What’s up With My Schedule?

Previously shrouded in mystery, the Stuyvesant Programming Office sheds light on how student schedules are created.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every year, students sit in front of their computer screens and desperately refresh the Talos website over and over, hoping to see their schedules the moment they come out. This phenomenon occurs twice a year, once before the start of fall semester and again before spring semester, usually resulting in frustrated Facebook posts complaining about the Program Office. From students getting random classes they neither want nor need to not getting any Advanced Placement classes, there is no shortage of complaints. Program Chair Jonathan Cheng is aware of the vast amount of student gripes surrounding scheduling. “Programming Stuyvesant is a very complex task,” Cheng said in an email interview.

Despite students’ perception of scheduling, it was worse in the time before Talos, the current system used for programming schedules. “Several years ago, the school used a system named Daedalus,” Cheng explained. However, the program was discontinued because the owner stopped supporting it, so Stuyvesant had to reroute to off-line programming. This switch meant that students ran around the school with pieces of paper that they had to get signatures on.

This process turned out to be incredibly inefficient, so the school switched to eSchoolData and then to Google Forms. However, eSchoolData wasn’t able to handle Stuyvesant’s wide elective range. “If juniors and seniors did not have [these options], then there [would be] a clear-cut sequence everyone follows,” Cheng said.

During the Google Forms era, the Program Office was forced to create nine new e-mail addresses. “[We were] sending out individualized e-mails to students to assist with their selection process. But [we could only] send out around 200 e-mails before Google [flagged] the account and [started] slowing down the emails,” Cheng explained. “So in order to mass e-mail all of Stuyvesant, we requested multiple e-mail addresses to facilitate this process. You should e-mail the main email: programoffice@stuy.edu.” The strain of individual emailing caused Cheng to reach out to several people in the hopes of finding a new and better program.

After talking to seven different people, Cheng eventually stumbled across Rodda John (’17), who created the current programming website Talos while attending Columbia University. With the new system, programming became more streamlined and straightforward, though not without obstacles. “[Stuyvesant’s] ability to offer a huge variety of classes comes with a caveat that there might be students [who] get nothing that they asked for. Stuyvsant has the most complex programming needs compared to all other high schools in NYC,” Cheng said. Due to these restrictions, the Program Office focuses on fulfilling graduation requirements and prioritizes seniors, since they only have a year left before they graduate.
Cheng clarified some common misconceptions that shroud course selections.

First up are course exceptions, which many students see as a guarantee they’ll get the course. “Course exceptions are meant to be a way for students to ask permission to apply to a course. If approved, the exception grants you the ability to see and select the course, [but] it does not guarantee you a seat,” Cheng explained.

Next is the reason behind the limited number of program changes allowed per student. Currently, students are only able to request one program change so that the Program Office isn’t flooded with requests. “During the days of Daedalus, we were surprised if we [had to] process over 1,000 requests for the fall term. Since using Talos, it’s not whether we see 1,000. It’s when we surpass 1,000,” Cheng said. For context, after Stuyvesant started using Talos, there was a term when the Program Office had to process over 6,000 requests. “We would have over 1,000 within the first 12 hours because students would use up their three requests,” he furthered.

Another misconception concerns the Course Selection Form. Many students think that not listing second or third choices conveys their desire for the first choice. “Selections are randomized, [which means that] not having a second or third choice increases the odds of getting a class you never asked for,” Cheng said.

Finally, the early bird does not always get the worm. “A lot of the time, people just select [courses] and say they’re done. Being the first one on [the form] means that students encounter errors that [will] get fixed later on,” Cheng explained. Talos is prone to crashing when the form is initially released because the Program Office does not expect students to immediately input their choices. To counteract this problem, Cheng began releasing possible courses ahead of time so that students have longer to learn about classes before they make their decisions.

Students’ complaining without understanding how programming works does not ease his job. “Most students don’t realize the complexity of [Stuyvesant’s] scheduling needs until they encounter some form of it in college or later on. [Even when] they have more control, they still can’t quite get everything they want,” Cheng explained.

Amidst all of these challenges, an unexpected delight in managing schedule programming is the occasionally humorous reasons that students list for their program changes. “One time, a student requested a program change because they wanted to be in the same class as their crush. Their request was denied,” he said.

Despite having served as Program Chair at Stuyvesant for the past eight years, Cheng feels that the process has not become any smoother. “A notable experience would be if there was an easy year. There has not been an easy year,” he said.