Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they handled actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. This week, learn how one of our principal problem solvers created a lunch schedule that makes sense for students and staff.
About 1400 students attend our middle school. The school cafeteria seats about 300, so we divided the lunch period into six 30-minute sittings. Our school day begins at 8:55 a.m. Last year, the first lunch started at 10:10; the last lunch ended at 1:30. Some of the problems caused by that schedule are pretty obvious: Cafeteria supervision lasted 3 hours, and the cafeteria staff was whipped. Worst of all, however, we had to split our academic classes to feed the students. Almost half of the students had class for 23 minutes and lunch for 30 minutes, then returned to class for 23 more minutes. Accomplishing much in those split classes was a challenge.
We explored a variety of options for alleviating the long lunch period and the split classes. We settled on this solution: We decided to transition from six lunches to two. Each lunch period would be 45 minutes long. Our cafeteria is adjacent to our auditorium, and a movable wall opens up the space. We were able to get used cafeteria tables in good condition from other schools, and we set up those tables in the auditorium. We also have picnic tables outside that seat 100 students or so. We also added additional satellite food lines. We now can serve and seat 700 students in 45 minutes. Among the benefits of the new schedule: quick or non-eaters can enjoy a supervised outdoor "recess" time after lunch, and cafeteria supervision and cafe staff are less stressed -- or at least stressed for a shorter period of time. And the split classes are gone.
One of the real motivations behind the change was the impact lunch was having on academics. When students and academics are held as the central focus, workable solutions surface.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Six principals comprise our problem-solving team. This team of hard-working and reflective principals remains anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day. The series also illustrates the wide range of skills today's principals are required to possess. Two members of the team are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals.