“Our committee was not unanimous. But it was unanimous in saying we trust the process.” These were the words of Mike Shackelford, one of the seven committee members tasked with the challenge of creating this year's schedule. In April of 2021, the team finalized the new rotation that the school implemented at the start of this year. Ever since then, we’ve gotten to be familiar with the schedule, but there was some difficulty getting accustomed to it. Returning students and faculty who were used to the 4-period day had to adjust to a new rotation. The schedule now kicks off with an 8-period day where each class is parceled into 40-minute chunks. At the end of most days, there’s a block of time for students to consult with teachers and for advisories to meet. The rest of the rotation is familiar to many of us—4-period days where classes span 70 minutes, minus the fact we now have three periods before lunch instead of two. It’s a change students must adapt to, but most don’t understand the decisions behind the schedule or why it seems to be in constant flux year to year.
To find out more about the decision-making process, I consulted Charlotte Larsen, the middle school assistant principal. With countless hours of brainstorming and research, Ms. Larsen, along with a force of seven other faculty members, crafted this year's schedule. She directed me to a website where the committee lists a number of the hurdles they faced in the process. The team encountered constraints like how to best accommodate Rowmarkers, incorporate advisory/consultation time, and create a schedule that could be shared by the middle and upper schools. Mike Shackelford, another member of the committee, says that, “A big piece of the process was coordinating with our neighbors.” He adds that it was also important for them to “have transparency … and that [they] could share the process.” At one point, the team had faculty spitball ideas and even words that came to mind relating to the schedule. They then scribbled these thoughts down on sticky notes and plastered them on butcher paper. “Throw out everything you know, all the constraints. In a perfect world, what are some of the things you want?” The heap of sticky notes the team compiled often included things like “desires, feelings about time, and school and faculty meetings,” Shackelford describes. This intense brainstorming process was a way to distill faculty priorities, which the team could share with administrators.
In order to make the schedule, the team not only surveyed students and faculty, but also sought the input of other community members too. Shackelford states that “students and teachers were certainly the most vocal, but we surveyed parents. We surveyed administrators… We compared [our schedule] to other peer schools as well.” Shackelford continues, “So it's like we're getting feedback from a lot of places.” Out of the 250 Upper School students the team surveyed, many said they wanted four-period days and longer lunches. Late starts, a relic of the pre-COVID era, became a hot demand too. Students pushed the team to think about new ways of restructuring consultation and morning meeting times. As a result, the team faced the obstacle of weaving student input into the schedule.
While juggling feedback from these students, the task force had to accommodate teachers as well. Mike Shackelford remarks that, “Students see [the schedule] from their own lived experience and teachers see it primarily from the subject they teach.” However, the feedback from teachers wasn’t the same across the board. “If you're teaching a language, frequency matters a lot… It's about immersion.” Shackelford continues, “In math, if you're teaching a concept, you're trying to do some problems. And then you don't see the class for six days, you pretty much have to reteach that concept before you can go up again.” Carolyn Hickman, who worked alongside Mr. Shackelford on the task force, agrees and adds that “sometimes you would see some of your AP Literature classes twice a week, sometimes once a week, sometimes three times a week. And then you'd have these gaps that were really troubling for any teacher in any discipline.” She notes that “the effort was to ensure that every class is going to meet twice a week, no matter what craziness is going on.” Dr. Hickman states that the 8-period day “isn’t to have a big homework assignment. It's more just face-to-face time and checking-in on progress, even if it’s just 40 minutes.”
While the team faced the challenge of balancing feedback from administration, teachers, and students, they also had to figure out how to organize the schedule—particularly, where to place consultation. Last year, consultation fell after lunch. However, this placement was problematic. During lunchtime, students might not want to depart from friends to meet with teachers and instead opt for an extended break. Thus, this new “community time” block at the end of the day incentivizes students to stay on campus and consult with teachers. On days when it’s not consultation, the block is used for advisories to meet or as a ‘flex time’ for students to chip away at some homework. Regardless, Mr. Shackelford hopes this “time…is used more productively.” He continues, "Or if not used productively, as a little bit of breathing room. It’s a safety valve for some of the harder days.” Dr. Hickman notes this block at the end of the day can also be used for community-building purposes too. “After two years of shooing kids away from the building and away from each other, we want people to be here. We can run programs or have social time or do flag football in the backfield, but we want to be a community.”
When I asked the team if the schedule turned out how they envisioned it, they explained that they “knew it was going to be imperfect.” It wasn’t supposed to be flawless, so “the plan was that there was going to be a learning curve around the 8-period day.” Many students can attest to this struggle of acclimating to the new schedule. Junior Adam Saidykhan says, “The 8-period days are really long and they’re tiring, but you get through them.” Nate Kanter agrees and notes that “the schedule takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you find your groove.” Dr. Hickman and Mr. Shackelford tell me they see the ‘A day’ as a happy medium between people who prefer the 4-period day and teachers who want to see their students more times during the week.
While the team acknowledges this schedule isn’t perfect, they’re content with how it’s turned out. They created a rotation that serves the interests of students, teachers, and all other parties who might be impacted by it. On the heels of COVID, the team created a rotation that’s here to stay for future years too. Shackelford notes, “The schedule isn’t going to change much, besides that there’s going to be more class and club offerings.” He clarifies, “Of course there’s rearranging on the periphery like when morning meeting might fall, but we're not switching from an 8-period day.” Naturally, some people might prefer exclusively 4-period days or even a 7-day rotation like the schedule pre-COVID. However, it's important for students to understand it’s a compromise and, like Mr. Shackelford said, to “trust the process.” This new schedule allows us to connect on a meaningful level that wasn’t present in past years when COVID hindered our communication. Now that we’ve begun a normal (hopefully) year, we have to recover what we’ve lost in social interaction and make a clean start moving forward.