A look behind-the-scenes of Bearden’s master schedule process reveals its many challenges


Maddux Morse

Working on the master schedule is a year-round process for Mrs. Karen Smiley.

At Bearden High School, 251 courses are offered to the 2,100 students who attend.

With close to 950 sections of classes each year, it is a daunting task for a team of staff members to make the master schedule, then for the counseling department to create student schedules that maximize the number of requested classes they are put in each semester.

“500 students per grade level, eight classes, and three alternates is a lot for a counselor to manage,” said Mrs. Karen Smiley, who is Bearden’s testing coordinator and helps oversee the master schedule process. “We deal with a minimum of 16,000 requests.” 

Student class registration requests for the 2022-23 school year are due by March 4.

Since October, Mrs. Smiley has been working on the 2022-2023 schedule. For each class offered, the teacher and student interest is gauged, but overall it is the student requests that drive what classes are offered at Bearden in the coming school year.

A system in Aspen called a “conflict matrix” compiles all the requested classes and compares these to the other options that are offered at conflicting times. This is used primarily to allow students to attend classes that are only offered once a semester or once a year, which are called “singletons.” The “conflict matrix” helps make the scheduling process easier for the counselors, and helps them prevent scheduling issues.

“It is kind of a domino effect,” Mrs. Smiley said.

When too many student schedules conflict with multiple classes, the counselors rearrange the classes and rerun the system to see how many other schedules it impacts. The teacher requests can also impact the classes offered to students. There is a process that teachers must go through to get approval after showing interest in teaching a class.

“They must be approved by Tennessee and Knox County,” Bearden principal Mrs. Debbie Sayers said. There must also be “teacher endorsement for that course,” which essentially qualifies that teacher for that course offering.

A significant portion of the scheduling process is figuring out schedules for the teachers, and figuring out how to maximize the classes they can offer to students. Because of this effort put in by counselors and administrators, it is important that Bearden students put the same amount of thought into what they request on Aspen for their class selection.

“Put thought into it, and don’t just guess,” Mrs. Smiley said. “It determines what we put into the master schedule,” so it is crucial to consider these decisions carefully.

For those who are struggling to find out what courses would be most beneficial for them to take, students should reach out to their trusted teachers.

“Talk to teachers about what [you] should take next,” Mrs. Sayers said.

Mrs. Sayers advises students to ask the critical questions that will impact their future. By reaching out to the teachers who know students on a personal level and can understand their situation, Mrs. Sayers said it is important to ask the question: “What courses do I take to prepare myself for what I want to do after high school?”

For many Bearden students, the extensive schedule options offered have provided opportunities unavailable to other high schoolers across the country. Junior Ayla Hauser, who has a health science and medical elective focus, explained how the Bearden choices have impacted her future career path.

“The extensive options here have allowed me to take classes I would see in college and find what topics I enjoy,” Hauser said. “For example, by taking CTE classes, I was able to decide that I wanted to pursue medicine after college.”

When contemplating how to increase the student satisfaction for their schedule requests, Bearden finds many creative solutions.

“We offer 7 a.m. classes as a way of giving [students] that option,” Mrs. Sayers said. Teachers also “offer ‘double blocks’ to teach two classes within the same time period.”

This is used by teachers who have requests split between classes that can often have overlapping instructions. 

The diversity of classes offered is beneficial to so many Bearden students, as they have the opportunity to engage in high level academics, extracurricular clubs, or specialized courses, all of which give critical high school experiences to so many students.

“Taking away the option [for] diverse classes would not have allowed me to pursue my interests,” Hauser said.