This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about PowerSchool’s PowerScheduler tool and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s pretty fantastic after all. Last spring, we talked a bit about what it is and how we help coach teachers and administrators. In the fall, we posted a play-by-play of the Michigan PowerSchool User Group Conference, where we ran several workshops and labs to help Michigan educators learn the system and practice using it. But today, we’re going to really get into why PowerSchool’s PowerScheduler is light-years beyond the traditional paper and pencil method and even a lot of the other scheduling software tools out there.

Have you used PowerScheduler in the past but want a little refresher? Give us a call for a convenient review session. Have a new team member in charge of the Master Schedule? We provide comprehensive, hands-on training so that they can hit the ground running and make the most of this amazing tool.

Building a Master Schedule is Complicated

It doesn’t matter if you’re a standalone charter school, a small district, or a large urban district with over 100,000 students and thousands of teachers, building a master schedule is COMPLICATED! Enrollment changes when you least expect it and teachers come and go, meaning you need to wrangle dozens of variables into one manageable schedule that serves everyone’s needs, provides stability, and also leaves room for flexibility.

Over the decades, teachers and administrators have developed manual tools and systems to create master schedules, but they require hours of highly focused, laborious effort, endless revisions, and (potentially) a lot of headaches. As technology entered the classroom, several computer programs offered an alternative, but the process was still excruciating. Enter PowerSchool’s PowerScheduler.

Manual vs. PowerScheduler

We thought we might start the conversation by outlining the differences between older, manual techniques and PowerScheduler. Take a look at the comparison below to see that it really is no comparison:

Manual or Poorly Developed Software PowerScheduler
Prone to human errors and oversights Advanced software logic eliminates errors
Disconnected from your school records and real-time data Fully integrated with your current Student Information System
Testing new scenarios means recreating the whole schedule Test new or alternative scenarios in real time
Making changes takes a long time Change the schedule with a few clicks
Major changes in the future can destroy the entire schedule System adjusts instantly for changes, large or small
Takes the same amount of time every year Save templates to make next year even faster

When you have a tool that is fully integrated with your student information system, can make millions of calculations in a fraction of a second, and can auto-optimize the schedule based on your priorities, your scheduling process goes from awful to awesome. Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these differences.

Human Error vs. Computer Power

We check, double check, proofread, and check again. But we’re still human. Our eyes play tricks on our mind and we gloss over errors because we’ve been staring at the same piece of paper for 12 hours. It’s not your fault. But it does cause a lot of problems. Computers contain redundant systems that virtually eliminate errors. They work on logic and discrete values, not minds that get tired and distracted by all the other responsibilities of the day.

Standalone Schedule vs. Integrated System

Some software applications reduce the risk of error, but they’re mostly still standalone applications that don’t account for a lot of valuable information found in teacher and student files. When starting the process, you have to enter all of the teachers, students, classes, rooms, and other variables. That means there’s a big opportunity for human error. Then later, you’ll need to dig through the program to fix the mistake before trying to run the application again.

PowerSchool’s PowerScheduler is different because it’s fully integrated into your SIS. Things like names, time slots, and rooms aren’t even up for debate. They’re parameters that are already locked into the system, so you’re not going to mess it up. Plus it can take into account other factors like student and teacher performance metrics.

Re-Building vs. Game Testing

There always comes that moment during scheduling that you wonder, “what if?” What if we swapped these two classes around? What if we switched these two teachers? What if we wanted to start the day with gym as often as possible? If you’re using a manual method, you have to re-imagine, reorganize, and rewrite the entire master schedule. Yikes!

With PowerScheduler, you can test out multiple alternative scenarios in real time to see how each change affects the rest of the schedule. Curious about adding another 4th grade classroom? Test it out and see what happens. If you don’t like it, try something else. Like what you see? Save it and move on.

Manual Re-Creation vs. Instant Revision

The Butterfly Effect is all about how one little change can have huge implications later in time.  It’s specifically about time travel, but you can see the parallels with the master scheduling process.  Make one little change and it creates a cascade of other changes that all need to be re-written. That’s a lot of work. It’s basically starting over.

You don’t have time for that.

PowerScheduler makes automatic updates based on your changes so that you don’t have to start from scratch, re-writing everything each time you learn that a teacher is retiring or a few more students will be joining the school.

Doomsday Changes vs. No Sweat Updates

What happens when something goes wrong? Like, really wrong? Like a neighboring school closes and you need to find room for hundreds of new students. Or six teachers announce they need to go on parental leave all at once? Making small changes is a big enough headache. You might even be able to get away with a few quick fixes. But big changes spell disaster when you use manual scheduling techniques or outdated software.

PowerScheduler, however, adapts and adjusts to any size change. Whether you’re making a small adjustment or re-arranging the whole thing, the intuitive interface and adaptive technology auto-optimizes the master schedule as a whole, saving you hours of work. We’d even go so far as to say that the drag-and-drop interface is fun to use!

Annual Annoyance vs. Smart Learning

No matter how long you’ve been in charge of the master schedule, it always requires the same amount of work. There’s no real return on investment, if you will, for your years of experience. You’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way, but it’s still a long, iterative process of writing everything down and finding the combination of classes that work best for the most people. When you use PowerScheduler, you can save last year’s schedule and just make the adjustments necessary for this year. No more starting over. No more writing it out for the sake of writing it out. It’s all still there and ready for a new year.

Oswego Schools Example

When Oswego Unified School District No. 504 in Kansas needed to cut down on the time it took to develop their master schedule, they found that PowerScheduler did just that. The web-based, automated, digital master scheduling tool, complete with drag and drop functionality, helped them experiment with alternative scheduling scenarios without losing the previous options. It made a more efficient schedule that made better use of their resources and helped them get a jump on the next year too.

“Things that used to take days to complete can now be completed in far less time,” says Lynnette Goddard, Oswego School District USD 504 Counselor. “It’s user-friendly and we can easily see and print out students’ schedules. It is also helpful to load the previous year’s schedule and make changes on that, as needed, instead of rebuilding an entire master schedule.”

Get Started Now

Winter and early Spring are relatively quiet times of the year. Final counts are in (or just about in) so your big funding questions are mostly answered. Classes have been in swing for several months so students and teachers are deep into their routines. Now is the perfect time to get a jump on scheduling. It’s easy to put it off until the “quiet days” in the summer, but you know a million things will come up to distract you. And since, as we’ve discussed at length, PowerScheduler is so easy to update and modify when those changes do come across your desk, you won’t be throwing out all of your work just to start again. Get yourself 90% of the way there now and then you’ll just have the tweaks to make over the summer.

If you’ve used PowerScheduler before and want a little refresher, contact us for a quick and easy review session. Or if you have someone new in charge of scheduling, we can train them on the full system to make sure they know everything necessary to make the most of this powerful system.