Guided Learning

Breaking Down Barriers

A Multiphase Approach to Transforming Your Scheduling Practices and Unlocking Lifelong Opportunity for Students

Steven Gering, EdD and Wendy Watson, EdD

Phase 5: Strategic Resource Allocation

“Minimally supportive districts tend to set low expectations by focusing most of their time and energy on strategies for helping students meet minimum AYP [Annual Yearly Progress] requirements, rather than teaching an accelerated curriculum using engaging instructional strategies to prepare more students for success in college, advanced training or a good job.”1Bottoms, Gene and Jon Schmidt-Davis. “The Three Essentials: Improving Schools Requires District Vision, District and State Support, and Principal Leadership.” Southern Regional Educational Board, 2010, Atlanta, GA.

Once school leaders have completed the robust process of collecting course requests and analyzing them for personalized revisions, students’ course choices are added to the school’s scheduling system for schedule construction. As the construction of the school schedule begins, it’s crucial that schools align preliminary teaching assignments with Phase 1 goals to ensure that students have broad access to intense coursework. 

Preliminary Teacher Assignments

The shift to strategic scheduling with a CCR focus may require delicate, and courageous, conversations regarding potential changes in staffing. Administrators must consider the potential for implementing changes over time to realistically adjust for staffing needs and concerns.

As school teams begin to build their school schedule, there are several questions that are important to discuss as a school leadership team:

  • What are the priority courses that staff must teach to prepare each student for success in college and career? 
  • Based on historical enrollment and current goals, which courses need revised section counts to maintain or increase enrollment?
  • Which support courses are needed to bolster student success in advanced coursework?
  • What are the implications across departments for changing course or section counts in a single department?

Targeted Student Recruitment

Strategic scheduling involves three phases of targeted student recruitment. It begins in Phases 2-3, where there is direct effort to reach out to students to consider stretch courses before they actually submit their course requests. The second phase of targeted recruitment occurs in Phase 4, where individual students’ course requests are reviewed in alignment with CCR goals and their postsecondary aspirations. In this final phase of targeted recruitment, schools should examine course enrollments and strategically recruit in order to maximize resource allocations.

For example, if a school is staffed at 30 students to 1 teacher and has an honors social studies course with only 21 students, counselors should look at students who requested a grade-level social studies course and recruit students who would benefit from leveling up in rigor. It should build the section until it has maximized enrollment at 30. Applying an equity lens in this process is also critical to successfully answer the question: Do the student demographics in advanced courses match the school’s overall demographics?

Iterative Refinement

After making preliminary teacher assignments and a round of targeted recruitment, iterate on this process to continue narrowing the final set of courses and sections that will be scheduled. This requires hard decisions as school teams balance student interests, CCR goals, and staff capacity. For example, analyze the number of electives offered and their impact on enrollment for advanced courses. Does a school have five different electives with only 20 students in each course? If so, it could drop one of the electives and reschedule the students in the four remaining electives. This maximizes the elective courses, tightens the schedule, and builds capacity to offer additional sections of CCR coursework. 

In the scenario below (see Table #10), a school has an overall goal of improving student enrollment in advanced STEM courses. It collected and analyzed student course requests and is ready to start mapping preliminary section counts before building their schedule. It realizes there will be some shifts necessary in student requests to most strategically use its resources and meet its goals. It is important to note that across one of its elective departments, there are several under-enrolled sections that, if condensed, would free up funding for an additional full-time equivalent (FTE) elsewhere in the school.

Table #10: Traditional vs. Strategic Approach to Resource Allocation

Scenario 1 — Traditional Scheduling: In Scenario 1, the school does not increase its section counts for advanced STEM courses and will need to remove 51 students from targeted courses due to class size constraints. 

Scenario 2 — Strategic Scheduling: In Scenario 2, the school decides to reallocate staffing funds to align with their STEM goals and add additional sections to the targeted courses. This creates space for an additional 79 students to enroll in advanced STEM courses. 

Astute schedulers will say, “But this was only achieved through the allocation of additional sections to these targeted courses. What if our teaching resources do not allow this to take place?” If a traditional approach to scheduling takes place, then this is a valid question. Schools often do not have the luxury of creating additional sections of courses that are significantly under-enrolled. This results in low class sizes in these courses and almost assuredly results in large or oversubscribed class sizes in other courses. After all, the students need to be scheduled somewhere. 

However, with a strategic approach to scheduling and the willingness to shift teaching capacity between departments where student demand is high, schools are able to simultaneously increase enrollment in CCR-intense coursework while fully utilizing their existing financial resources. 

The problem occurs when schedulers use traditional techniques and simply rely on the first pass of course requests to make decisions on the number of sections for each course. Being a strategic scheduler means going beyond the initial results, interrogating the data, engaging in targeted recruitment, and building solutions that prepare all students for success. 


This is another underestimated phase of the strategic scheduling cycle. Leaders often make significant gains in Phases 1-4 and then undo some or all of the realized gains by not actively paying attention to Phase 5. When leaders are making decisions regarding the number of sections of each course to offer and reconciling this with their overall staffing allocations, they make hundreds of decisions along the way. And these individual small decisions can have a significant impact on the overall goals and outcomes. If resources are scarce, which they always are at some point, leaders can pursue one of the following options:

  • Traditional Approach: Pull students out of a requested course to meet class size requirements or run a course at low class size. 
  • Strategic Approach: Recruit additional students into the course to fill it up and make it viable with available resources. 

When examined in isolation, these options may appear to have small effects on the overall CCR goals; but when these decisions are compounded over multiple courses and across the entire schedule, they have the potential to alter academic intensity outcomes tremendously. Over decades of work, Abl has seen school and district leaders make significant advancement in their overall CCR goals and outcomes without having the need for significant increases in staffing resources. Doing so requires leaders to have clear metrics they are tracking, strong CCR goals, and active intervention to fill up targeted courses that are under-requested. At times, they must make decisions to close down courses or sections that are not advancing CCR goals and outcomes. 

Up Next

Phase 6: Schedule Construction

Phase 6 is highly technical in nature and is often the process that comes to mind for educators when mentioning “scheduling.” This is a critical process because the more efficiently and effectively courses are placed during the school day, the more it will increase the overall likelihood of students being able to successfully access the courses.