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Arena Eliminated:BOE cuts forty–year–old scheduling tradition

Jesse Heussner ’11 
Sports Editor

BOOM: For students and teachers alike, the end of Arena came quickly and unexpectedly.| Graphic by Nate Rosen ’14 and Aaron Greenspun ’14

Arena, the 38-year-old embattled scheduling system, is done.

To some, arena was promising— the process was liberating, relieving, and sometimes, surprisingly easy. To others, however, the casual mention of the word was as blasphemous as the most profane of swears. It had led to fierce temper tantrums, crazy politicking, and unhappy teachers.

Late at night on Oct. 12, the Board of Education (BOE) voted to replace Arena with a computer-generated scheduling system with a 6-1 vote.

While the status of the controversial schedule system has been widely discussed during the last few years, this has been the first firm action from the BOE and Superintendent Elliott Landon.

“[Arena will be replaced] by a computer generated schedule with balanced classes and with every student receiving the classes he or she needs,” Landon said via email.

Arena, which has been a Staples tradition since the early 1970’s, has been popular because it gives students the opportunity to choose their own teachers and assemble their own schedules. Since its inception, however, more issues have occurred as the size of the school has increased.

“Let’s say the average student has ten course requests. That means there is a 14,000 piece puzzle to assemble with kids doing it,” Assistant Principal Jim Farnen said. “When arena started, it was a 6,000 piece puzzle so it has grown a lot.”

With so many different puzzle pieces, some will inevitably refuse to fit.

“Too many kids are walking out of arena without a schedule,” Farnen said. “This leads to problems within the guidance department and conflict resolution.”

While these problems led the cause to eliminate the scheduling system, this process was initially supposed to happen over two years, in which the current sophomore and junior classes would still be able to go through Arena. But Principal John Dodig said the BOE came to the conclusion that this would not be the most efficient method of eliminating it.

“There was a compromise proposal to phase out Arena gradually, but we would still face some of the same problems for the next couple of years,” Dodig said.

Six of the seven BOE members—Chairman Don O’Day was the only member to vote against it— agreed to replace Arena with a computer-generated scheduling system at the end of the year. Since no time will need to be dedicated under the new system, the school will replace the two “Arena days” with one extra school day and a final makeup day.

The new computer system would accomplish Arena’s purpose in a much more efficient manner. Students would not be able to choose their teachers, but the system would effectively balance classes and generate a working student schedule through a 50,000 part algorithm. The computer system, said Dodig, may lead to more happy faces than sad ones.

“When we use the computer scheduling, 81-percent of students wind up with every single course they ask for,” Dodig said. “With Arena, this number drops to 48-percent.”

Despite these numbers, a number of Staples students are frustrated with the decision and its suddenness.

“Now that it’s finally our time to get first pick as seniors, they take it away,” Elana Adams ’12 said. “I really don’t like it.”

 Those who are opposed to the BOE’s decision bring up another issue: the college process. Since students will no longer be able to pick their teachers, many are worried about securing letters of recommendation.

“Losing Arena screws up my teacher recommendation process because I wanted to get certain teachers and now I don’t know if I can get them anymore,” Halli Sigel ’12 said.

While Arena has long been a controversial subject at Staples, Vice Chairman of the BOE James Marpe says that the opposition to Arena from students was not as vehement as other contentious issues and played a role in his vote to eliminate the scheduling system.

“In a controversial issue like Arena, I gauge the level of opposition and support that I hear from parents and students by email, phone call or public statement at our meetings,” Marpe said in an email. “My emails and phone calls were essentially split 50/50 for and against Arena, and, compared to many other topics, the volume was relatively low.

Farnen, though, recognizes that some of the student body could be agitated by losing their say in picking teachers.

“Arena, for its good and bad, is part of Staples culture. I am sure some students will miss it, but the freshman obviously won’t and the seniors will be gone,” Farnen said.

This “culture,” however, has garnered criticism. Teachers are put in the position to decide when to close a class and random Arena times often determine whether students can get the classes and teachers they want.

Sam Boas ’12, has been through Arena twice, but doesn’t have a problem with its looming death.

“I think it’s good that it was cancelled,” Boas said. “I was able to set my classes, but the people who aren’t outgoing and couldn’t speak up might have trouble if they don’t have a good [Arena] time.”

This “shark tank” as Farnen describes it, may be an anachronism, as the vast majority of other schools are relying on computerized methods for scheduling.

“It has outlived its effectiveness,” Farnen said. “We have 21st century programming, while arena is a relic of the 1960’s.

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