The Challenge of Multi-Track Year Round School
By Malia Walter
“ „Bye kids! See you next year.”
And then a week later… ” Welcome back to school. Let‟s start by going over the
Changing to Multi-Track Year Round School has been quite the adventure. Let
me first explain how this type of school is run in our district. There are four groups of
classes, or “tracks” that are each assigned a color (red, yellow, green or blue) to designate
when they are in session and when they are not according to the school calendar. Each set
of classes rotates through this calendar in a pattern of 60 days on and 20 days off.
Weekends are not part of the count. We have 3 tracks in the school at any given time,
minus about 4 weeks per year that no students are in the school (i.e. Winter Break, Spring
Break and a week between the end of one year and the beginning of the next). As the
Music Specialist, I also have the added challenge of an extended contract, adding more to
my paycheck, but at the expense of my time off. There has been a high burnout rate in
our district for the music teachers on this type of contract, so I was understandably a little
Scheduling was the first hurdle to be overcome. You know, making that perfect
plan where your classes don‟t conflict with Special Ed., Speech, Computers, Library,
Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or any of the other services that the students
need. This is difficult enough with a traditional calendar. I was lucky enough to not have
to take the entire blame when something wasn‟t ideal to someone since we had a
committee in charge of the master schedule. We started with the Music schedule because
I have to accommodate more sessions than the other specialists do. Many times, we
simply had to decide between the lesser of two evils. For instance, would we have 4
schedules to be rotated during the year or would we set one schedule, according to room?
The second option would last the entire year, but the teachers who rove (move to a new
room each month) would have a different “specials” schedule every month. Do we make
life difficult for the entire staff or just one person per grade level? We had to go with the
latter. It just made more sense over all, even if the people who already moved rooms also
had to change schedules monthly. The “rovers” as we call them have been doing well at adjusting to all that is involved with this. They continue to be the high quality
professionals that I know them to be and are careful about making sure they know the
new month‟s schedule.
Communication proved to be another obstacle to navigate. This was due to the
simple fact that we would have the entire staff at the school only on the one day each
month that tracks change. During this day, some of the staff would be preparing to be
away for a month, while other staff members would be putting their classrooms back
together. Still others would be moving to a different room, in order to utilize all of the
space in the school. None of this makes it easy to communicate verbally, and written
notices are easily lost in the shuffle. E-mail was a convenience in the past, but has now
become the only way to make sure that everyone gets information that they need. I have
also found that items that I would communicate to my co-workers 2 to 4 weeks in
advance now need to be sent 5 or more weeks ahead, so that the people who are about to
leave get the information they need. This leads to the need to follow up frequently,
because so many forget simply because it was so far in the past. After 11 years of
vowing to get organized, I am finally forced into it or risk having classes miss out from
lack of notice.
I recently completed my students‟ first performance while dealing with the new schedule. I combined all the 1stth through 5 grade students from two of the tracks into a
single show. Even so, I found myself with one set of students that were able to have 8
weeks to prepare and another set with only 6 weeks work on same set of songs. Typing
up the lyrics and having students practice with the classroom teachers and on their own
with their personal readers, has done a lot to overcome this inequity. The teachers
actually enjoy having more materials for guided and choral (group) reading in the
classrooms and they show more enthusiasm about the students‟ progress over the weeks.
These time enhancing practices (though I wouldn‟t call them time saving) have really
helped and I have combined them with a change in the structure of the performances
themselves. For example, I no longer have all the 2nd graders perform in one show and ththen the 5 graders in another. While many smaller schools are used to having multi-grade performances, it is fairly uncommon in our district and amazes those who have no
experience with it. The key is flexibility.
There is one aspect of change that keeps sneaking up on me. I know it is there and yet I feel a certain amount of surprise each time that it comes up. Every unit of study I
plan must now fit into one month increments. I am feeling it due the loss and gain of
classes at the change of every month. The only other option would be to write separate
lesson plans for every class in the school. There are 24 classes in my school. Separate
lesson plans are just not going to happen. My family likes to see me every once in a while.
I believed that this was something special to my situation as a music teacher, but found
out differently recently while talking to one of the 6th grade teachers at my school. She is
feeling the same pressure. My problem solving skills are exercised every time I begin to
think about an extended unit.
Through this process of change, I am learning to appraise what is most important. I now have 2 weeks less with my students. Even though school is in session 20 minutes
longer per day than our “traditional” counterparts to make up the difference, that time is
too impractical to adequately make up for the lost days. How does one reasonably make
up 2 hours of instructional time, over the course of a year, in an educationally sound
manner? A daunting task indeed, so I am very, very careful not to let any more of my
instructional time slip away. My principal suggested that I should take each class in a
rotation that would give them an extra music session 2 or 3 times during the year.
Although I value all the time I have with my students, this solution‟s approach seemed
like the need for teacher prep time was being given priority over the educational needs of
the children. I just couldn‟t find a way to give these extra sessions much educational
validity. I was planning one-shot 30 minute lessons that would either have been “fun
sessions” or completely out of continuity with the other lessons. The principal and I
negotiated, and came to a better conclusion that my “extra time” should be used to make
up sessions lost due to holidays and to have rehearsals for performances. This has resulted in a wonderful outcome. I no longer have to catch a class up to the others just because there was a long weekend. I just schedule them into the open times and every class that is in session is getting the same materials. Group rehearsals are logistically easier, since I no longer have to cancel and reschedule classes just to get ready for a performance.
Experiences such as these can be a wonderful, albeit challenging, chance to be
more creative. Getting more done in less time required a change in many of the practices that I had worked to perfect in my first 11 years of teaching. Though I was comfortable doing things the way that I always had, the new school year structure challenged and inspired me to work to make the same results come out of a different process. In some cases it has produced even better results. I doubt that anyone goes out looking for this specific type of teaching situation, but for those that are ready to meet it, it can be a stimulating challenge.
This article was originally published in The Orff Echo, Vol. 39. No. 1 (fall 2006). Reprinted with permission. To learn more about the American Orff Schulwerk Association, visit www.aosa.org.