Mastering the Master Schedule

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By late September into early October, your counselors should finally have all of the students settled into their 2018-19 school year schedules. No more holes, the new-to-district registrations have slowed, and the "I changed my mind," drop and adds have come to a halt. You may think it is time for a break from thinking about your master schedule, but that could not be further from the truth.

Mastering the master schedule is a year-round journey that requires a strategic plan with a strict timeline and constant communication with key personnel, including your counselors, teacher leaders, and secretarial support staff. The master schedule can have one of the most significant impacts on the learning culture and it determines the opportunities your school can offer to students. The master schedule drives both teachers and students by having a direct effect on their daily routine. It determines decisions related to staffing and hiring and is how you can make any significant improvements to the course catalog. The master schedule must be continuously nurtured and studied to identify trends allowing you to determine the needs of the current student body.

Since the implementation of the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC), the master schedule has become a bit more predictable with the mandate of 18 credits required for graduation. Where developing the master schedule has become extremely challenging, though, is fitting in the elective courses that drive student interest and provide opportunities for discovery. The elective courses are often singletons, doubletons or tripletons, meaning they are offered only once, twice or three times per semester. Since the MMC requirements take up the majority of the students’ schedules, it puts an even greater emphasis on making the right elective choices. This is why studying the trends of class selection is so important. Most schools cannot afford to run small class sizes solely based on student interest and wants. You must know where the district stands on bottom-line class sizes when determining which courses will make the cut and which ones will not.

Three-year trends can give a lot of clarity, and the more you communicate with the counselors and teachers the better they receive the news when courses do not run due to low enrollment. It is equally beneficial to look at which courses are exploding with enrollment, allowing you to open additional sections as needed and replacing ones that were dropped. Whether a course selection is depleting or growing, dig into the why behind the numbers and share the information to give feedback to the staff on current trends and what is driving student selections.

In order to master the master schedule, here are a few suggestions to help you continue to think forward.

Do Now
November and December are the months when you and your counselors conduct meetings with individual department leaders and discuss the trends and decisions supporting which courses will make the course catalog for the following school year. The department leaders can help with strategies for combining two elective courses versus collapsing two courses if you predict you can get the numbers to support the minimum class size. Being open-minded and creative will go a long way with preserving courses that are on the edge of running and/or are on life support. The information collected should be used to drive the final decision for what makes the course catalog which should be made public to students no later than January.

Next Steps
January and February are spent preparing for and conducting class selections. The course catalog and a calendar outlining the what, where, when, and how class selection will take place must be communicated to the staff and student body by the closing of semester one. Class selections should take place by late February, starting with the current 11th through the current 8th graders. Immediately following student selections, you and your counseling team must sit down and look at the numbers and again search for trends. Are there any classes that are too low to run? Do you need to open additional sections for courses with high selections? Are there classes in the same department that need to be combined in order to run? Here is where the balancing act comes in play, and where the majority of time is spent managing all of the variables that come with the master schedule. This not only impacts the students' schedules it also determines your teachers' jobs and schedules. It is your first look into staffing and hiring needs for the next school year. Early and often communication builds trust with your staff and allows them to be part of the solution when you have to make difficult decisions and adjustments to the master schedule.

Looking Ahead
The spring months are used to work the numbers and fine-tune the schedule. The information collected should allow you to post early for any hiring needs and work with human resources if the trending shows the need to reassign a staff member to another building and/or prepare for a layoff.

Mastering the master schedule and creating a predictable and well-communicated process builds trust and teamwork within your structure. When learning to master the master schedule correctly, you will see that it is a game changer for setting your students and staff up for success while optimizing the learning culture.