Adios, Arena

“Arena scheduling” came to Staples in the early 1970s.  It was an era when our high school was in the forefront of many things:  experimental English classes.  A real “Alternatives” program.  A sexuality course that left nothing to the imagination.

“Arena” — the opportunity for students to choose not only their classes, but their periods and teachers for the upcoming year — was a no-brainer.  It was a little bit of college on a high school campus.  It embodied choice, freedom, maturity.

Over the years it also became chaotic and controversial.  Students learned to game the system.  Parents involved themselves in the process.  Stress levels rose; tears were shed.

A scene from last June's Staples scheduling arena. Students tried to get courses and teachers they wanted; teachers had to say yes to some, no to others. (Photo by Lucy Sinclair/Inklings)

Eliminating arena has been discussed for years.  As computer scheduling became more efficient, pressure to end arena grew.  But arena always had its defenders.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Education heard arguments for retaining arena.

It provides students with the opportunity to take 2 or 3 more classes with teachers they like, or have connected especially well with.

It enables students to avoid taking another class with instructors whose teaching styles are not compatible with students’ particular learning styles.

It enables students to select their periods (for example, taking tougher classes when they’re more alert — though more realistically, they opt for free periods at the beginning or end of the day).

It helps teenagers prepare for the college course selection process.

But the arguments for replacing arena with computer scheduling were more compelling.

Students could have several weeks in the spring to meet with guidance counselors to tailor their schedules to their course needs.

The hectic “conflict resolution” period at the start of school would be eliminated, allowing counselors to really help students.

Most colleges these days utilize online computer course selection themselves.

And, of course, complaints and worries about the “unfairness” of a “bad” arena time would end.

The Board of Education voted 6-1 to end arena scheduling.

Tellingly, there was virtually no student or parent outcry in favor of keeping arena, either before or during the Board of Ed discussion.

The ’70s are officially dead.

47 responses to “Adios, Arena

  1. Terry Brannigan

    Teddy Roosevelt said it best… However I never knew he was talking about scheduling classes. Too bad he he didn’t get vote! It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat

    • “The Board of Education voted 6-1 to end arena scheduling.” Okay, arena’s out. What’s in?!?

      I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see the BoE make a binary decision. This decision should be made between Arena and at least five-other-well-designed-alternative-processes for enrolling students in courses. Instead, its obvious our leaders are binary thinkers – capable of answering only ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
      Does anyone at the BoE know there is a company called that provides software for students to sign-up for their preferred courses online? Was it discussed at the meeting? GoSignMeUp just one example of such software, but has the added bonus of interfacing with Blackboard – the course management system already deployed at Staples.

      Now, the decision to contract with Blackboard was our first mistake. Was the open source software Moodle (read as: free) considered as an alternative to a $50,000 annual price tag? Doubtful. However, if we’re already paying for the Ferrari of course management software, why don’t we spring for the premium fuel that makes the whole operation run better.

      The synergy between the two software packages would decrease the expense required in administering Blackboard.

      • Westporter since 1970

        Students’ reactions and critiques of the Westport Board of Education’s choice in applications for running the school are available. For example see Logan Rosen’s critique from March 2010 <>

        • Westporter since 1970

          Sorry, that would be at the following URL:

          • Nice work Westporter, and of course Logan for writing the story. Brilliant. Logan Rosen Staples ’12 tackles the story from the right perspectives: cost, usability and a solid explanation of open-source and why Free is nothing to be afraid of.

            The BoE should invite this young man to brief them on alternatives to their current technology strategy.

      • If one of the goals was to make it so that students could no longer have the ability to request a certain teacher or a certain period, then that is a policy decision that I would hope the BOE would make clear to students. Simply saying that the technology or budget doesn’t exist to allow for student choice to be factored into a computer-based scheduling system does seem too simplistic.

        I did not watch or attend the BOE meetings that discussed this, but from my experience the BOE is usually pretty thorough when making decisions on technology. But as the rate of change in tech options increases, these decisions do need to be be re-visited frequently

        • “Simply saying that the technology or budget doesn’t exist to allow for student choice to be factored into a computer-based scheduling system does seem too simplistic.”

