After receiving a unanimous recommendation from the Faculty Academic Committee, the administration plans to implement a new schedule for the upper school campus beginning in the fall of 2020.
The new, rotating block schedule consists of 75-minute classes, one 10 a.m. late-start day per cycle and, for the first time in the school’s history, a common lunch period.
“There’s never a perfect schedule, but we feel really excited that the reason why every department voted unanimously for this [was that we shared] a wonderful vision,” Head of Upper School Laura Ross said. “This is going to be better for students, better for faculty, better for learning and better for homework. Just the sheer fact that each day has a maximum of four slots [means that] most people will only have two or three academic classes a day.”
In addition, the new changes will help alleviate student athletes’ tight schedules. The Athletics department will discontinue morning practices, weightlifting and conditioning, allowing all students to begin school together. The schedule will also prevent students from having the same class at the same time each day so that athletes are not missing the same class for occasional early dismissals.
“I’m really pleased that there’s been all of this work to try to think about how we can be more effective in using time, getting at the kind of learning that matters most to us, and potentially making students’ lives better, which has been a big focus of mine ever since I’ve gotten here,” President Rick Commons said. “[We are doing] everything we can to maintain the excellence of the institution while improving student experience.”
The longer block periods will also allow students with extended time to complete their assessments in one sitting, Ross said.
“For every class, we built in wiggle room [in the beginning] and end to allow for fewer people to get things done in the Silent Study room,” Ross said. “We know that can be difficult for proctoring, so that’s a huge advantage.”
Not only will the late-start days permit students to get more rest, but it will also allow for more efficient faculty meetings, Ross said.
“We are moving all faculty meetings and team meetings to this time because previously, they were after school, so coaches [and faculty directing plays] couldn’t come,” Ross said. “Most teaching teams would have to find a class period when none of them were teaching, which would take away students’ time from meeting with them.”
Throughout the past year, members of the New Schedule Committee evaluated proposals for an improved daily schedule and helped create the final product. Led by upper school scheduler and science teacher Krista McClain and upper school dean Sharon Cuseo, the committee consists of a variety of voices, including counselor Michelle Bracken, Learning Resource Specialist Grace Brown, Director of Admission Aaron Mieszczanski, middle school scheduler Julia Grody, all department heads, a few parents and selected students.
New Schedule Committee member Noah Aire ’20 said he played a role in providing insight as a junior.
“I think our college-oriented culture makes basic things, like eating food and having a free period to hang with friends, hard choices for teenagers that need to relax and sleep,” Aire said. “Kids should not be going to sleep at 2 a.m. and skipping out on lunch periods because they have work to do. I don’t think that the schedule will fix everything, but I think that continuing this dialogue will definitely lead us as a school [to] areas where we can improve.”
Though some members have raised concerns regarding the new schedule, the committee was not against changing the current one in place, New Schedule Committee member Lucy Kim ’19 said.
“I have heard that some departments are concerned about how their curriculum will be affected,” Kim said. “For instance, [the world language department] requires day-to-day engagement, which might not be possible in an alternating block schedule. We address all concerns by including representatives of all departments and discussing what we could do to make things work, [but] I do think that it’s impossible to please everyone in anything.”
Kim said she hopes the new schedule will change the school environment so that it better follows its mission statement.
“Harvard-Westlake kids know that we’re not really a community-based school,” Kim said. “The eradication of the first and thirds due to its unpopularity demonstrate that. The new schedule aims to reduce stress, enhance learning and create a happier school.”
The New Schedule Committee will continue meeting to address any issues regarding the schedule that may arise in the future, Ross said.
“We have a whole list of things that we need to set policies for,” Ross said. “Like do we need to have a different homework policy? Should our homework policy be different for honors classes and AP classes compared to regular classes? How often should Directed Studies classes meet in the new schedule and when? [There] are all kinds of decisions to make, so that’s the other thing that I want people to know: it’s not like everything’s done. Two of the students on the committee are going to graduate, so we also need to replace those students so that we can continue to have those conversations.”
In order to ease the transition for the community, the school will implement five pairs of late-start days next year.
“The upper school faculty will spend next year deeply engaged in professional development aimed at learning the best practices for teaching in a rotating block schedule,” Ross wrote in an email sent to the school community. “Approximately 80 to 85 percent of upper school classes will gain teaching time in the new schedule, but all classes will be redesigned to take full advantage of the new structure.”
Ross said she hopes students will be less stressed and be able to balance their school work with the new, rotating block schedule.
“We still want [the school] to be a great place to be from and prepare [our students] for anything, but we also would like for people to not feel like they are just kind of surviving,” Ross said.
Though the new changes may be difficult to adapt to initially, Ross said she hopes to continue improving the schedule to better students’ daily lives.
“Luckily we aren’t the first school to do this, and we’ve had so many schools to talk to about how the benefits outway the negatives,” Ross said. “We feel really confident that we’ve done as much research in how people learn. I’m sure some people are anxious, [but] just like when [teachers] want their students to try things, have them fail and try it again a different way, this is going to be an iterative process. We are going to all have to be learners, just like we ask our students to be.”