By Claire Deal
After rumors of a new daily schedule circulated the halls of the Upper School last spring, students began to speculate on what it would look like. As the last few weeks of school approached, the Upper School students finally saw the new schedule that would guide them through their next few years. Head of Upper School Patrick Loach believed the schedule needed a change after talking to the faculty upon his arrival in the summer of 2016. However, he knew there would be complications because the Upper School is tied to the Middle School because they share faculty and facilities, specifically in the arts departments in the Hershey Center. Loach, Assistant Head of School Sarah Baker, Director of Upper School Scheduling (and English teacher) Dr. Linda Rouse, and Head Librarian Allen Chamberlain met with several groups of teachers and students over the course of the 2016-17 school year to determine the problems and discuss possible solutions regarding the current schedule.
In an interview, Loach listed some of the concerns from faculty and students that had come up during last year’s discussions: missed class time due to athletics, issues with morning help time, teachers had difficulty planning class, many students disliked Day 8 (Flex Day), and lunches were too short. After taking note of the schedule’s flaws, the administration decided to begin revising the schedule. Originally, the old schedule was supposed to be tweaked, but the administration soon realized it would be easier to completely redo it.
Last year’s schedule was an eight day rotation of periods A-G. Day 1 started with A period and ended with E period and the following day, Day 2, started with F period. The rotation followed from there. Classes started at 8:35 a.m., except when they started at 8:50 a.m., or 8:25 a.m. However, there was morning help time at 8:00 a.m. if students needed to meet with a teacher. Every day there were five periods, and the second and third period were block classes. Regular classes were 55 minutes, and block classes were 80 minutes. There were no bells, so teachers started class when most of the students were present. We had first and second lunch, and the students and faculty were divided fairly evenly as to who ate during which lunch. Lunch was only 25 minutes, and the class during lunch block determined if a student had first or second (a concept that was kept for this year). Most days there was a gap in between second period and lunch block, which was used for assemblies on Mondays and Thursdays, Creative Flex on Tuesdays, advisories on Wednesday, and an additional class on Fridays. Creative Flex was designated for clubs or meetings.
The administration started the process of redesigning the schedule last year by getting feedback from faculty and students about what “they needed from a new schedule,” according to Baker. This was the longest part of the process, because the administrators wanted to get a wide range of opinions and look at the schedule from multiple points of views.
It took fall of 2016 and most of the spring of 2017 to collect feedback. They had teachers write, talk, and think about their hopes for a new schedule. In an interview, Baker said she, Loach, and Dr. Rouse divided all of the feedback into categories and put them on a wall in order to “isolate individual features” the new schedule should possess. Subsequently, teachers looked at the categories in order to visualize and separate each need for the new schedule. Although the Middle School was not dealing with a lot of the problems the Upper School described, Baker stated that “the Middle School eagerly collaborated” on the new schedule because they recognized that they “were partners in this change and that, for important reasons – among them, shared spaces, teachers who teach in both units, and students in each unit seeking to take classes in the other unit – it was important to be aligned.”
The 2017-18 Upper School daily schedule has significant differences as compared to the previous schedule. These include a 40-minute lunch, Extra Help/Clubs time scattered throughout the week, a set Z period class, Friday advisory, an 8:10 start time every day, occasional ten minute breaks every day except Friday, earlier dismissals on Tuesdays and Fridays, and no day where a student has all of their classes. The schedule also features a Gold Week with a set rotation of classes and a Green Week with a different rotation of classes.
Recently, students and faculty shared a variety of opinions on the new daily schedule. Upper School French teacher Dr. Mark Hall said, “I love the new schedule. I think it has made the beginning of school calmer and more enjoyable.” Sammie Mortenson (‘19) said she is thrilled about “more lunch time.” However, Anika Prakash (‘19) says having “six classes a day” means “more homework.” Although Harper Zaun (‘18) says she likes having “one block a day because it makes the day go by faster,” she misses advisory on Wednesdays “because [she] feels like [she] needs that boost in the middle of the week.”
Dr. Lynn Atkins, Director of Choral Music and Voice, says, “[the new schedule] made it easier to teach Upper School choir.” However, as a teacher in both the Upper and Middle Schools, he misses assemblies due Upper School classes clashing with Middle School assemblies, and vice versa. This is disappointing because he feels assemblies bring him a sense of community. As a fine arts teacher in both divisions, his classes overlapped in the old schedule, so sometimes two classes met at the same time, before this year’s changes.
A common question among students about the new schedule was the purpose of the ten minute break. Loach says the purpose of the break was “to give students a chance to get a snack and to have a longer break following a block.”
Despite all of the changes, the total teaching minutes remain the same as last year. Although it is hard to calculate a schedule’s success, there is some data. The number of tardies to school and missed class time due to athletics have decreased since last year. Loach stated that “roughly one month into the school year,” there were “202 [tardies] in 2016 versus 140 in 2017.” Loach pointed out that “there is no such thing as a perfect schedule. This schedule will solve some problems and create others.” As the school year progresses, and as students and faculty adjust to the changes in the schedule, he plans to meet with faculty as well as student leaders to get their feedback.