          “…seem[s] too simplistic.” You’re too kind John. It’s not too simplistic. It’s a lie.

  2. John McCarthy

    Dan, why can’t Staples just re-create the flexibility of Arena (request certain teachers and class periods) using a computer scheduling tool. Do away with the physical chaos of running it in the cafeteria but still let students show a preference for teacher/class period in the process. I’ll admit I didn’t pay much attention to this as I thought they were simply replacing a process run in the cafeteria with one run online, with the same elements of student-choice.

  3. Arena was to prepare students for college right? so treat it like a college, ahve the students meet with their guidence people and get a special pin number that then can register with. have a date where each “class” registers and the student has to use the pin to register.

  4. I agree…Arena’s time was done.

    Glad to see it being moved to online. Students will still get to choose their teachers/times which is a lot better than many HS students get to do

  5. It looks like a little clarication is in order. The new “on-line” course selection process that will replace Arena does not have a “teacher selection” feature.
    It will, however, be a more efficient process.

    • From what I understand, no other high schools had arena scheduling. Therefore, there has been no market for a computer program allowing students to pick teachers and/or time periods.

      Well, they could do it, I’m sure — but the cost would be prohibitive.

      • I bet there are Staples students who are up to the task of designing a scheduling system which would allow students to have input as to their teachers and their class periods. While I agree that arena was antiquated, I think this is taking a step backwards. College scheduling is a computerized arena system. It is a shame that the students will no longer have any input to their teachers and the class periods.

  6. Pingback: BREAKING NEWS: No More Arena – Board of Education Votes to End Scheduling System | Inklings News | Staples High School | Westport, CT

  7. The standard quote about college registrations and our Arena registration still stands…”When all else fails, follow the instructions.”
    I do hope the students will be able to get classes with the teachers they favor.
    How does one argue with a computer…..pull the plug??

  8. The Dude Abides

    I, along with Mr. McCarthy above, do not understand why the arena concept can not be continued with the aid of a computerized system? Being a computer dummy myself, probably does not aid in that understanding. One of my continuing thoughts on this newest generation is that they have too many choices. They are constantly bombarded with a wide variety of selections in life, from 800 television channels to a steady avenue of opportunities in extra-curricular activities as well umpteen hundreds of different course selections. I am not sure that is a good thing but I tend to be simple minded. I do know that my kids from the “Y” generation definitely knew what they did NOT want to do in life. This was a far step from my Boomer generation that had no idea of much of anything except how and where to have a good time. I realize that I am speaking in generalities but I do hope that any new computerized system of enrollment in classes decreases the stress on these kids and aids in simplifying their academic focus. High school is suppose to be fun!!

  9. “Tellingly, there was virtually no student or parent outcry in favor of keeping arena, either before or during the Board of Ed discussion.” um ok BS. the students were never made aware of the issue

  10. Here’s the deal with arena:
    If you get all of the teachers you want = you like arena.
    If you do not get all of the teachers you want = you do not like arena.
    The majority of the time, the latter option was more prevalent.

    Arena’s time was up. Let’s wave in the future.

    • This is not always true, everyone got at least ONE class that they were going for. It is apart of life to not get EVERYTHING that you want and a computer would be the equivalent to the latter option 100% of the time. Yes you are in the class but you end up with the one teacher you cannot stand that teaches that class and are powerless to change it.

  11. Hush McCormick

    I do believe that most college students meet with their counselors
    and then have a designated time period in which to register on-line for
    upcoming semesters. Such registration priority depends on their seniority.
    So how is this different from arena scheduling or better said, why can’t arena scheduling be intergrated into a computer system?

  12. It’s a shame that there wasn’t a more inclusive and transparent process for the discussion of arena. The students were never informed that the elimination of arena would be discussed by the Board of Ed and, as is evident here, the lack of parental response could be due to the perception that the administration was moving to a computer scheduling program that included an element of student choice. It’s wrong to say that there was no student outcry when no one told the students what was going on. My understanding is that there was plenty of student outcry during communication time on Wednesday morning, after the vote had already been taken.

  13. Last I checked, students don’t pay taxes. If there was to be an outcry, it should have been through the parents who apparently did not do so at a scheduled public hearing.

