Since 2012, following the course set in Parker’s Strategic Plan, the School’s leadership across all three divisions has invested considerable time and resources into the ongoing improvement of the daily schedule. To date, significant enhancements have been made to all three divisional schedules that reflect our core values and support student learning. At the same time, we continue to learn more about how students learn best, and the potential benefits of additional enrichment to the daily schedule (i.e., late-start for Middle and Upper School students) that according to our research will prove beneficial to our students’ overall educational experience.
Up to this point, we have been committed fully to moving to a new schedule—one that deploys time in a student-centric way and benefits the overall development of our students—for the 2019-2020 academic year. However, Parker Leadership has determined it would be best to hold off for an additional year so that we can invest time and resources into the further exploration of additional strategic enhancements to be included in the daily schedule. As a result, the newly redesigned daily schedule for the Middle and Upper School will be implemented fully in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Of all the levers a school can pull to ensure it is truly living its mission and supporting its core values, one of the most powerful levers is the deployment and allocation of time. Yet, when we consider the demands of a truly exceptional educational experience—one to which Parker is committed fully—designing a daily schedule becomes one of the most challenging responsibilities of the school. At Parker, we believe that the daily schedule should reflect what we believe to be the core values and essential components of a Parker education. Our schedule must support excellence in academics, arts, and athletics, achieve balance in the student experience, provide opportunities for collaboration among and between students, faculty, and staff, optimize instructional time, and provide appropriate co-curricular time, transition time, and free time. No easy task as time is finite, but one that Parker has invested significant effort and resource into over the past seven years.
Creating the ideal daily schedule is one of the more complex challenges schools face due primarily to the number of competing variables vying for ample time in the day (e.g., instructional time, passing time, advisory time, lunch time, and extra-curricular time, etc.). The mistake we can make in our research and deliberation is to approach the process as though it is a relatively simple algorithm that can be easily solved by adding a few minutes here and shaving a few minutes off there. Instead, in order to design the ideal schedule—one that truly supports our vision of educating the whole child—we must first understand that the final daily schedule is a reflection of those core values.
Moreover, what is often overlooked in the process of designing a daily schedule is that with each potential change to the schedule there will inevitably be a trade-off. For example, a schedule that includes an X period at the end of the day restricted to co-curriculars (athletics, robotics, drama club, etc.) may result in a decrease in the total number of available courses students can take during a given year. Alternatively, a schedule in which every student is afforded the schedule they prefer will likely result in either a longer school day or a reduction in other non-academic program and curriculum.
This is why Parker has committed to approaching the ongoing work of redesigning the daily schedule by first clearly articulating our core goals and objectives. The final design of the schedule then becomes a reflection of our core values and objectives, including:
Reflect Parker’s Mission and Vision: Parker is committed to graduating students who embody those qualities essential for academic success and personal fulfillment—intellectual curiosity, creative thinking, passion for learning, ethical responsibility, self-reliance, community engagement, and global competence—by offering a balanced, challenging and integrated Junior Kindergarten-Grade 12 educational program in academics, athletics, and the arts, all in a vibrant and diverse school community. To this end, Parker must create a daily schedule whose policies and allocation of time support our vision of “developing students who strive for academic excellence while maintaining social and emotional well-being and balance, and who are able to participate in the fundamental human conversation on what is right, fair, and good by developing the necessary skills, aptitude, and imagination.” In order to achieve this objective, we need to review and, if necessary, refine scheduling policies including, but not limited to, the number of course, programs, activities, and electives students can take.
Honor Healthy Pace of the Day Through Transition Time and Break Time: One of the guiding principles from the 2013 daily schedule research and review was to create passing time. Under the 2013 schedule, students had no passing time between classes and it was determined that passing time was critical to allow students time to gather items and prepare for the next class, to allow faculty time to prepare for the next class, and to provide classes with definite beginning and ending times creating true instructional minutes. According to research, students need an average of 13 minutes to mentally transition from one subject to another (not to mention time to address their physiological needs). In the end, we believe that students need five minutes, at a minimum, to transition between classes, activities, and programs.
Community Building and Character Development: Core to our mission is a commitment to the development of character, which begins and ends with a focus on student well-being and social and emotional learning. If we are serious about this commitment, then it must be reflected in how we deploy time in the daily schedule through program and curriculum focused on developing the whole student. Thus, time in the daily schedule must be committed to meaningful, substantive programming and curriculum in support of key initiatives including diversity and inclusion, community engagement, character development, advisory, and social and emotional learning.
Professional Collaboration and Learning: Both the 2012 Strategic Plan and the 2017 Strategic Plan call for a daily schedule that prioritizes time dedicated to faculty collaboration and learning. Affording faculty time to work across and between divisions and departments to design, refine, and coordinate instructional strategies, assessment tools, and learning outcomes is essential to sustaining an academic environment that can support every student.
