Avidan Baral '18, Ben Gode '18, & Avi Shapiro '18
The school-wide email announcing the new schedule over winter break filled the SAAS community with many questions:
“Eight periods?” “Two breaks in one day?” “How much will this boost Stumptown visits?”
The new schedule adds an 8th period to be filled with new required classes, and makes blocks longer, to further develop Seattle Academy’s curriculum and advance the school in a new direction. Seniors Avidan Baral, Ben Gode, and Avi Shapiro sat down with Deans of Faculty Alison Ray and Fred Strong to get some answers.
Baral: Thank you, Alison and Fred, for sitting down with us. First of all, are you guys excited about rolling out the new schedule?
Ray: Yes, I really am. We’ve been working on the schedule for literally years behind the scenes, coming up with different iterations, think-tanking, and troubleshooting. It’s really fun to see something you’ve been talking about in the abstract finally come to fruition. I care a lot about the craft of teaching, and I’m excited because I think that any opportunity for teachers to reevaluate their practices is a good thing. Though I like the schedule we’ve produced, I don’t know if the details are as important as the fact that it will require teachers to positively rethink their practices.
Baral: Could you tell us about your process of making the new schedule?
Strong: Probably 3-4 years ago, as we were looking ahead to a new middle school building, we saw that as an opportunity to evaluate our schedule. We thought we might have to make some logistical changes such as staggered start times, although we didn’t end up needing to do that after conducting traffic studies. Following up on Alison’s point, we began by imagining what an ideal schedule would be for students and teachers--what would best support our teaching and learning. Various department heads and administrators started having conversations and called different schools around the country, researching schedule models. We then tested structures that fit our curriculum and got feedback from different faculty and student groups.
Baral: We have a couple of more specific questions, but we wanted to start with the incorporation of Health into the schedule. We’re going to see an increase from four workshops to two required trimesters in the Upper School. Why such a big change?
Ray: First of all, Health is a state requirement. It has been hard to find a home for it in our schedule up until now. We’re really excited for Health to become more of an umbrella, branching all the way to social sciences in the upper grades. We’re envisioning options for upper schoolers such as Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology, etc. Those courses, in addition to creating a hearty health environment, have also been topics that students have wanted to explore.
Gode: Do you see any risks with some of the new additions, for example, the short attention spans of middle school students with 80-minute math and foreign language classes?
Ray: Faculty have been aware of the 80-minute block for a year and a half now; thus we’ve all had a lot of time to process that fact. We’ve had professional development sessions on effective use of class time at faculty meetings, and looked at different ways to chop up the 80 minutes into more manageable chunks. Most foreign language teachers have visited schools where teachers use longer chunks of time, like Annie Wright and Northwest. There are potential pitfalls of any new schedules, but again, I believe reevaluating your practices in a classroom always leads to better teaching.
Gode: On the subject of teachers, can you tell us about this year’s hiring process: Will Seattle Academy be hiring more teachers, or current teachers have to teach more?
We will not be increasing the 5-unit full-time load of a teacher; therefore we will be hiring additional faculty as well as filling any positions that become vacant. Last winter, we had an administrative retreat to hammer out the details of the positions we are hiring for. We are also having conversations about new roles our teachers might have with the rollout of new courses, but we have definitely done some hiring.
Shapiro: During the 5th and 6th periods of earlier drafts of the schedule, the middle and high school schedule didn’t line up. Were you concerned about lunch disrupting classes or the schedules of teachers that teach in both the upper and middle school?
Ray: We did present a schedule at first that had two separate lunch times for middle and upper schools. And the upper school lunch was later in the day. As we got questions and concerns about that from students and parents, we revisited our options and realized that we could schedule middle and upper school lunch at the same time, and that lunch period is about the same time as lunch is now.
Gode: You led two parent meetings. How would you characterize the parent reactions to the new schedule?
Ray: The feedback so far has been very positive. Even the critical questions have been excellent and asked in a very generous tone. Thankfully, they were mostly questions we had anticipated that are incredibly important. Parents showed a lot of thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Overall, we got a lot of especially positive feedback on the new courses; parents think they’re very positive changes. The students have also asked a lot of great questions, especially in the 10th and 11th-grade meeting. Kids are curious and have had a very receptive tone.
Strong: One of the student concerns was about the later lunch time for upper school, with students saying, “I’m going to be really hungry by then.” Fortunately, we were able to go back and address that concern!
Ray: We will troubleshoot the schedule, and there will be many opportunities for feedback during the rollout. Some things are not really negotiable because they are vital to the structure of the schedule, but there are certain potential tweaks. For example, we don’t know if the morning is the best time for the longer break.
Shapiro: Along those lines, we just had a three-day week. How will the schedule adapt to irregular school weeks?
Strong: I was in a meeting, and someone actually handed me next year's calendar. The schedule almost perfectly works out. In a four-day week, we can skip Monday’s schedule and go straight to Tuesday. On a three-day week, we can do a Monday, Tuesday, and then Wednesday schedule.
Baral: What’s something concrete that wasn’t working about the current schedule and is fixed by the new schedule?
Ray: First, the new schedule adds the 8th block. That opens up many new options for students. For instance, there are kids that take yearlong instrumental and study skills. The new schedule allows them the opportunity to explore new courses and electives that they can’t currently take.
Baral: But the new schedule only adds one new elective slot per trimester.
Ray: That’s true, but we’re also adding new courses that we think will provide enrichment to the core classes. There are kids who have wanted to take more than one language; the new schedule makes that option easier. We also have to keep in mind that there are lots of students getting credits outside of the regular school day.
One thing's for sure; next August will bring big changes to 12th Ave. There may be some risks, but the SAAS community should take confidence knowing that the administration has put years of thinking into these scenarios.
Finally, have no fear! “Period” will NOT be added to the SAAS Vocabulary. We will be sticking to the “Block.” “We don’t want to change the word that feels natural to the culture of the place,” Alison Ray says, “so even if we call them by numbers, rather than letters, we will still call them blocks.”