  14. Westporter since 1970

    Student government–where students had a say in the procedures, courses, rules, and regulations of Staples High School–where students had a voice equal to the administration and the faculty– began to vanish some time ago. The part of Staples education that engaged high school students in active, real, consequential governance. encouraged by Jim Calkins and George Cohen, began to atrophy under Marv Jaffee, Gloria Rakovic, and was finally put down by John Brady. Currently, the administration appears to believe in clean, expedient solutions that can be out-sourced instead of situations that allow students and community to engage in the messy, complicated decision making that fosters responsibility and ownership of problems. And–in the case of arena scheduling–it appears the Board of Education wants it that way.

  15. another Staples Mom

    The BOE agenda is set well before the BOE meetings and is posted in many places for all to see and read including the BOE website. Additionally, the Staples and town PTAs sent emails to all Staples parents with the agenda and specifically highlighted the fact that Arena was up for discussion prior to the meeting held two weeks ago. It’s been written about in town newspapers. websites and blogs. Inklings wrote an article about it. Emails were disseminated all over town urging parents to send letters to BOE members and attend the meeting and speak out. For those who can’t attend to see what is discussed, the meetings are televised. Arena was discussed for a few hours on September 27th. The vote was held this Tuesday, October 12th. That’s over 2 weeks available to speak up. And at the September 27th meeting, there were well over a dozen students from the Staples Government class taking notes as part of their classwork . They had the perfect opportunity to speak up then and there, or at the least voice their outcry at lunch in the cafeteria in the following 14 days to all their classmates. Certainly they knew it was discussed and weren’t taken by surprise.

    One may not agree with the BOE decisions all the time, but I do believe they are inclusive and transparent. If you care about the decisions made for our schools and want to be included, be proactive and read the emails sent by the schools and PTAs. Go to the BOE website and read the posted agenda notice and decide if you want to be a participant in the decision process by voicing your position.

    And as far as hiring a firm to tweak Arena and then incur subsequent yearly maintenance fees… this really how we want to be spending our Education and taxpayers money today?

  16. Princeton '82

    The agenda program sounds extremely progressive, however dated. What would be the cost of the “tweak” and “maintenance fees” cost??? Why shouldn’t a high school student be allowed to take what courses, when they want and with whom they desire?

  17. I agree with almost everything that “Another Staples Mom” has to say. Almost all of the things she mentioned did happen. I guess I just wonder why the administration didn’t do all it could to be sure that every voice was heard in this discussion. With a final vote of 6-1 to eliminate arena, it might not have made a difference. But everyone would have felt better about the decision.

    When all day kindergarten was being discussed at the Board of Ed, there were surveys, focus groups and multiple meetings to give the public time to digest what was happening. I am an avid reader of the PTA weekly email blasts and the arena issue was buried pretty deep in the email and given little space. Contrast that with the attention given by the PTA to the Department Chair reorganization that took place two years ago. That issue was prominently featured in the weekly email (for two years!) and the PTA urged parents to go to Board meetings and have their voices heard. I wish the same had been true here.

    Was there a down side to being sure that Student Assembly knew what was going on? I am pretty sure that they surveyed the students a couple of years ago concerning their feelings about arena. The results of that survey would have added to the discussion.

    This isn’t life shattering. But it’s a loss for some of our kids. Would there have been any harm in going the extra mile to be sure every voice was heard?

  18. What a Fool Believes . . .

    As Stanley Kubrick one scripted: “If you ask 100 questions, the answer to 99 of them will be money.”

