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Checklist: Creating a Strategic Master Schedule

A Strategic System Checklist: School Design

Making school schedules is something district and school leaders must do every year — but during COVID-19, that job has just gotten harder. We've created a set of COVID Comeback Models that include possible student groups, schedules, staff roles and more for district and school leaders planning for a safe shift to hybrid models. To explore the models and learn more about how to manage design in a continuously changing context, click below.


The master school schedule shapes how learning takes place and brings a school leader’s priorities to life. This checklist is a resource for school leaders and their teams to use when planning, creating, and vetting their master school schedules. It is framed by the principles of strategic school design.

When redesigning the master school schedule, leaders can make more deliberate choices about which teachers meet with which students, for how long, and about what topics. They can also ensure that teachers have time for meaningful collaborative planning and time to observe their peers. At the end of the school year, teams should reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what could be even better in the coming year. In Three Steps to a Strategic School Schedule, ERS manager Rob Daigneau describes the process that our partner schools go through to set priorities, explore options, and design their strategic school schedule. 

Excerpt from the school scheduling checklist 

Section 1: Optimize the student experience

  • Courses are scheduled in a way that provides all students with access to the courses they need
  • The school schedule provides opportunities for students to take the courses required to be college-ready
  • Students have access to the right combination of courses, including: intervention, standard-aligned core courses, advanced options, and electives
  • Prioritized classes are placed at the right moments throughout the day, or rotated to achieve the right balance
  • The school schedule provides structures to allow students and teachers to develop deep relationships with other students and teachers 

Section 2: Maximize instructional time in the school schedule

  • The school schedule, when possible, avoids short blocks of time, unequal class lengths, and classes split by lunch
  • Transition time is minimized
  • Struggling students spend more time on subjects in which they are struggling
  • The number and length of periods are appropriately aligned with student learning needs, teacher expertise, and the school’s desired instructional model.
  • The allocation of instructional time reflects prioritization of core academics and highest priority areas
  • The master school schedule provides sufficient time to:
    • Master non-core, elective content
    • Address social/emotional goals
    • Catch up struggling students
  • Students are fully scheduled

Image from Designing Schools that Work, a paper to learn how to develop an effective school schedule

More School Scheduling Resources:

We recommend these tools and papers as a next step in the process to design an effective school schedule:


Designing Schools that Work
Strategic designs don’t happen by accident. They happen because school leaders and their teams develop a deliberate strategy for organizing resources. 

Through years of research and practice around school resource use, we have found that high-performing, high-growth schools are responding to the changing context in education by using people, time, technology, and money in ways that look significantly different than the status quo. This paper contains detailed stories of districts putting the strategies into action, to inspire and guide action.

Three Steps to a Strategic School Schedule
This blog provides details on the three steps of the school scheduling process (listed above), and includes an example of how all the pieces can be put together to build more collaborative planning time into the school schedule for a fictional high school in a large, urban district.

Finding Time for Collaborative Planning

Drawing from years of experience working closely with school leaders, we offer six strategies to redesign your school schedule to find more time for collaborative planning – even as much as 90 minutes per week.

To Drive Change, Realign Your Resources

Arlington Woods Middle School in Indianapolis faced many of the same challenges as schools around the country – students exhibited serious behavior problems brought on by trauma, they were not meeting academic standards, and teachers felt unsupported. Principal Tihesha Guthrie engaged in a strategic school design process to identify her school’s most pressing needs, and then made strategic changes to her school schedule to address those root causes.

Take Action

School Scheduling Tools
This set of tools is the most downloaded content on our website. They walk leaders through each step of the school scheduling process:

  • Reflect and set priorities
  • Explore schedule options, trade-offs, and staffing implications
  • Design the schedule

School Designer Tool
School Designer is our free online tool that serves as a one-stop shop for strategic school design. This tool integrates districts’ planning and budgeting processes so that key resource decisions, including those related to the school schedule, staffing plan, and budget, are tightly aligned with its needs and improvement strategy.

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