Scheduling problems lead to angry students

Senior Margaret Bussineau wanted to take Humanities. And she wanted to take IB French as well. But because Humanities is only offered during a first and second hour block and because IB French is only offered first hour, Bussineau had to settle with a Upper Class Seminar, or UCS, an English class for juniors and seniors.

Like many students, Bussineau is the victim of a master schedule that leaves teachers, students, counselors and administrators stressed and often hampers students who want to take multiple, academically-challenging courses.

“I really don’t enjoy my (UCS) class,” Bussineau said. “It seems like a huge academic step down from AP English, but it was the only class that would fit. So basically, I am stuck having a class I don’t really want.”

So who’s at fault for what appears to be an issue year after year?

Bussineau said not to blame her counselor, Craig Rafail.

“Mr. Rafail could only do so much,” she said. “It wasn’t up to him to change the periods certain classes are offered.”

In addition, Dexter High School’s student-to-counselor ratio of more than students to one counselor is far above the state standard which is 1-to-250, a ratio suggested by the Michigan School Counseling Association. Administrators say this imbalance cannot be fixed because of budget restraints. For comparison, Ann Arbor Pioneer averaged 275 students per counselor for the 2012-2013.

“We’re understaffed,” Rafail said. “We need more time to commit to each individual student. It’s safe to say we get frustrated, but we get through it.”

In order to get more time, Rafail said, the counselors need to get the master schedule sooner. But the counselors aren’t in charge of actually making the schedule. They often don’t get their students’ schedules until after school is out, and as they are not contracted to work during the summer.

“Most schools get a master schedule in March and then have time to work with the students and their schedules,” counselor Kristie Doyle said.

So how does the scheduling process work? According to multiple interviews with multiple sources, the master schedule is headed by Assistant Principal Ken Koenig who solicits help from volunteering teachers Ryan Baese, Debora Marsh and David Teddy.

Baese specifically joined the process to meet requirements for graduate school  where he is getting his Masters in educational administration. Baese said that he would like to continue being a part of the master scheduling process in the future.

The process begins in January after students request their desired classes in PowerSchool in December. With this information, 96 percent of students’ choices are satisfied in the first draft of the master schedule Koenig said. He also said that the process for creating the schedule each year has been made easier with the use of new technology such as PowerScheduler.

However, after these numbers come out, the scheduling process is generally stalled as projections for teachers as well as the budget for the next year aren’t released until the spring. As budget numbers are released and teacher retirements are announced, this affects the numbers of classes offered. Based on this information schedule has to be modified again.

Because budget and retirement information came so late last school year, that made this year’s schedule particularly difficult to make, according to Dexter Education Association President Joe Romeo.

“Part of the problem came from the fact that Mr. Moran was told late that he would have fewer teachers, so the schedules had to be adjusted again,” Romeo said. “The class lists are supposed to be available the third Friday in May, but they were not this year.”

This meant that some classes with up to 70 students, were not identified in time for adjustments in the schedule to be made in the spring. This lead to some teachers not getting their actual schedule until the Tuesday or Wednesday before the first week of school. This created some unhappy teachers.

“If a teacher’s schedule is not the same in the fall as he thought it would be, the teacher might have wasted time preparing for a course he won’t teach, or he might not be prepared for a class he is going to teach. Neither of these options are any good,” Romeo said.

According to Koenig, a large part of the difficulty with scheduling is all of the classes that DHS offers. Koenig said offering a large number of classes creates more student choice which creates more potential for classes to conflict by being offered during the same hour.

“The more classes we can offer within our teaching flexibility, the more possibility for conflict,” he said.

“That’s what kids don’t get,” counselor Kristy Doyle said, “every class is not offered every hour.”

However, some of the conflict also comes from the students themselves according to Doyle. Doyle said students often sign up for classes based on what classes their friends are in or what teachers are “cool” or based on classes they think they should take rather than ones they are interested in.

“Kids have to make better, more informed decisions based on their capability,” she said. “Kids have to learn how to work with different people and different teachers. You won’t get to pick your professor. It’s the real world; you have to learn how to deal with that.”

As an example, Doyle said many students in January sign up for difficult classes like AP Language and AP Literature; however, when the school year comes around, they realize that they do not actually want to be in that class or maybe they didn’t complete their summer homework. She said these last-minute decisions are part of the reason that the counseling office is so busy at the start of the school year.

Regardless of a student’s reason for being in the counseling office for a messed up schedule, Koenig and the counselors agree that they’d rather have students in class.

“We don’t like having you stuck in the counseling office. It’s crappy,” Koenig said.

Though counselors, teachers and administrators said that the scheduling process has been chaotic for over seven years, new Superintendent Chris Timmis hopes to see changes in the future.

“I understand the reasons for the delays this year, and Mr. Moran and I have talked about timelines,” Timmis said. “The ability to build the schedule as well as get schedules to students is contingent on information regarding staffing, which comes from the superintendent and Board of Education, being available in February and March.”

And even though some teachers interviewed suggested that the schedule be changed so student choice not drive the schedule, Timmis said he doesn’t agree.

“I believe the high school schedule needs to be designed around student interests,” he said.

And despite the chaos and lines in the counseling office at the end of the year, Bussineau said she understand each counselor trying to schedule 400 kids is a monumental task.

“Even though I had a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, I have a lot of appreciation for what the counselors do for us,” Bussineau said. “It can’t be easy.”