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The School Day:
Fitting Everything in
Requires Creative Scheduling

Making time in the school day to emphasize academics, tutor students who need extra help, schedule common planning times for teams, or meet a wide variety of other needs is a challenge all principals face. Our Principal Files principals share how they have made time for these things and more.

Creating a schedule that maximizes instructional time, provides time to meet the needs of the schools students, and makes time for staff to meet and plan is a task that Principal Marguerite McNeely likens to a Rubiks Cube. In order to put together minutes needed to achieve school-wide goals, I just keep turning the schedule said McNeely.

By turning schedule, then turning it some more, McNeely has made time at Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School in Deville, Louisiana, to create special tutoring programs for students who need extra help or enrichment and to achieve many other priorities.

From time to time, McNeely has even resorted to setting up alternating-month schedules in order to provide all teams with added planning time.

McNeely squeezes time from some unusual places in order to achieve her purposes. For example, to support the goal of improving math instruction, she includes a brain teaser in each days morning announcements. Correct responses are rewarded with front-of-the-line lunch passes.

Instead of blocking time for reading or math instruction, McNeely prefers an approach where all teachers focus on a specific unit or theme and connect their curriculum to that theme. Another school-wide directive aimed at improving achievement requires language arts teachers to integrate technology into their lessons at least once a week; all other content-area teachers must integrate technology at least twice a grading period.

In addition, the entire school engages in 15 minutes of silent-reading time that is built into the first period of the day.

All teachers are expected to structure tests to model standardized tests the students take each year, added McNeely. Doing that has helped us make major gains.

When it comes to planning the flow of the school day at the O.C. Allen School in Aurora, Illinois, principal Karen Mink starts by scheduling PE and music times.


Small Schools
Adapt Schedules Too

S&S Middle School in Sadler, Texas, has a unique schedule that works because of the schools small size. Since the school has a small staff, the PE teacher also teaches academic classes; and all the academic teachers teach electives.

We have a unique schedule that I have not seen elsewhere, explained Principal Lee Yeager. Our small staff and size enables us to schedule all of our core academic classes before lunch.

Ask any principal or teacher and they will tell you that it is more difficult to get the attention of middle school students in the afternoon than it is in the morning. So we have all of our electives and PE classes in the afternoons and all of our academic classes in the mornings.

It works very well for us, he added.

I start by scheduling those specials for the primary grades in the afternoon, Mink told Education World. That way, the primary grades have at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted time in the morning for teaching literacy.

Whenever possible, Mink tries to schedule specials so two teachers in the same grade level are free at the same time so they can meet to plan.

On a quarterly basis, Mink and her assistant principal set aside a half-day block of time so teachers can meet by grade level. The assistant principal and I plan an activity for the students, she explained. Outdoor activities and quiz shows are among the most popular activities.

The teachers really appreciate the time, said Mink, adding that once a year, we request enough subs so each grade level has a half day to plan together and review data.

Making time for these things in a school of 900 students is quite a challenge. It takes a lot of playing around with time, but I believe the payoff is very valuable and the teachers sure seem to appreciate it.


At Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin, Illinois, Principal Joe Corcoran examines every part of the day in a search for time to accomplish goals and improve achievement. For example, as principal of a Title I school Corcoran has a large number of students who are bussed in early each day for a breakfast program. The kids often eat their breakfasts in the first 15 minutes, so Corcoran eyed those 30 minutes of free time before the school day officially gets underway as a huge opportunity to gain some instructional time for a population that could benefit from it.

Each day, I take a group of 30 students to our computer lab for 30 minutes, explained Corcoran. The students work with math programs such as FASTT Math, which builds math fact fluency, and online subscription resources such as SkillsTutor (Houghton Mifflin), Everyday Mathematics Games (McGraw-Hill), and Kids College (Learning Through Sports).

In the beginning of the year, Corcoran takes the same 30 kids to the lab each day. I do that so I can monitor their progress, he explained. As the year winds down, some kids interest or need might wane, so there is always some other kid who wants to join us. There's never an empty seat.

Once in awhile -- and the kids never know when -- Corcoran surprises the students with a special challenge and reward. I make a big deal out of this by delivering the reward to the winners classrooms, he said.