Supporting Whole-Child Education: Parker prides itself on developing and supporting scholars, artists, and athletes. In short, our students are remarkable in that they are able to thrive in and out of the classroom. For the large majority of our students, co-curriculars play a significant role in their Parker educational experience. In order to best accommodate the demands of a Parker education and the desire of our kids to be fully invested in their school, we must offer a daily schedule that fully supports co-curricular activities (e.g., athletics, robotics, drama club, etc.) by potentially including at least a part of those activities in the daily schedule.
Compliance for Accreditation: According to the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), the school calendar must specify a minimum of 175 school days per year (which may include, but not be limited to: shortened days; in-service days; parent-teacher conference days). Since 2010, Parker’s annual number of school days has been in excess of the CAIS minimum standard with an average of 182 school days. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the total number of school days will be 187, with 169 of those days being student contact days or instructional days. Also, the total number of hours and minutes of an average school day (Upper School = 7 hours, 20 minutes; Middle School = 6 hours and 50 minutes) are above the CAIS average. Thus, the notion of adding more school days is not under serious consideration at this point.
Optimize Student Sleep Cycle: The research is overwhelmingly in favor of a later start for schools. The general rule of thumb, endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), and many other organizations and advocacy groups is that middle school and high school classes should start no earlier than 8:30 am to allow students to get healthy sleep. Unfortunately, most students are not getting sufficient sleep. According to the CDC, in 2017 75.4 percent of high school students get fewer than eight hours of sleep on school nights, and 43 percent get six or fewer hours, an increase from the 2011, 2013, and 2015 surveys. The CDC recommends 9-10 hours of sleep per night for students. Based on the science of their circadian rhythm and natural sleep-wake cycles, most adolescents get their optimal sleep between the hours of 11 pm and 8 am. The potential negative effects of insufficient sleep are many. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the CDC linked later high school start times to significant decreases in teen illegal substance abuse, depression, and consumption of caffeinated drinks. In the final analysis, an earlier start-time was not a consideration. Thus, the new schedule will include a start time no earlier than 8:30 am.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to student wellbeing by adopting a start time of 8:30 am and to have a daily schedule that fully aligns with our core values and serves students best. In addition, we will maintain our commitment to building a schedule with an academic day no longer than eight hours, which translates into an academic day that will end no later than 3:30 pm.
- In January 2019, Parker Leadership made the decision to pause on rolling out a late start to the academic day in the 2019-2020 school year in order to further explore additional strategic enhancements to be included in the daily schedule (e.g., number of blocks offered on a given day; daily and weekly class rotation; length of instructional periods; time committed to advisory, etc.) which would be implemented fully into the daily schedule effective for the 2020-2021 school year.
- The Long-Term Middle School and Upper School Daily Schedule Committee, co-chaired by Head of Middle School Dan Lang and Head of Upper School Monica Gillespie, meet regularly to look at discrete long-term aspects of the daily schedule, including: number of blocks per day; class rotation; length of meeting periods; student workload; instructional practices; and use of advisory and flex time.
- In preparation for ongoing research and review of the next iteration of the daily schedule, the Parker Leadership Team again reviewed the areas of focus and concern based on the latest research and past student, faculty, and parent feedback.
- In October 2018, Parker sent faculty and staff on visits to other JK-12 independent schools, some of whom had moved to later start and end times to gather feedback and advice. Also, a schedule of essential next steps was shared with the entire Parker community via the Parker Family Connection along with an FAQ.
- In an effort to gain insights and feedback from the constituents most directly affected by the imminent changes to the 2019-2020 daily schedule, Parker surveyed the Grade 6-12 faculty and staff, Upper School students, and parents of students in Grades 5 through 12 in November 2018.
- In December 2018, Parker Middle and Upper School Leadership put together the Long-Term Middle School and Upper School Daily Schedule Committee to look at discrete long-term aspects of the Upper School daily schedule, including: number of blocks per day; class rotation; length of meeting periods; student workload; instructional practices; and use of advisory and flex time. This research will continue into the 2019-2020 academic year and any recommendations for future enhancements to the daily schedule will ultimately be approved by the Parker Leadership Team.
- Emilio Cacciavillani, a scheduling consultant with whom Dr. Gillespie has worked previously, visited the School to provide additional expertise in the long-term study of the daily schedule. As a first step, Emilio Cacciavillani conducted an audit of our current daily schedule and met with Parker students, faculty, and staff for three days in December 2018.
- Parker Leadership identified the germane areas of focus and concern based on the latest research, and the 2015 student, faculty, and parent feedback. Areas of most significance included: length and number of courses offered each day (currently it is 8); impact of the late start on athletics and after-school co-curricular activities; length of the lunch period; allocation and use of flex-time; traffic for commuter students; and workload.
