Driving district master schedules by putting students first

Commentary: Eileen Belastock of Mount Greylock Regional School District warns not to position students as an afterthought in scheduling.
magnet board
A color-coded magnet board used for scheduling, a common sight in many schools.

School districts should embrace student-centered scheduling to ensure all students get the classes they want and need, a panel of experts said in a recent webinar.

As scheduling for the various members of a school district — from faculty to students to staff — gets more complex, it is critical for districts to create a strong district scheduling plan that will highlight team roles and responsibilities, be specific about milestones, establish benchmark rubrics and, most importantly, panelists said, put students first.

The webinar, hosted by and sponsored by scheduling software company Always be Learning, featured executives from the company — Amy Filsinger, head of school success, Mike Rettberg, professional services lead, and Chris Walsh, head of impact — who outlined the central role data plays in keeping up best practices.

Don’t let your data fool you


“Your [student information system] is probably lying to you,” Rettberg said, emphasizing that the system that schools lean on to organize operations and learning might not be providing school districts with the most up-to-date data.

Rettberg proposed a master schedule school data audit that provides opportunities to look at different types of data that could be hidden in those systems. He recommended scheduling teams to be trained in strategic thinking and given tools that will assist in the decision-making process by choosing data and process over traditional intuition.

Because scheduling can be a very isolating and siloed process, Rettberg also advised investing in building capacity and leveraging outside experts to ensure best practices.

The $10 million magnet board

You can almost be guaranteed to see a large magnet board with its color-coded magnets in most school buildings — but something is missing.


Teachers and time periods are always represented on these magnet boards but “what is missing from this incredibly complex process is students,” Filsinger said, stressing that “every year, schools manage roughly $10 million on a physical magnet board with sticky notes, and dry-erase markers.”

Walsh agreed, and said most master schedule processes are broken. Teachers are often scheduled first with students being the last factor in master scheduling.

Instead, districts need to come up with a new way of scheduling. By creating a scheduling strategy, being intentional about putting students at the center, adapting as needs change and building team capacity, districts and the administrators who run them can tackle master scheduling in a strategic way.

Rettberg advised that school districts need to “avoid turning students into numbers. … We need to be looking at a process that keeps students names in the scheduling process.”

The road map


Master scheduling, Filsinger said, should not be a tactile activity delegated to school guidance counselors, but instead a strategic activity aligned with district goals involving instructional leaders and building principals.

District leaders must make it clear that programmatic initiatives need to come alive through the master schedule, she said. This scheduling point of view should focus on why it matters, how the master schedule can help and the resources needed to achieve district goals.

The district master schedule plan should audit and map district and school process as well as examine the quality of the data, the panelists said.

A realistic multi-year district scheduling plan should include producing accurate scheduling data, equitability of student/teacher course loads and increasing underrepresented student populations in advanced course.

In concert with the district information technology department, school districts should accelerate a district’s ability to analyze data, standardize course codes and titles across the school and a core set of class attributes.


About the presenters

Amy Filsinger leads the School Success Team at Abl, which provides expert scheduling guidance to secondary schools around the country. Amy is an experienced educator fascinated by school redesigns aimed at eliminating the achievement gap. Prior to joining Abl, Amy was Principal of Rocketship Brilliant Minds — a public charter school in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also served as a teacher in the Teach For America Metro-DC Corps and was a teacher leader for Rocketship Education. Amy holds a degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and is an alumna of Relay GSE’s National Principal Fellowship.

Mike Rettberg is the professional services lead at Abl, where he designs and implements training programs for school and district leaders. Mike believes that education works best when teams of passionate people work together to meet the needs of all kids. Prior to joining Abl, Mike was the director of education at Education Outside, the principal of KIPP SF Bay Academy, and was an academic programs manager at Summit Public Schools. He was also a middle school science teacher in New York City and San Francisco. Mike holds a B.A. from Whitman College and an M.A. from Pace University.

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The edWeb webinar referenced above, sponsored by Abl, can be found here.

Eileen Belastock

Written by Eileen Belastock

Director of Academic Technology, Mount Greylock Regional School District in Williamstown, Massachusetts

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