High School Scheduling: The Ultimate Rubik’s Cube
Tamara Van Wyhe, Director of Teaching & Learning Support
When the Rubik’s Cube hit the American mass market in the early 1980s, I was a high school student…and I still remember receiving a puzzle of my own as a Christmas gift. The thing confounded me. With each twist and turn, the pattern became more complicated, infuriating, tangled, messy…and engaging. It seemed unsolvable at times, yet it was nearly impossible to put down.
Creating a high school schedule in a small district like the CRSD is much like attempting to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Not the classic 3×3 cube, but the brain-bending 5×5 cube. The kind that takes months to solve. Actually, creating a high school master schedule in a small district can be much, much (much!) more difficult than any imaginable Rubik’s Cube. A schedule that provides our diverse student population with required and desired courses as well as some variety in class offerings, links three high school programs spread across a huge geographic area via available teleconferencing equipment, ties in dual-credit offerings from the local college campus, works to make unique facilities (such as the shop and the theater) within the district available to all students, and attempts to do it all with a limited number of educators in a finite number of contact hours available in each school day is no easy task. It takes time, and with each shift of any single variable (staffing, budget, graduation requirements, enrollment changes, special course requests…anything, really), the “formula” for creating the schedule becomes more complex.
Springtime in my line of work means sleepless nights thinking (and worrying) about creating a master schedule that meets the needs of all of our high school students. Conversations about the schedule have begun in earnest, but the many factors that influence what the eventual course line-up will look like place the finalization of a master schedule in a holding pattern as we continue to twist and turn the sides of the puzzle. When will a final master schedule for next year be available to students and parents? That’s a great question. By the end of the school year is the safest answer.
The district’s variable-term semester schedule involving “Basecamps” and “Treks” was new this year, and it has provided us with tremendous opportunities to provide opportunities to our high school students that were simply not possible with a traditional schedule. Not only has the Basecamp/Trek schedule been popular in the CRSD, but it has gained attention from schools and districts across the state looking to replicate the schedule in their locations, and to partner with the CRSD to expand opportunities for students in all of our communities. The variable-term schedule is one of the few things of which we are absolutely certain for next year. (Thank goodness there is one variable on the “for sure” list!)
As in years past, CRSD Guidance Counselor Jim Lorence, each school principal, and I will meet with next year’s high school students and parents to review graduation requirements, to query students regarding desired elective classes, and to map out the number of sections of required subjects we will need (e.g., Algebra I, Physical Science, World History, etc.). Teachers will provide their input on course placement for individual students, ensuring the final student schedules will appropriately address learning needs and post-high school goals. Administrators will review staffing to ensure teachers are placed where they can best meet the needs of learners in the CRSD. In addition to ongoing conversations between school and home, parents will have opportunities to provide input on their students’ course requests and needs during April parent-teacher conferences. Draft after draft after draft of the master schedule will be written, rearranged, reviewed, and refined until all of the pieces fall into place and the colors on each side of the puzzle finally match.
Erno Rubik, the Hungarian professor of architecture who invented the Rubik’s Cube, said, “If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.” We couldn’t agree more. The easy thing to do would be to print the very same master schedule year after year and insist that students find a way to fit an old and outdated model. Our curiosity, determination, and commitment to making our schedule fit the needs of CRSD students requires the annual grappling with a puzzle that we are determined to solve…with the understanding that the puzzle itself changes every single year, as well. To learn more about where we are in the process, visit www.crsd.us/scheduling.html.