Deans rule out schedule switches except for moves between levels

By Michael Rothberg

Students were notified via email that they are no longer allowed to request schedule changes after school has started on Sept. 6, said Beth Slattery, the dean in charge of scheduling.

“The big difference this year is that we sent out an email to that affect, but the policy has actually been in place the past few years,” Slattery said.

The only exception to this policy is level changes, in which students either drop down or move up a track.

“At Harvard-Westlake, we maybe ease into [classes] for the first day or so, but then we’re off and running,” said dean Jim Patterson. “Once the first day of school comes, it becomes significantly [more] challenging to make changes. At that point, class sizes are balanced.”

Since Aug. 22, almost half of the upper school students have requested a combined total of 700 to 1,000 changes to their schedules, all of which were submitted through a new online interface. Over the summer, Slattery collaborated with other deans to accommodate students in time for school.

Last February, returning and incoming upper school students submitted forms indicating which classes they wished to take in the fall. The deans reviewed the requests to ensure that students adequately met graduation requirements.

These forms were then fed into Didax, an administrative computer system designed by software engineer Alan Homan.

“I go through and try to fix as many conflicts as possible, try to balance numbers and genders as much as possible, and then I’m done. And that’s about mid-July, and from that point on I turn it over to the deans,” said math teacher Beverly Feulner, who has been arranging schedules for 28 years.

In April, there was an opportunity for students to see their schedules to make sure that the classes in the computer program correspond with what the students signed up for and wanted to take.

“That’s an important step because that’s what we can then take and say, ‘this many students want this particular class,’” said Patterson.

Students were presented with these tentative schedules online in mid-August. In previous years, students filled out paper cards to request changes, but this year for the first time, the forms were available online.

“I think kids found it generally easy to use and the way that we worded things made it so people did a better job of explaining what their goal was, because in the past people listed that they wanted changes but then they wouldn’t be clear with the reason behind that change,” Slattery said.

Due to the large quantity of applications for schedule changes, Slattery and other deans prioritize the requests by their rationale. Conflicts, situations in which schedules require students to be in two classes simultaneously, receive top priority and are guaranteed to be fixed.

Requests for changes justified by reasons such as sports practice eighth period and free periods were dealt with after the conflicts and level changes were resolved.

At the upper school, students are not allowed to know which teachers they have until the first day of school.

“The purpose of [the policy] was to ensure that students were making decisions not based on rumors but based on what their desires and needs are,” said Patterson. “Nonetheless, some students do request specific teachers, but these requests are not guaranteed to be acknowledged.

“Normally it has to do with ‘I want this teacher because I had them before’ and we can’t promise to do that but at least that’s based on an actual experience, but if somebody says ‘I don’t want to have this teacher because I heard this,’ the likelihood of honoring that is diminished,” said Patterson.

After compiling and correcting schedules, accounting for hundreds of changes, Slattery released the finalized schedules for a second time on Sept. 2.

The deans will not be accepting future requests besides level changes.

“I think that people should know just how hard we try to honor and just how much we do because there tends to be a lot of chatter after school starts about ‘I got this and this isn’t fair,’ but it’s our attempt to be as fair as possible,” said Slattery.