STAMFORD — The principals of Stamford and Westhill high schools formally recommended to the administration that the district move away from the 4×4 hybrid block schedule set to be implemented at the two schools this fall, citing concerns about the proposed schedule’s potential “catastrophic impact” on academic achievement and students’ ability to graduate.
CT Examiner obtained a copy of a letter sent to Superintendent Tamu Lucero and the Board of Education from Michael Rinaldi, principal of Westhill High School, and Matthew Forker, principal of Stamford High School. The letter requests that the superintendent and the Board of Education implement the A/B block schedule, which is already being used at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, known as AITE, rather than the proposed 4×4 hybrid block schedule next year.
The 4×4 block schedule model would schedule students to attend 90-minute sections of the same four classes each day for the fall semester, and then switch to four new classes for the spring. This is different from the A/B block schedule, which holds 90-minute class periods of four class periods alternating every other day — meaning that students continue to take all eight classes throughout the year.
Two of the district schools — Westhill High School and the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering — held votes of no confidence in Lucero and Associate Superintendent of Teacher and Learning Amy Beldotti earlier this spring. The vote was supported by 42 of 51 of the tenured faculty members at AITE and 71 of the 101 tenured teachers at Westhill High school, according to reporting by the Stamford Advocate.
The votes at the high school were mainly spurred by discontent with the proposed schedule, which teachers said they feared would result in learning loss and difficulty in holding student attention, and give students less opportunity to improve over time.
Three of the district’s other schools — Strawberry Hill, Turn of River Middle School and Davenport Ridge Elementary School also held votes of no-confidence against Lucero, for a variety of reasons. About 580 parents have also signed an online petition expressing their discontent with issues of staff shortages, school safety and a feeling that parents’ voices are not being heard.
This past week, a list of 27 administrators signed a letter of support for Lucero and Beldotti, along with the two other associate superintendents, Olympia DellaFlora and Dr. Michael Fernandes. While the letter does not mention the high school schedule explicitly, it does commend the administration for giving opportunities for people to express their opinions about coming changes.
“Change is never easy. It is hard and messy and often what is the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do. Our district leadership has established processes and multiple opportunities for stakeholder feedback across a range of issues, but just because a decision is not popular with all groups, doesn’t mean all stakeholder voices were not considered. There is a difference between listening and agreeing,” the letter stated.
From ‘enthusiastic support’ to ‘serious concerns’
Principals Rinaldi and Forker say in the letter that while the administrators “enthusiastically supported” the 4×4 hybrid block schedule when it was initially presented in the hope that it would give students more choices and more opportunities for deep connection with teachers, problems started to appear as the schools tried to compile schedules for the students.
“As our high school schedulers have now worked through the process of building the 4×4 hybrid schedule, several serious concerns regarding the feasibility, sustainability, and success of the 4×4 hybrid have come to light,” the letter read.
Jackie Heftman, chair of the Board of Education, said that Lucero was looking into the points that the principals raised in their letters.
“The superintendent recognizes that building a new high school schedule is challenging. She is working with our research dept and PowerSchool consultant to assess the validity of the principals’ concerns,” Heftman wrote in an email.
Rinaldi and Forker said in the letter that the schedule would create a large number of scheduling conflicts because of the need to run some courses for half a year and other courses, such as advanced placement, for a whole year. The principals said that many of the students would be left with multiple spaces in their schedules and that some students might be unable to meet their graduation requirements.
The schedule would also create problems for teachers, including situations in which teachers would not have space for an unassigned period, which could lead to certain class sections not having a teacher, said Rinaldi and Forker.
“After having recognized these serious issues, both Stamford High School and Westhill High School administrators have come to the conclusion that the risks associated with the 4×4 hybrid schedule far outweigh the potential benefits. In our professional opinion the very real risk of having large numbers, possibly hundreds of students without a full schedule would have a catastrophic impact on academic achievement, graduation rates, as well as the general and safe management of our high schools,” they wrote.
The principals concluded that the A/B block schedule would result in many of the same gains for students originally hoped for with the 4×4, including more student choice and deeper connections with instructors. They said that it would also pave the way for a shift to a 4×4 schedule in a later school year, when the students have had the opportunity to get accustomed to 90-minute classes.
“We appreciate that Superintendent Lucero and her cabinet have provided us with a forum to express our stated concerns,” wrote Rinaldi and Forker. “It is also our hope that our carefully considered recommendation will be received in the spirit in which it is being shared and that it will be given appropriate attention in the best interest of our high schools and our district.”