- Parker’s Strategic Plan is updated and approved by the Board of Trustees. One of the major initiatives, Student Learning Environment, challenges the school to “Assess the daily schedule, annual academic calendar, student workload guidelines and use of space to achieve balance in the student experience, and provide additional opportunities for collaboration.” Within this initiative, one of the major goals is to ensure that the “Daily schedule optimizes instructional time, supports diverse course offerings, recognizes the importance of extracurricular activities and free time, ensures optimal student health and academic performance, and creates opportunities for collaboration.” To achieve this goal, the Plan calls out three action items:
- Review the daily academic schedule and calendar annually to ensure the best possible learning environment.
- Evaluate the class day start time in an effort to ensure the best possible learning environment.
- Ensure sufficient time is allotted in the day to meet academic and non-academic (transitions, co-curricular activities, advisory, wellness, etc.) demands of a Parker education.
- In October 2017, Parker invited Dr. Rafael Pelayo of Stanford University to speak on the ever-growing science of sleep and its impact on optimizing student learning and increasing student wellness and general balance. Dr. Pelayo spoke to the Upper School student body and faculty and hosted a talk with parents.
- Based on survey findings and having lived the schedule for two years, minor adjustments to the Upper School schedule were made.
- The Upper School Daily Schedule Committee conducted a formal review of the new schedule using the guiding principles.
- The Upper School conducted a survey of students, parents, and faculty to gather feedback on the new schedule.
- The Upper School Daily Schedule Committee conducted surveys of students, faculty, and parents.
- Based on findings from the survey, the Upper School Daily Schedule Committee proposed three potential schedules for consideration and comment and included an FAQ in the distribution of those potential daily schedules.
- Later in the spring, the Upper School Daily Schedule Committee, having reviewed all of the feedback, made a final recommendation for the new schedule. Upper School Leadership and Parker Leadership approved the new schedule.
- The new daily schedule was implemented at Upper School.
- The Upper School Athletics Scheduling Guidelines were approved and implemented in an effort to minimize the impact athletics had on missed class time for students.
- Schedule models based on the research and survey findings were presented to Middle School faculty for feedback and revision.
- Proposed schedule draft (initial version based on research and faculty feedback) was presented to Middle School parents for comment and feedback. Later in the spring, input from Middle School parents was incorporated into the final version of the daily schedule.
- In March 2013, a team of Middle and Upper School faculty formed to serve as the Daily Schedule Committee, chaired by Marc Thiebach, Assistant Head of Upper School. Due to the complexity of the Upper School schedule and the fact that the two divisions share faculty and classrooms, the committee included representatives from both divisions even though the committee’s primary focus was on the Upper School daily schedule. Similar to the Middle School process, Upper School faculty were surveyed on significant schedule challenges and opportunities in order to determine the “hard-edges”, critical elements, and guiding principles. Along with conducting research on Upper School daily schedules, committee members were tasked with visiting and interviewing faculty at other schools.
- Upper School faculty survey was conducted, committee members visited peer schools and determined the guiding principles for their work.
- The new daily schedule was implemented at Middle School.
- In Upper School, the committee recommended 10 Guiding Principles based on the survey data results, school visitation findings, and general research. These principles served as the drivers in determining the new Upper School daily schedule.
- Based on the findings from the 2011-2012 Self Study and the work of the 2012-2013 Parker Strategic Planning Committee, Parker Leadership initiated a review process of the daily schedule with the goal of implementing a new daily schedule no later than the 2014-2015 academic year.
- Middle School faculty were surveyed on significant schedule challenges and opportunities in order to determine the “hard-edges,” critical elements, and guiding principles based on research and faculty input. At the same time, research was conducted on Middle School scheduling using several sources.
- Parker Leadership made the decision to have the Middle School research and implement a revised daily schedule by Fall 2013, and the Upper School would follow with research and implementation of a revised daily schedule by Fall 2014.
Why Parker Continues to Improve the Daily Schedule
In Parker’s 2013 Strategic Plan under the major initiative of Student Wellness, one of the goals we set for our School reads as follows: “Daily schedule optimizes instructional time, supports diverse course offerings, recognizes the importance of extracurricular activities and free time, ensures optimal student health and academic performance, and creates opportunities for collaboration.” Within this goal lies specific action items including, “Evaluate the class day start time in an effort to ensure the best possible learning environment.” and “Ensure sufficient time is allotted in the day to meet academic and non-academic (transitions, co-curricular activities, advisory, wellness, etc.) demands of a Parker education.”
In Parker’s updated 2017 Strategic Plan one of the major goals is to ensure that the “Daily schedule optimizes instructional time, supports diverse course offerings, recognizes the importance of extracurricular activities and free time, ensures optimal student health and academic performance, and creates opportunities for collaboration.” To achieve this goal, the Plan calls out three action items: 1) review the daily academic schedule and calendar annually to ensure the best possible learning environment; 2) evaluate the class day start time in an effort to ensure the best possible learning environment; and 3) ensure sufficient time is allotted in the day to meet academic and non-academic (transitions, co-curricular activities, advisory, wellness, etc.) demands of a Parker education.