Scheduler is most important person in a school
At the AASA Conference I attended a session on "Redesigning High Schools." The most interesting point made by the presenter that I totally agree with but most of us do not even take a second look at is, "The scheduler is the most important person in the school." While this topic was about high schools it certainly applies to middle schools and elementary schools as well.
When you think about a high school master schedule it is often a difficult and complex process. The basic premise is to schedule as many students as possible with their choice of classes. However, classes such as Band, Chorus, Swing Choir, Honors Math and English classes, and other very important classes in a high school often direct certain groups of students together. Schedulers often make decisions that allow some students to take upper level classes and other students would have conflicts taking the same classes.
Recently there has been a progressive movement to include more students in Advanced Placement classes. Some high schools that traditionally were looked at as low performing have achieved tremendous success opening up AP classes to all students.
While the scheduler certainly has extensive power in what students enroll in particular classes, the administration should make sure there are equal opportunities for all students. There is no doubt in my mind that many of us sell some students short of what they can accomplish with hard work, grit and perseverance.
I remember when I was coaching football and this small athlete who was a backup asked to talk to me after we had won our fifth game in a row. I was very pleased with the team and our coaching as we were 5-0 and on our way to record season. This athlete asked to see me after the game and basically said "Put me in, Coach!" I was taken aback by his courage and conviction to play. I determined that in the next week of practice I was going to give him a chance to prove himself. It just so happened that a starting player was injured in the previous game and was unavailable for that week. I put this courageous athlete in at practice and he was outstanding. That week he started at fullback and had a tremendous game. He started the rest of the year and made all-conference even though he only played five games. I think we as educators sometimes underestimate the ability of our students and do not give them a chance.
Other notes from the session include the following:
- Administrators need strong relationships with all employees.
- School improvement plans need to be localized based on evidence-based factors. (If you want to learn more about using evidence-based factors, volunteer to host an IASA academy I present titled "Using Evidence-Based Decision Making.")
- Administrators should shadow students to determine what is the experience of students in your school.
- Survey your students to learn how they perceive the school. Compare these survey results to what adults think of your school.
- Use teacher teams in a PLC-type format and let the teams make the decisions.
- Develop leaders among your teachers.
- Relationships and trust are the most important factors for school success.
I do not know how many new superintendents developed an entry plan prior to assuming your first superintendent position. I know Dr. Polyak talked about developing an entry plan as part of the IASA Aspiring Superintendents Conference. An entry plan or what some call a strategic plan may or may not be the same thing.
In my opinion an entry plan would include information on how you will operate as a superintendent for the first 60 to 90 days in your new role. I think it should include information on how you will lead the development of a strategic plan. You may have many thoughts on what you may want to change or to continue but the best advice I can give you is you should be a good listener and never use the name of your old school or school district when discussing issues or concerns with your new school district.
I recently read an article by a Ross Cooper, titled "I'm a New Principal, Here's My Entry Plan." You can read the article here The following are some highlights from the article:
The author highlights a quote from Michael Watkins' book, The First 90 Days. "For leaders joining new organizations...it helps to think of yourself as an anthropologist sent to study a newly discovered civilization." I think this is a great way to look at your new organization. You need to study the culture, language, interaction among employees, issues, strengths, opportunities for improvement, etc... before ever stating what you will do or what you want to do.
Cooper points out two specific goals for his first 90 days, establish relationships and learn about the school's history, where we are now and where our stakeholders think we should go. As I have witnessed new superintendents addressing their first 90 days on the job, I have observed that the most successful ones made a concentrated effort to talk to the stakeholders, especially those working in the school district. Gathering information is one of the most important tasks in your first 90 days.
Obviously, everyone reading this article is past the first 90 days. If you have not made a concerted plan to listen to your stakeholders, I would start a plan to do this immediately. If you have already completed an interview plan you may want to start a second round of interviews to see what people think now.
Cooper lists questions he asked of stakeholders. I have edited these questions for a superintendent.
o Tell me about yourself.
o What are you most proud of at XYZ School District?
o If you were the superintendent, what would your priorities be?
o What questions do you have?
o What data (qualitative and quantitative) do we collect and, more importantly, what data do we use?
Copper also communicated that he was going to use digital communication to keep in touch with all stakeholders on a regular basis. This is a very good idea but if you make this commitment, you need to make sure you update the communication on a regular basis.
If you did not develop a plan as described above, it's not too late to start.