The master schedule is considered by some to be the most important component in a school. It reflects the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the community. The master schedule is the heartbeat of the school and the foundation for how students are educated in the building. The master schedule is developed around student needs and District goals with a focus on helping students achieve the mission of the District.
“At the beginning of this year, we decided to dedicate the majority of our professional development to investigating alternative master schedules,” said Mr. Christopher Walsh, Byram Hills High School Principal.
Prior to that decision, faculty, staff, students, and some volunteer community members had been engaged in unpacking the Byram Hills High School master schedule for over two years. What triggered that exploration was the collaboration with Challenge Success and ‘The Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences’ they administered with the student body. “The data showed that there were opportunities for us to support our students to be less anxious and stressed out, and more engaged in their learning,” said Mr. Walsh.
Challenge Success looked at seven different categories that make up the overall student experience. Those categories were workload, sleep, academic engagement, teacher care, parent expectations, extracurricular activities, and academic integrity. In most categories, Byram Hills students seemed to be on the extreme end. For example, the survey showed that Byram Hills students were getting an average of six hours of sleep a night instead of the recommended nine hours by the American Medical Association.
“In partnering with Challenge Success, we identified that two areas we could control were the master schedule and students’ use of time,” said Mr. Walsh. “We wanted to see if we could make a positive impact on our students and get some of the issues reported by the kids going in a different direction.”
In addition to the work with Challenge Success, Byram Hills also sent faculty members to college campuses to study student schedules and use of time on campus. The visits helped the faculty recognize areas to better prepare students for the college experience including ways to promote self-advocacy, project-based learning, and building strategies for improved executive functioning.
“From senior internships, we know that employers are looking for different things,” Mr. Walsh said. “That led us to the question: Is our current master schedule able to meet the needs of our students in terms of social and emotional skills, academic skills, 21st-century skills, soft skills, and future career skills?
At the end of the last school year, Mr. Walsh organized a Master Schedule Steering Committee to plan the process for implementing a new schedule. Administrators and teachers made up the initial committee with students and parents becoming involved this school year.
To establish a focus, the committee reviewed the master schedule by asking the essential question, “What does Byram Hills value?” The committee invited various stakeholders from the community to participate in a series of interviews that helped the faculty gain a broader understanding of the community’s values. The faculty had the opportunity to interview parents, college professors, employers, graduates, district administrators, psychologists and psychiatrists, and listen to what the community values.
After the stakeholder meetings, the faculty ranked the values discussed during the interviews. A number of areas were identified as being critical to the master schedule, such as project-based learning, college and career readiness, student wellness, curiosity, student-centered instruction, global competence, and collaboration.
“The current master schedule has been in place since the 1990’s and at the time it served a number of important purposes,” said Mr. Walsh. “Our building and community are at a different place now and the needs are different than they were back in the ’90s. The next master schedule will be a reflection of those needs.”
The trend in education across the country is moving towards scheduling that allows for longer class periods that meet fewer times each day and each week, or variations of that. “We think a modified version aligns with many values we would like to support,” Mr. Walsh said. “However, there are new types of flexible schedules that may also be suitable for our school.”
The Master Schedule Steering Committee will continue its work, whether it be a total revamp or a tweak or a hybrid of other schedules until a recommendation is made,” Mr. Walsh said. “I feel confident that with our process in place, the master schedule we recommend will be the right one for Byram Hills.” The earliest implementation of a new master schedule would be for the 2021-2022 school year.