of requests per course, sections to be created, average class size, weight of each course, and aggregate periods of instruction needed per department.
- When continually updated, summaries become a managerial tool to develop and modify the master schedule.
- Teachers’ contracts impact staff needed.
STEP 10: Create table to summarize FTE requests by department.
- Goal is equitable distribution of available FTE as determined by course requests and realistic class size.
- When reductions are needed in total school FTE, utilize department summary to identify sections to be reduced.
- Exact number of FTE for the school is confirmed.
STEP 11: Determine assignments of each FTE allocated to the building.
- Refer to department summary to assign each section of a course to a specific staff member.
- Assignments should begin with teachers involved in small learning communities to assure achieving objectives of that cohort.
- Monitor average daily pupil load and number of preparations for each faculty member.
STEP 12: List singletons and doubletons.
- Singleton is a course with one section; doubleton is a course with two sections.
- Create a list of all singleton courses in department summaries; list all doubleton courses in department summaries.
- Lists are prepared to spread singletons and then the doubletons over all periods of the day, an early step in building the master schedule. This will maximize the likelihood of students receiving their first choice of courses.
- Spreading singletons is crucial for all structural frameworks, especially the trimester schedule.
STEP 13: Create conflict matrix for singleton courses.
- Conflict is defined as two singleton courses requested by a student that are scheduled at the same time.
- Matrix serves to analyze patterns of students’ choices as opposed to the tally which is the basis of determining the number of sections to be offered and teacher assignments.
- Matrix should be created for each singleton course in the master schedule.
- Doubletons can often be separated visually but could follow a similar process as used for singletons.
STEP 14: Develop a blueprint for cohorts/SLCs/Pathways
- Blueprint is a preliminary plan for determining when core courses are available for specific cohorts/SLCs/Pathways.
- Students in specific cohorts/SLCs/Pathways benefit when the same teachers teach the same students at defined times.
- Elective courses should be available to students in any cohort/SLC/Pathway.
STEP 15: Place singletons on grid for master schedule by teacher and by period.
- Conflict matrix data becomes the basis for placing singletons followed by placing doubletons.
- Initial runs of master schedule will identify conflicts that may be irresolvable.
STEP 16: Enter remainder of courses.
- All remaining sections can now be placed on the grid listing teachers and period.
- Confirm that teacher assignments are consistent with contract language.
- Be sure students have access to electives especially related to the SLC/Pathway program requested.
STEP 17: Audit seats available for each period of the school day and by grade level.
- Each period should have the same number of seats available for students.
- To the extent possible, each period should have the same number of seats available for each grade level.
- Continue to use conflict matrix information in decision-making.
STEP 18: Prepare for initial run of the master schedule.
- Utilize database to confirm that all students have full schedules.
- Review encoding of teachers’ assignments (course number, section number, seat capacity, period of the day, accessibility for inclusion students and room number).
- Course requests could be weighted to insure seats for students with numerous singletons/doubletons.
STEP 19: Adjust master schedule as needed in subsequent runs.
- Identify students with incomplete schedules and determine adjustments needed in the master schedule.
- Analyze sections that closed as well as those that did not load to capacity.
- Adjust master schedule to accommodate these situations.
- After modifications, activate additional run(s), repeating the two-part analysis until the greatest number of students have been scheduled and sections of the same course have loaded equitably.
- Once 90% or more of the students have been fully scheduled, students with incomplete schedules should meet with a counselor or administrator to determine alternate electives.
- Prior to the first day of school, complete schedules should be printed for the entire student population.
STEP 20: Implement professional development.
- Training in the implementation of the schedule provides teachers with ownership.
- Framework and inserts chosen impact details of the professional development program.
- Training must be an on-going process.
STEP 21: Assess the scheduling process and the product created.
- Formal assessment should be conducted by school leadership team.
- Determine the extent to which the schedule reflects the mission/vision of the school/district.
- Assess the extent to which the schedule enhances the teaching/learning process.
- Teachers, parents, and students should participate in this process.
- Record modifications/adjustments to be made for the following year.
This scheduling paradigm features a step-by-step approach to create a schedule that honors student course requests and focuses on raising student achievement. When students receive guidance in making course requests, schools are effective in providing meaningful career and college readiness experiences.