School schedules explained

Bella Coulter, Staff Writer

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By Bella Coulter

Senior Yohan Lee marched to guidance for the third time in three weeks, trying once again to fix his schedule. He’d already had one schedule change made right before the start of school, but he still had two 3B classes and one class that he hadn’t signed up for. 

Finally, after three class shifts and three weeks of a messed up schedule, he walked out of guidance with all of the appropriate blocks. 

Lee isn’t the only student who has had scheduling problems. As yet another school year began at PA, the guidance counselors sat in wait for the impending flood of messages from their students, all with one common subject: schedule problems. 

It seems like this year in particular, students were struggling to get their schedules up to their own standards and those of the school. But what goes into making student schedules? With over 1700 students on campus, it’s obvious why there would be such a struggle to develop a master schedule that fits every student’s needs. 

“There were a lot of missing blocks, the course that [students] wanted didn’t fit in the schedule, and then they drop classes too,” said student support director Sheila Gorham.

These schedule conflicts start long before students are even thinking about the next school year. According to assistant principal Dr. Sherri Brooks, the course request sheets are what determine the master schedule. All of the classes that every student requests are put into Synergy, which creates a master schedule digitally that best fits the requests. This master schedule needs to be created by March so that Brooks and the school counselors can start resolving schedule conflicts and the school can start deciding what staff changes they need for the upcoming school year (who they need to hire, who they need to move, etc.).

An area where the most scheduling conflicts occur every year is the plethora of singletons, or classes that are only available during one block.

“It’s definitely worse at PA,” said school counselor Catherine Delaney. “There are more schedules within IB that are messed up because a lot of [them] take those one-block classes.”

 

An example of one of these singleton scheduling conflicts happened to senior Grace Altman who was eager to take both Journalism 2 and chorus. However, they are both offered only during B1, and she was forced to choose. She went with chorus having been in that program all through her high school, even though she has wanted to be a part of the journalism program for years.

“Obviously your diploma requirements trump everything else, but if you’re in, say, Madrigals or Band or Studio Theater, that is very important to you because you’ve built up to that,” Delaney said. “You can’t just tell a student [they] just can’t take that.” 

In addition to these scheduling conflicts that occur before school even starts, there are also all the change requests that come in during the first few weeks. 

“One of the problems is when a kid goes into a class that they select and they don’t like it,” said Gorham. “And then they’ll come in and want a class that’s closed.”

Closed classes add yet another layer to the already complex process, where certain classes cannot exceed a certain number under federal regulation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) controls the sizes of certain classes.

“They dictate how many kids can be in technology classes and cooking classes,” said Gorham. “The cooking classes can’t have over 20; technology classes can’t have over 20 for safety purposes.” Because of the limited spots available, when kids come at the beginning of the school year and want to switch into a class that has already closed, they are out of luck.

Despite the seemingly endless problems that can pop up in schedule making, a good majority of the school receives a functioning schedule.

“Most schedules work fine,” said Delaney. “We only had about 10 percent that wouldn’t work.”

The rest of the schedule problems come from students wanting to drop or add classes, not because of actual mistakes in their schedule. Oftentimes, students will decide at the beginning of the school year that they don’t like a class they’ve signed up for, creating even more issues as school counselors try to appease everyone within the restrictions of the master schedule.

“The ideal solution is to have the kids not change their mind, but that’s a fantasy,” Gorham said.