  19. Staples Student

    I am a Staples student who went through the Arena Registration process several times, and have been heavily involved in the Arena debate with my peers and teachers.
    In response to a comment by the Haus, and what seems to be the general justification for getting rid of Arena: it is not necessarily true that students view arena in such a black-and-white fashion. The statement that “you don’t always get what you want” is a valid one, but the reality is that almost every single student (except for those with tight schedules) gets at least one desired period, teacher, or section they are trying for. I am almost positive that the majority of students who didn’t leave arena “happy” with their schedules would still support it. Students certainly recognized the flaws of Arena – but I don’t think it’s fair to say that “not everyone gets what they want” is the primary one. Sure, allowing kids to choose classes with their buddies, sometimes creating a more disruptive learning environment for teachers (especially in younger classes where this was reportedly an issue once in a while) is one of them. The hell of organizing it and the unfair burden it puts on administrators and teachers who have to man the subject tables on Arena day is one of them. Computerizing the selection process could have solved some of these issues. Sure, the current several-month-long preregistration process before Arena has its flaws, none of which couldn’t have been fixed I don’t think. As an aside, every grad I talk to seems to have fond memories of the process, and it certainly is (was) a very important tradition at Staples. There’s so much to be said f0r the schedule-building and planning processes. Staples students are really going to miss it. I’m just sorry for the younger grades that it isn’t being phased out. Above all I hope they took it away for the right reason(s).

  20. Max Stampa-Brown

    Applicable to life at staples , not just Arena.
    “A sexuality course that left nothing to the imagination”
    “Over the years it also became chaotic and controversial. Students learned to game the system. Parents involved themselves in the process. Stress levels rose; tears were shed.”
    On a serious note.
    After graduating last year now a few months into college, it’s clear how incredibly advanced Staples is. Choosing your schedule in most universities is an inherent privilege, so it may be possible that those ranging from the age of 14-18 cannot fully grasp the concept of arena. It was also evident that keeping track of papers could’ve been a minor problem. Give it ten more years, arena could be back….maybe even digitized.

  21. I Disagree with the end of this article at a Staples Student I know that a majority of the population was extremely upset that Arena was just gone in just a day. The Board of Ed didn’t ask student opinions. They should have phased it out with this year only the classes of ’12 and ’13 having Arena and then next year only the class of ’13 since these are the only classes left at Staples that would have already participated in Arena before.

  22. Techno Teacher

    I’m on the receiving end of the Blackboard management system (I call it “The Beast”) and it has further confirmed my view that technology will never surpass a) the need for quality, independent thought — something that Facebook-induced collectivism kills and b) a recognition of the divergent passions and potential of the souls we’re supposed to be educating. As for educational grades, Blackboard doesn’t allow for the most important one in education: “Grade I,” for Incomplete.

  23. I think this shows just how classy the BOE actually is. Getting rid of arena in a late night meeting without letting anyone know. Unfortunately for the BOE, many of the teens who it upset will soon become registered voters.

  24. Registered but rarely vote. No kid-ding.

    • One more thread on Arena: it is/was the one place to see grass roots, student reaction to teachers. If English teacher A always attracts 35 kids per class and teacher B seems to have no one volunteering for their classes, year after year, perhaps the administration would look into the discrepancy. Maybe Teacher A was “easy”. Maybe Teacher B was a great teacher but many could not understand her, or he was so smart they couldn’t keep up. But here was raw data to look at. Goodbye raw data!

  25. That isn’t raw data for there are too many variables. I don’t really think it is an issue of teacher qualification anyway. From a wide view lens, it would seem the reactions are related to who is running the school? The kids or the BOE? I think we found out.

  26. 4th Staples Mom

    To 3rd SHS mom, if Arena was such a source of raw data, then why do we never see actions taken against teachers who are apparently so weak? I do not believe “raw data” from Arena is used in that way. To all the rest of you bemoaning the fate of Arena: for every kid who gets a decent arena schedule, there is another kid who does not. Can someone explain how that would be fair? And, can we count how many times a kids arranges an entire schedule around getting the “it” teacher, who, as it turns out, she finds she doesn’t even like once the new school year begins? Or how about getting “stuck” with that new teacher that no one knows about just because you wanted to sleep in Monday mornings, only to find that he is the best thing since sliced bread? How many 9th grade teachers, selected without Arena, become students’ favorites? And how about those times when a kid will say to the teacher sitting at the Arena table, “NO! I don’t want Mrs. Smith,” only to find out that Mrs. Smith is the teacher to whom he is speaking? Nice. I think all of you who are waxing poetic about Arena have selective memories.

