A Behind the Scenes Look into the Schedule
By the end of the 2022-2023 school year, an AJA high schooler with perfect attendance will have participated in approximately 4,668,000 seconds; 77,800 minutes; and 1,296 hours of school. If they attend an optional elective course after school, time spent in school will rise to 82,650 minutes. Although it may appear that the school year has a bounty of time to work with, in reality, the administration takes careful consideration to maximize every minute of the High School’s schedule.
Mr. Joel Rojek, High School General Studies Principal, explained that when creating the schedule, the administration must “carefully look at minutes and how [they’re] allocating them.” Beyond core instructional minutes, they must also allot time for lunch, Tefillah, electives, Open Office Hours, passing time between periods, and other programming. Mr. Rojek strives to “incorporate as many of those priorities as possible” in the schedule, yet the process of doing so contains a plethora of moving gears behind the scenes.
The addition of a new elective model caused various adjustments to this year’s schedule. Last year, electives occurred within a 40-minute period every Monday and on a bi-weekly basis on Fridays. However, Dr. Pearl prioritized the expansion of electives this year because he believes that in order to offer more rigorous courses such as foreign languages, an elective class needs to meet at least three times a week. Thus, electives this year meet on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for 45 minutes at the end of the school day, and an optional second elective slot follows the first on each of those days.
Mr. Rojek reasoned that having electives at the end of the day provides an opportunity for students to “look forward” to classes that they “are excited about taking” as a way to break up the monotony of a school day. Unlike other classes whose time slots rotate throughout the week, all elective classes take place at the same time to simplify coordination with part time faculty who teach only these courses.
The change to accomodate electives fueled several other adjustments to this year’s schedule. For instance, the admin team moved the Jewish Exploration classes into the elective slot, requiring that incoming ninth graders take four semesters worth of J-Ex classes over the course of their high school career. Additionally, to ensure the continuity of “Torah learning happening daily” and minimize “losing instructional minutes for Judaic Studies,” Mr. Rojek noted that upperclassmen now have an additional Chumash class period. Last year, the schedule consisted of one elective period, three J-Ex periods, four Chumash periods, and five Talmud periods. This year, the merger of the one elective and three J-Ex periods into three elective periods left one period open to become an extra Chumash period for upperclassmen.
For lowerclassmen, Chumash and Hebrew run parallel to each other four times a week, so Mr. Rojek explained that having one of these periods run five times a week would “create an equity issue,” where some students have Chumash five days a week while others have Hebrew. As an alternative, the administration looked to maximize this “newfound time” with something “different and fresh,” inspiring a rotating intensive period where lowerclassmen have an opportunity to take courses not usually found in the curriculum. These will include Nach, study skills, SAT/ACT prep, and Jewish Intimacy.
In addition to electives, another new aspect of this year’s schedule is a ten-minute break between the second and third periods. Mr. Rojek recounted that a push from “Student Council [members] who liked the idea of a break at the beginning of the day” to prevent students becoming “burnt out” after “too many classes back-to-back before lunch” motivated this change. Although the admin team considered this idea in the past, they “tried to squeeze it in [and] the minutes got in the way.” This year, they decided to trim the few 50-minute periods down to 45 to accommodate the priority of a break in the mornings as well as additional modifications to the schedule such as a five-minute extension to lunch and a ten-minute extension to Tefillah, which now runs until 8:45 as opposed to 8:35 last year.
Mr. Rojek emphasized that the ten-minute break has yet to be “carved in stone,” and he looks forward to hearing students’ opinions throughout the year regarding whether “they value it or would… like that time someplace else.” Sophomore Talia Sarnat, for instance, felt that while she appreciates the break, she would prefer to “get the next class over with and have a longer lunch” as she usually does not “get anything done during the ten-minute break.”
Throughout the high school’s history, the administration has tried to “play” with the length of transition time between classes as a way to “open up more time in the schedule,” according to Mr. Rojek. Several years ago, the passing period lasted three to four minutes, yet this created many difficulties. Students trying to make it between classes found themselves “scrambling” to arrive on time amidst “a really tight turnaround” and “traffic in the hallways.” Additionally, teachers and students struggled to keep track of when classes began and ended with varying and uneven times. Mr. Rojek observed “something magic about numbers ending in five and ten as far as increments of time” when one accustoms themself to a schedule. Moreover, he believed that five minutes allows students to not only arrive to class on time but also make “a quick stop or two on the way.”
Another schedule change resulted from a new professional development opportunity for teachers on Wednesday mornings. According to Mr. Rojek, the majority of the High School’s faculty attend sessions led by Dr. Michelle Cline, which focus on “essential questions, enduring understandings, teacher clarity, and project-based learning.” Due to this program, school begins at 9 AM on Wednesdays as opposed to the usual 8 AM start. Sophomore Noa Geller appreciates the late start on Wednesdays as “something to look forward to” that breaks up the school week on the typical “hump” day.
Mr. Rojek detailed that “the late start pushes everything down” the schedule. To ensure consistency and routine, the administration worked to align Wednesday with the rest of the week despite the late start. Therefore, Tefillah and Open Office Hours on Wednesdays finish at 10:00 AM, the time first period ends on a regular weekday. After this, the schedule continues with the usual second through sixth periods, and a core class runs during the 3:20-4:05 elective slot to make up for the missed first period. Additionally, instead of the optional second elective class running after school on Wednesdays, Night Seder, an opportunity for students to enhance their Torah studies with the incentive of an exemption from their Talmud final exam, occurs.
In addition to the frequency and timing of classes, the administration must consider which classes run during the same time slot when planning a schedule. Mr. Rojek described that in his “perfect world,” students would all take any one class at the same time, which “would make it super easy to allow students to take exactly what level of a course is the best fit for them.” However, AJA does not have enough teachers to accommodate this model. Nonetheless, Mr. Rojek added that the administration tries to “stack classes” for grade levels at the same time when possible. For instance, every grade has two English classes running simultaneously, so a student can choose the level that fits them best. This effort aims to minimize a chain effect where a decision to take a certain level in one class affects a few others. However, at times, the administration must strategically overlap classes. Science and math classes, for example, run at the same time because they “tend to have a similar skill set,” so students in CP or Honors math will be at the same level for their science course.
One factor that impacts the administration’s process of determining which set of classes to offer during which period is the involvement of part-time teachers in the Judaics department. These part-time faculty members provide “a range of times” for teaching that fit their schedule, and then the administration tries to build the schedule with this in mind, according to Dr. Pearl. Yet, Dr. Pearl adds that this “obviates and takes away the possibility of a rotating schedule.” Although a block schedule does have its perks as a schedule model, Dr. Pearl noted that part time teachers’ schedules would conflict with inconsistent meeting times that result from such a schedule format.
Looking at the high school’s master schedule as a whole, Dr. Pearl quipped that one “can’t let the tail wag the dog.” No one scheduling need can dominate the others when considering factors such as class period length, lunchtime, transition minutes, breaks, office hours, electives, teacher availability, and class leveling. The administration must intricately plan out the High School’s schedule to balance their various priorities and ensure they maximize each of the 4,668,000 seconds throughout the year to its fullest potential.