Programs such as FASTT Math are effective, says Corcoran. The evidence is in the results, he says. The program tracks which facts are secure and focuses on the ones that are not. Graphs and charts are generated for teacher and parent use.


A Time for

Time is critical, and we have to juggle it since we cannot add time to the school day, said Les Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida.

The Silver Sands schedule provides time for a wide variety of purposes and to achieve many school-wide goals. Following are just a few of the way in which time had been used to great advantage:

  • Fifteen minutes of the first period of every school day is a read-for-enjoyment time. Sometimes students are reading a book assigned by the reading coach; other times students are free reading.
  • Test-taking skills are actively taught as part of the curriculum in core subject areas.
  • A 45-minute lunch period gifts teachers 15 minutes more time than required by contract. That lunch period builds into it time for tutoring students who are not meeting expectations. We dont allow students to fail, explained Potter.
  • A students physical health is right up there in importance with his/her academic health. All students have a daily 45-minute PE class.
  • Twenty early-release days are built into the calendar. Students leave an hour early and teachers use the time for planning, grading, and other responsibilities.

By having students come to the computer lab in the morning, they are engaged in meaningful activities and gaining additional practice time. I am extending their learning day and they don't even realize it because they are having fun.

Another advantage is that some of these kids might be the ones causing problems outside on the playground or in line. They dont often cause problems in the lab, because they know they will lose their privileges and that other students are waiting to take their places.

This time also gives me a chance to connect with kids everyday in a positive light.

Another way in which Corcoran has made time is to block-schedule students art, music, and PE times. The art, music, and PE teachers rotate students between the classes so classroom teachers have an uninterrupted block of planning time.

The first year we did this block schedule, our teachers were skeptical, said Corcoran. Having all three of those classes [art, music, and PE] back to back meant there would be other days with no breaks. But they have found the planning time so valuable that when we took a vote whether or not to continue this schedule for a second year, the vote was 19-1 in favor of keeping it. It was a mind-shift for teachers, but they really saw the value.

Having a block of planning time each week enables the schools literacy coach and Corcoran to join in with teams. In addition, ELL classes are part of the block-schedule plan, so those teachers can plan with the regular classroom teachers too.

Carving additional minutes out of a day is tricky, said Corcoran, but teachers really appreciate the time it makes for them to plan together.


In Maryland, students must pass four high-stakes tests [high school assessments] in order to qualify for a diploma. When the staff of Saint Michaels Middle/High School (Saint Michaels, Maryland) considered the impact of that requirement, they determined that they needed to adapt their block schedule to increase the amount of time students spent in subjects that were directly tested: Algebra/Data Analysis, English, Biology, and Government. The solution they came up with was a hybrid-block schedule in which each of those subjects is taught in 60-minute periods for the full school year.

The previous schedule was a 4 x 4 block with 90-minute classes that lasted a semester. That meant there would be semesters when students might not have an Algebra class or a Science class. Under the hybrid-block, year-long 60-minute classes were initiated for

  • Grade 9 -- Algebra 1, English 1, Physical Science;
  • Grade 10 -- English 2, Biology, U.S. History; and
  • Grade 11 Government.
    The remaining classes remained on the block schedule.

    The hybrid-block schedule significantly increased instructional time for those [tested] subjects from 8,100 minutes to 10,800 minutes per year, explained Principal Frank Hagen. That was an increase of 2,700 minutes, or a 33 percent increase in instructional time.

    Upward Bound
    After School

    When Bonita Henderson retired from school administration last year, she knew she would stay connected to kids. Along came a new position working with the Upward Bound program at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College. As part of the program, she tutors students at two high schools three days a week. On Tuesday, the students in the program attend informative seminars organized by employees of nearby companies such as Toyota and Proctor & Gamble.

    Extending the school day in this way helps focus students on preparing for college and knowing what to expect, Henderson explained.

    In July, Henderson and others in the program will take 110 students on a one-week tour of colleges. This year’s tour will focus on colleges in the Chicago area.

    “This is my dream job,” she told Education World.

    Prior to and subsequent to implementing the hybrid-block, there was significant discussion and teacher-driven professional development relating to how the additional time would be used by the teachers and students in order to optimize its positive impact on assessment tests, added Hagen. Otherwise, we would be simply moving the deck chairs on the Titanic and still remaining on course for the iceberg!