  27. John McCarthy

    In my day job as CFO for several technology companies I am a big fan and user of open source software. Usually leads to more innovation, lower cost, etc. And I hate paying annual maintenance costs for software. The Inklings article points to a solution which claims to save $45K (79%). Anyone know where this $45K could be better used in the schools, town or taxpayers pockets? I would hope that the BOE would be looking at the options mentioned (Sakai and Moodle) and others before the next budget cycle.

    But watch out. From my experience inflated switching costs and other impediments to switching are usually the fiction of an entrenched vendor and bureuacracy using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to stifle innovation and change.

  28. Staples Student

    4th Staples Mom:
    (1) “To all the rest of you bemoaning the fate of Arena.”
    I’m sorry you feel this way. Students have every right to think critically about an issue, evaluate pros and cons (new school-wide goals) and express themselves regarding their beliefs. It’s about us. And Arena was a Staples tradition, whether some of us liked it or hated it.
    (2) “For every kid who gets a decent arena schedule, there is another kid who does not. Can someone explain how that would be fair?”
    I have trouble understanding why this is the case. The logic behind that would support the notion that there is X good teacher and Y bad teacher, and 50% of students get X. There are 8 letters in the arena “alphabet”. I bet that black and white fifty percent who got teacher Y have an extremely rewarding experience too. The one difference between computer scheduling and arena, specifically here, is that some students will, “unfortunately,” have that element of choice and make a decision based on whatever reasons they have. To an extent, it doesn’t matter whether a student picks a certain teacher, does not have the right to pick a certain teacher, or tries to but doesn’t get him or her: I agree with you completely about the problems with false stereotypes and students choosing for the wrong reasons. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how a student ended up with a certain teacher. That experience might be terrific, or just ok. Why not add the element of choice? According to that logic, arena is a win win situation, right?
    (3) 9th graders are randomly assigned teachers, which is great, and develop amazing relationships with them. With arena, many students can further these relationships.
    (4) If a student chooses period 2 English so he can sleep in Monday mornings, what’s the problem? It’s his rigourous academic career. Let him/her make the decision based on what he/she needs. Despite the belief that every student chooses the same things for the same (BAD) reasons, schedules are personal.
    (5) I have also heard the Mrs. Smith story. Too bad for the kid that doesn’t do his research.

    Parents want what’s best for their kids, so thank you for voicing your opinions, parents. This issue deals with mature high school students who should have the opportunity to think and act for themselves in the learning environment (I’m not just talking about Arena here).

  29. The Dude Abides

    Mature high school students? Isn’t that a oxymoron? And why are they having the Homecoming football game at 10:00 a.m.??? The discussion is beginning to get silly considering that in about 4 years, you ain’t gonna rememeber who you had for Physics or Trig anyhow and it probably ain’t gonna matter in the least. Is there a Staples Mom #5 out there?? Yes, you, the one wearing your son’s football jacket (????).

    • If your chosen profession is mathematician, you will in all likelihood remember who taught you trig. On the other hand if your chosen profession is mural painting, in all liklihood you will not remember who taught you trig. However, there so much more demand for mural painters, your generalization may be correct.

  30. The Dude Abides

    So you remember who taught you Trig in 11th grade??? I think I remember two teachers from Staples. Both have appeared on this blog so as to refresh my memory. They didn’t offer mural painting.

  31. The Dude Abides

    9th? Jeez.

  32. staples student

    I am a junior at staples and I firmly disagree with arena. In the real world, you are not going to get to choose your own boss or your co workers based on who you work best with. Why should students get accustomed to this system of choosing now? It is unrealistic. And so what if you get a teacher whose teaching method does not fully suit your own. It is better to meet this in high school, and learn how to deal with it, than to face it for the first time in college or in the workplace.
    Arena is also unfair to the majority of the class. Only a small fraction of the grade gets their ideal schedule, while everyone else has to scramble together something where all their classes fit. The more aggressive, persuasive students end up getting better schedules than the patient benevolent students. How is that fair? In the new system, students will still get to pick 2 or 3 favorite teachers. This way the playing field is level and ALL students can get at least a few teachers they want.

  33. The Dude Abides

    Ahhhhhhh . . . I take it back, there is such a thing as a mature high school student. Nice job staples student. Well said.