A high school master schedule is more than just the timing of classes throughout a day. As Principal Scott Crisp said, “it’s the backbone structure that holds everything in place.”
Teton County School District No. 1 high schoolers are going to see a shakeup in their schedules next year as Jackson Hole High School and Summit High school transition to what is called a “rotating drop schedule.” One reason for the change is to accommodate a growing student population.
“At the high school we are super proud of the achievement level that we’ve historically had the past eight years or so,” Crisp said. “But with that being said, we have to continually find ways to make it better and improve.
“That’s an important piece of why we went through this entire master schedule review process,” he said. “We realized that we had some holes in our current schedule. We have areas where we can be a lot more efficient with meeting student needs.”
School administrators, faculty, students and parents have been working on the new schedule since February 2016.
Changes include six periods a day at 67 minutes each. High schoolers now take seven periods a day that are 50 minutes long on Monday, Thursday and Friday and four periods that are 90 minutes long on Tuesday and Wednesday. Early release will be maintained as an option for students.
As the mock schedule shows, there are seven days that students will cycle through. They start on an “A” day, move through to “G” — which carries over into the next week — and then start over. That’s why it’s called a rotating drop schedule.
“We’re really trying to find a balance between block periods of 90 minutes and the traditional period of 50 minutes for instructional reasons,” Crisp said.
Some project-based classes need more time, but other classes keep students engaged better when they are shorter.
Crisp said the changes in scheduling will also cut the number of transitions in a day for social or emotional reasons like reducing stress and anxiety — something heavily studied last year by the student school board and administrators.
“We are slowing the day down for the student,” he said.
Rotating periods will also have classes meet at different times of the day.
“Students operate differently and have different levels of energy based off the timing of the day,” Crisp said. “We are looking forward to seeing the benefits and seeing how that impacts student achievement.”
But there’s more to it.
To educators a master schedule represents the beliefs, attitudes and priorities of a school. Administrators say the new schedule will allow more time for students to seek help during school hours. It will also reduce stress, they say, and increase student engagement.
“One of the big ones was finding a time during the day where we could provide re-teaching opportunities, intervention opportunities, tutorial time and enrichment opportunities,” Crisp said. “That’s key.”
Currently, students have to find a way to come early or stay late — and that’s not always possible. Others try to meet with teachers during lunch. By introducing what the schools are calling a “flex period” every day, Crisp and other administrators hope to have a consistent time during which students can get assistance from teachers without continually scheduling appointments.
“Flex time blocks is one of the more creative parts of the schedule,” Crisp said.
Flex time will fit the schools’ college and career ready program, club meeting times, tutoring, meeting with teachers, interventions, enrichment activities, flexibility for early release and school-wide presentations.
“It’s all within the school day, so a student who takes the bus to school has time during the day to get the review and support they need,” Crisp said.
Another big change — one that worries some students — is two lunch periods.
Projected enrollment growth is the driver for that change. As of Oct. 1, Jackson Hole High School enrollment was 683 students. It has a capacity of 969 students. Projections show it will approach, but not quite hit, capacity in 2023 with 962 students if Summit High School enrollment remains steady.
“If you come to the high school at lunch you’ll see we are running out of seats,” Crisp told the board of trustees on Feb. 8. Students eat in the hallways and in the rotundas sometimes, he said. “I think it’s an obligation to provide a seat for every student in our commons.”
If the high schools don’t change their schedule next year, Superintendent Gillian Chapman said the schools would need to hire additional teachers, something that’s not in the district’s budget with looming cuts to education in the state of Wyoming.
“If we were to stay with our current master schedule the way it is, we would be looking at needing to add 10 teachers for the next school year,” Chapman said to the board of trustees on Feb. 8. “We know we can’t do that.”
However, high school administrators say budget cuts didn’t drive the change in schedules.
“This is the best schedule for students,” said Dan Abraham, the assistant principal at Jackson Hole High School. “It was not driven initially by any means around a budget question or impending state cuts or what the Wyoming Legislature is going to do. We will work around budget constraints and still do what is best for kids.”
Administrators also say they’re committed to not overworking teachers.
“We are dedicated to maintaining prep time for teachers at least once a day,” Crisp said.
Student school board members reported these concerns, and others, to school board members on Feb. 8. They say students worry that they’ll be split up from friends during separate lunch periods and that classes are too long.
They are also worried that flex time won’t be used efficiently and that classmates will end up goofing around.
Crisp has reiterated that there will be supervision and that staff members are playing a large role in constructing productive flex time.
Student school board members will play a big role in implementing the new schedule next year.
“Peer-to-peer information is powerful at the high school level,” Abraham said.
The district is planning one, if not several, Q&A nights, probably after spring break. Jackson Hole High School will host an incoming freshman night from 6 to 8 p.m. March 7 to educate eighth-grade students on high school life, including how to master the new schedule.
“It’s great to be moving forward with positive momentum,” Abraham said.
This version of the story has been changed to reflect the correct time for the incoming freshman night.