    Some of that added time is being used to reinforce content and skills that will be on the test. In addition, the district developed a series of benchmark tests to assess student progress throughout the year. The benchmark tests enable teachers to know 1) the skills and concepts on which they need to focus instruction and 2) the students who need remediation classes.

    In those remediation classes, we matched some of our best teachers with the students who needed them the most, said Hagen. Initially, those classes were not popular with students, but their attitudes changed when they saw the progress they were making as a result.

    When the staff at Montezuma-Cortez High School in Cortez, Colorado, assessed its needs, they determined that an increased emphasis on study skills and career planning would most benefit students.

    We have changed our schedule to add a daily 30-minute career pathway course, Ember Conley, the schools principal, told Education World.

    The staff team-teaches the career pathway course. A variety of factors were considered when establishing the teams; each team would comprise teachers at different levels of experience and from different content areas. A leadership team is responsible for developing content for each grade level.

    A team of teachers is also responsible for developing curriculum and for training staff in the study-skills component of their plan. All teachers share responsibility for reinforcing study skills.

    This change has not only helped our students, added Conley, it has enabled teachers to spend more PLC (Professional Learning Community) time together.

    And at Holton (Kansas) High School, Principal Alan Beam and his staff have introduced a Math Standards class for students identified as needing reinforcement. Those who score low on the state math assessment are required to take the course during the regular school day. Students who are close to achieving success are given the option of taking a summer school class or taking the Math Standards course during their fall semester.

    This class focuses on the individuals areas of challenge, Beam told Education World. And the results so far have been very positive. About 85 percent of students who take the course also pass the assessment, said Beam.

    In addition, the Holton staff has introduced 0-Hour [Zero Hour] classes, which are held before the usual start to the school day. Those 90-minute classes, which start at 6:30 a.m., include a class of 20-25 students who focus on developing their reading skills. Students who sign up for 0-Hour classes have the option of skipping the last block of the day, but most students choose not to skip that block so they get 90 more minutes of instructional time each day. The teachers who teach the 0-Hour classes don't teach the last block of the day.

    All of this extra effort is aimed at meeting student needs identified by state assessments and helping Holton High make AYP, Beam added.


    All principals must juggle schedules or come up with other solutions to make time in the school day to achieve school-wide goals and priorities. Here's some food for thought: What have you done in recent years to re-structure your school's day to:

    • Set up time "blocks" when everyone in the grade/school is focused on one area of the curriculum (reading, math, language arts)?

    • Find a scheduling solution that enables common planning times for teams?
    • Introduce tutorial programs for students who need extra help?
    • Introduce a daily school-wide activity via the intercom or another method to achieve a school-wide goal?
    • Create special programs to build test-taking skills?
    • Make time for all students to get into the computer lab on a regular basis for activities that build skills?
    • Schedule a more efficient cafeteria/lunch time so kids aren't rushed through meals?
    • Plan recess/playground times to ensure that kids get needed exercise?
    • Make sure kids have time in the day for silent-reading/reading for enjoyment?


      Principal Contributors to This Article

      The following members of Education Worlds Principal Files team shared their thoughts about making time in the school day to meet school-wide goals and improve student achievement.
      • Alan Beam, principal, Holton (Kansas) High School
      • Ember Conley, principal, Montezuma-Cortez High School, Cortez, Colorado
      • Joe Corcoran, principal, Harriet Gifford Elementary School, Elgin, Illinois
      • Frank J. Hagen, principal, Saint Michaels Middle/High School, St. Michaels, Maryland
      • Bonita Henderson, assistant principal (retired), Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Schools
      • Marguerite McNeely, principal, Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School, Deville, Louisiana
      • Karen Mink, principal, O.C. Allen School, Aurora, Illinois
      • Dr. Les Potter, principal, Silver Sands Middle School, Port Orange, Florida
      • Dr. Lee Yeager, principal, S & S Middle School, Sadler, Texas

      To explore other practical articles in the Principal Files series, go to our Principal Files Archive.
      Click here to learn how you might contribute to a future "Principal Files" article.

      Article by Gary Hopkins
      Education World®
      Copyright © 2009 Education World