Guest Post by Director of Studies Rick Tony
It began about a year ago, with a little help from the Beatles. During our preliminary discussions in developing a new schedule, I knew we would need to name our various models to be able to debate the pros and cons of each. As the chair of the “schedule committee,” I chose proper names associated with the Beatles to represent the seven viable models we created: John, Paul, George, Ringo, Pete, Stuart, and Brian. Can you identify them all?
The committee* met monthly and began by listing and prioritizing the various ways we spend our time at Solebury School. The list was comprehensive: classes, clubs, advisory, lunch, assemblies, conference period, M&M, labs, department meetings, faculty meetings, class meetings, office hours, peer leaders, study halls and student free time. From this data we developed seven models, each different but with some common threads. Most importantly, we knew we wanted to move from 50-minute classes to longer periods that would meet less frequently. This would enable teachers to dive deeper into the material and to develop intensive lessons and assessments that require extended time. The added benefit of less nightly homework also contributed to our commitment to longer periods. Other high priorities included conference periods — we wanted more than one per week — and dedicated club times.
Paring down from seven models to the top three (Ringo, Stuart and John), we began to re-think the start of our day. The preponderance of research we uncovered espoused the benefits of a later start for adolescents. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a Policy Statement which resonated with the committee. From its abstract: “…the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (i.e. before 8:30am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption, in this population.” One particular model reduced the number of non-Arts class periods to three per day, saving us about 20 minutes of transition time between classes. That model was Ringo.
Ringo was our top choice.
Not only did Ringo include a later start time, three non-Arts periods and one dedicated Arts periods per day, it also provided time for faculty to meet every Wednesday morning, affording students an even later start of 9:00am on Wednesdays. This model also featured a 45-minute conference period on Wednesday morning which could be used for certain classes (AP courses and math support classes) to gain extra instruction time. Finally, Ringo included two periods that do not rotate, allowed us to hire part-time teachers who can work at a consistent time of day. This subtle but significant improvement over the prior schedule enables Solebury to draw even more talented part-time teachers to our school.
We took our new schedule model to the full faculty. Because department heads had been updating teachers in their departments throughout this process, many teachers were familiar with Ringo already. One last modification was adopted; by shortening periods to 65-minutes on Wednesdays, we could gather as a community in assemblies, class meetings, or advisory groups for a longer chunk of time. This trade-off of class time for community time was met with great support and the final version of our schedule was created. The faculty overwhelmingly voted in favor of adopting the schedule, starting with the 2016-17 school year.
Change always brings with it some trepidation but the teachers, staff, and administration have been working hard to prepare for its adoption during the past several months.
This school year, the scheduling committee will reconvene periodically as we gather feedback from the community about the new schedule. I invite you to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your thoughts – we welcome your concerns as much as any positive feedback you might have. Write me today, or as the weeks progress and we further settle in.
Lastly, what shall we call our new schedule? For me, “Ringo” inspires fond memories of late-afternoon meetings and spirited discussion. But that name does not capture the many benefits and features of our new schedule. Post a comment or email me with your suggestion for a better, more descriptive name. If we choose your name, you just might be rewarded with a Beatles’ album for your submission.
*The schedule committee included Peter Ammirati, Erika Bonner, Steve Buteux, Diane Downs, Scott Eckstein, Rob Eichem, Jon Freer, Hanna Howe, Helen Matthews, Britta Milks, Cari Nelson, Tom Rondeau, Cinnie Wappel, and Rick Tony.