The Upper School administration is considering a new schedule for the 2020-2021 school year, consisting of 75-minute blocks on a four-day rotation. Mr. de Grys, Mrs. Wilks, and Mr. Noe were kind enough to talk with Tatler about the new schedule and allow us to break the news in our publication.
The schedule consists of 75-minute blocks on a four-day rotation, similar to the current Wednesday/Thursday schedules. The amount of free time and class time will stay roughly the same, but classes are now longer and they will occur twice every four days. Students will have a guaranteed lunch period from 10:55-12:50, or 12:10-12:50, depending on their classes, and from 12:55-1:45 every day, there will be a period of Community Time. The current draft of the schedule suggests that on Mondays and Thursdays, Community Time will be an activity/free period; on Tuesdays and Fridays, twenty minutes will be used for advisory and thirty will be used as free time; and on Wednesdays, Community Time will be an assembly.
Mrs. Wilks will give formal presentation of this new schedule in January, along with a student survey for feedback, and from March 30th to April 24th, this schedule will be piloted, allowing further opportunities for student/faculty feedback. Mrs. Wilks explained, “These changes are not set in stone, and the schedule will be influenced by student feedback.” The schedule will be finalized around May.
Mr. Noe has met with advisory councils of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders about the new schedule, and the teachers have already viewed it and given their thoughts. Some departments believe that with longer periods and more time in between classes, homework load can be reduced, and with more time during classes, teachers can go deeper into projects and units. Faculty feedback has also said that the new schedule will allow for a larger variety of in-class activities, and more time for teachers to connect with students. Mr. de Grys explained, “Teachers can use it for more student-centered learning… as long periods lend themselves more for activities, projects, and labs.” However, Mr. de Grys says that a challenge would be formatting long blocks, as students seem to expect breaks during blocks. This will be addressed through conversations and workshops with teachers on best maximizing long blocks.
With less homework and more time in class, healthier pacing is a key motive driving these schedule changes; Mrs. Wilks said: “As both a parent and an Upper School head, pace is super important to me… between outside stresses, homework, and the difficulties in catching up on missed classes, the current schedule is really hard… what’s really important about this new schedule is adding a healthier pace to the school.” The changes are also backed by research; Challenge Success, run by the Stanford Graduate School of Education, has proven long blocks to be less stressful and more productive, thus making the pace more relaxed for students.
This new schedule came about through meetings with reputable educational consulting firms, including Independent School Management (ISM), and researchers, including Challenge Success, who all agreed that one of the major issues with the current schedule are Fridays, with one consultant who said, “If you have a day in your schedule called a ‘slam day,’ then that’s a pretty good indicator that something is wrong.” To remedy this, the new schedule incorporates no more than four classes every day, and increased activity/free time.
As for free periods, Mr. de Grys says that every student now has a guaranteed lunch period (“Because,” he says, “it’s probably best practice to eat.”), and Community Time means more time “for students to meet with teachers, visit clubs, go to affinity groups, hang out, and watch TikToks,” particularly for 9th and 10th graders.
In addition, the new schedule allows for easier course swaps — Mr. de Grys says “a third of all students change courses, but it’s hard to give students the classes they want and keep their lunch, particularly for 9th and 10th graders who take seven courses.” He explains that frees are then often moved to earlier or later periods, which doesn’t allow them to eat at a reasonable time. Under the new schedule, lunch is guaranteed and given a dedicated time slot, so course swaps can be done more easily, without needing to worry about lunches and frees.
The changes also combat falling behind due to consistent late arrivals and early dismissals, as traffic, appointments, extracurricular events, and sports can cause students to arrive late or leave early often. This is particularly detrimental if the same class is first or last, so that the student misses the same class constantly. However, the new schedule has rotating classes, so classes are in different positions every day, and the student will not have to miss the same class over and over.
Mr. Noe adds that the changes would add flexibility in what students learned and how they learn it, particularly with Lion Term (a three-week “mini-semester” where students can pursue particular disciplines they’re passionate about), and that he hopes the longer periods are better suited to teaching the skills, competencies, and mindsets.
However, this new schedule will not be without its challenges; Mr. de Grys says, “Any new schedule has pros and cons,” adding, “[It’s] going to be different; there’s going to be an adjustment period.” However, he hopes that students approach these changes with an open mind, and provide feedback to improve the new schedule and better address their concerns. Also, student help is needed for naming the days; currently the four days are named L, I, O, and N, but Mrs. Wilks would love student help in finding cooler names (A, B, C, and D days are not viable options, as they are already being used by the Middle School).
In summary, the new schedule offers longer periods in four-day rotations. Students won’t miss the same class over due to tardiness or EDs, Community Time allows for free time and structured events, the longer periods mean more in-depth learning (and possibly less homework!), and lunch is guaranteed. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the administration with feedback during the presentation and pilot in the spring.