Mastering the Master Schedule: Ensuring Equity and Access for All Students

Guest post by Ashanti Bryant Foster

Master Schedule: the two words that usually cause a cringe and instant headache for many educators. The reality is that if you don’t have a firm grasp on the master schedule, it is difficult to understand the movements and ‘flow of traffic’ in your building. One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in scheduling is so I could understand the task inside out, just like discipline, leading collaborative planning, and supporting parent programs. As an administrator, I need to know the ins and outs of all major decisions that impact student achievement.

Level Playing Field
Critical thinking in terms of scheduling looks different for various levels of education. On the elementary level, everyone needs specials, but how will you coordinate the day to allow for grade-level collaboration? In middle school, the interdisciplinary teaming model is popular. This is the time when high school credits can be earned early and students begin to explore various paths through creative arts classes. Do you ask incoming students what they’d like to explore or are they just placed however the scheduler likes? In high school, students need specific courses to graduate or complete various college and career path programs.

calendarVertical Articulation
What are the trends in the feeder schools from which your students matriculate? Are the elementary students entering your school part of the winning science bowl team or honors chorus? You will only know these things by fostering a continuous relationship with all levels of your cluster or area. This information provides greater depth in forecasting what to offer and when to offer it on your campus.

The Blueprint
A master schedule must be built with the same level of care and attention as a new home where a family will spend the next 20 years growing together. Paying attention to every detail—from the collaborative planning for departments, to the number of sections for special education and honors courses—is essential. How many specialty groups do you have versus how many courses are only offered once, and why?

The Mighty Master
By the way, who is your scheduler? If it is a classroom teacher, know that their lens may not reach further than their department and/or grade level. For that reason, it is essential to establish a scheduling team, which will consist of various stakeholders to include parents and students. Ask yourself who will be on your team, how often will you meet, and what the goals of the team will be.

Data-Driven Decisions
How do you determine how many sections of pre-calculus or Spanish I you need? Let the data speak. Use trends and current data to inform the number of sections and types of classes needed. And don’t forget about the souls that will be registered for the courses—survey the students! There may be elective classes that need to be introduced based on student interest. The data encompasses teacher anecdotal notes, assessment scores, grades, portfolios, student interest, and parent request. No one source of data can and should speak for a student’s success.

Schedule for the Position, Not the Person
It may seem easy to grant Ms. Regent her wishes to teach two sections of Spanish 3 and two sections of pre-calculus, but what’s going to happen if she gets a promotion the week before school begins? Sound decisions regarding teacher placement happen when the schedule is built in a way where the entire framework won’t need to be adjusted if a teacher leaves.

Scheduler Empathy Syndrome
If you have never had the pleasure of serving as the master scheduler, take note: This is a task that requires working hours away from the normal operations of the schoolhouse. Honor your scheduler by providing the time and space to work on building the framework for your school.
Many schedulers also serve as testing coordinators, and you know this is a busy time of year, so remove barriers by allowing schedulers to work at the central area office while getting the work done.

Do you have additional funds to spend before the end of the school year? Ask your scheduler—they may be interested in a large magnetic grid for a visual representation of the master schedule for all to see and use.

Just like examining your bank account gives you insight on your spending habits and things you hold dear, master schedule creation and the amount of collaboration on it determines the academic plan for your students. Are your students getting what they need and are your teachers in the best place to thrive and grow professionally?

Now tell me, what are other key questions/items to consider when building the master schedule? What type of input should be sought in order to maximize opportunities for students, teachers, and other stakeholders? Please share in the comments!

Dr. Ashanti Foster is the Academic Dean of Oxon Hill Middle School in Washington, MD, and the 2016 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year.

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