Who knew scheduling could be fun?

Yesterday I started the actual scheduling of classes in a new (for Archmere) scheduling program called Rediker.  (Since we’ve moved all of our student data to a new system,  I needed a new scheduling program, too.) All the preparation that has led up to this point (I explained that in my last post) pays off with every click on the track pad.

The program magically (to me) searches for the best spot to place each class to maximize student requests.  People used to do this process by hand (some in smaller schools still do), but that was easier when there were far fewer students requesting courses from a smaller pool of offerings to be scheduled the same period every day.  Archmere has an academic program that is more robust than many others, and it employs an 8-day, 7-period schedule (a diagonal cascading rotation with a drop day) that defies manual construction.  Well, it defies my manual construction:  in other words, I ain’t doing it by hand.

To watch the program compute the best schedules is pretty cool.  I was able to weight courses, too.  For instance, an AP class has more “weight” than an elective:   If AP US History  and Photography are vying for the same period on a student’s schedule, Rediker will grant the period to AP US History.  It won’t move Photography to another period because that’s the period that works for most everyone else who requested it:  this is why not everyone can be scheduled for every elective he or she requests–it’s not always about space; it’s usually about the other courses all students chose.  Rediker, like all programs like it, schedules communities of people, not individual students.  That’s a tough lesson to absorb when you don’t get the art or music or computer elective you wanted.

But the process is moving along, and then there are adjustments to make by hand.  I’m pretty certain that I will be able to mail home  to students (by Friday, August 26) the list of classes they will be enrolled in next year.  And by August 21, everyone will be able to access the new student and parent pages through the Archmere website.  But that’s a bit of a spoiler there…you’ll hear more about that soon. But imagine this:  a life without paper schedules.  You’re welcome.

Okay, I’m off to read about the pilgrims.  Believe it or not, there’s more to know.

The Time is Now…to Schedule.

And so it starts.

Student course requests are loaded, class sizes set, new room numbers secured, new teachers added, ex-teachers deleted, and course numbers changed…I guess it’s time to start scheduling students and teachers for the 2013-14 school year.

Preparing for the actual scheduling process takes considerable time, and it actually begins in March.  Let me give you the sequence, to this moment:

  1. By March 1, course offerings are confirmed for the next school year:  old courses removed, new ones added.
  2. Before the Course Fair in March, course approvals and recommendations are distributed to students.
  3. March’s Course Fair kicks off the course registration process.
  4. Students submit course registrations in April.
  5. Student course requests are loaded into the scheduling program.
  6. Based on student requests, department heads determine number of sections needed for each course; they also assign teachers to those courses.
  7. By July 1 (after a June grace period in which students and teachers might make level changes), the scheduling process begins.
  8. After working manually through scheduling conflicts to grant as many students as possible their maximum number of requested courses, final schedules are completed.
  9. By the end of July, if all has gone to plan, schedules will be mailed home…with a letter explaining course change policies.

Believe it or not, creating schedules for 500 students and 60 part- and full-time teachers is–dare I say it–fun.  It’s the ultimate puzzle, creating school order from schedule chaos.

It’s only ever disappointing when I can’t schedule everyone for every course he or she wants.  But if, say, 25 students request a course that can only fit 20, or if someone’s own requests block the path of his or her other requests, something’s got to give–and this is why students offer alternates, too.

Anyway, everyone will be receiving their schedules while I am hiking in Shenandoah National Park with Mr. Jordan, Mr. Cocco, Mr. Levine, and 32 (?) senior boys…on the fourth annual senior boys’ hike.  (The senior girls have their own trip, too.)  So, check your schedules, read the letter accompanying it, and get ready for school.

I guess that’s enough excitement for one blog.