STAMFORD – With pushback mounting, Superintendent Tamu Lucero is backing off her plan to enact an unpopular hybrid block schedule at the city’s high schools in September.
In an announcement released Wednesday evening, Lucero said that, “after much thought and consideration,” the district will implement what’s known as the A/B block schedule at all three high schools.
“Beginning this fall, state educational requirements dictate all students must earn 25 credit hours to graduate. Introducing the A/B schedule at this time will serve as the first step in creating a schedule that allows opportunities for students to earn additional credits,” Lucero said in the statement. “The administration as well as principals at all three schools are committed to working together to ensure successful implementation this fall.”
Lucero’s announcement comes a week after she emailed Board of Education members to say that, despite opposition from principals, teachers and parents, she would move forward with the hybrid schedule.
Lucero’s June 2 note to the board followed a May 25 email from the principals of Stamford and Westhill high schools saying they’d tested the hybrid system and found it had multiple flaws, including gaps in student schedules. Leaving large numbers of students without full class schedules would be “catastrophic,” the principals wrote.
Lucero now says the high schools this fall will follow the favored A/B block schedule. The A/B system is used successfully at the city’s smallest high school, the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering.
“We appreciate all the work that has and continues to be done on behalf of our high school students and staff as we work towards offering flexibility, access, and opportunity across our three high schools,” Lucero said in the statement. “It is a credit to who we are as a community and the students we serve.”
Work by teachers, principals and administrators who researched types of block scheduling over the last six years “will pay off as the school system moves forward with these changes,” Lucero said.
“This is a credit to all of the amazing teachers, principals, assistant principals, curriculum department, staff, families, board members, and the students who remained committed to assisting in making this decision,” she said.
Board Chair Jackie Heftman said in an email to CT Examiner that the Board of Education supported the decision to implement the A/B schedule next year.
In their May 25 letter to district administrators and the school board, Westhill Principal Michael Rinaldi and Stamford High Principal Matthew Forker urged Lucero and her Central Office staff to drop the hybrid system and immediately switch to the A/B system.
The hybrid system was so complex that it could jeopardize students’ ability to graduate on time because of the difficulties it would create in assigning teachers to all classes, Rinaldi and Forker wrote.
In the hybrid system, students could take some classes that meet every day for one semester, and some classes that meet every other day for the whole school year.
In both systems, hybrid and A/B, students have up to four 90-minute classes a day. Unlike AITE, Stamford and Westhill now do not follow a block schedule.
In the last few months, tenured teachers at Westhill and AITE took no-confidence votes against Lucero and Associate Superintendent Amy Beldotti after saying repeatedly that they were left out of the decision to switch to the hybrid block schedule.
Teachers in three other schools followed with their own no-confidence votes against the superintendent, saying they, too, were ignored when policies were decided.
Parents started online no-confidence petitions against Lucero, one of the highest-paid superintendents in the state. Parents said they launched the petitions because they are not heard when they raise concerns about low test scores, lack of student discipline, and understaffing in classrooms.
Diane Phanos, president of the Stamford Education Association, said that the move to the A/B Block schedule was a positive development.
“That’s very good news. It’s what teachers have been fighting for for quite a long while,” she said.
But Phanos also said that Lucero needed to do more to listen to the teachers. According to Phanos, the superintendent had been making more visits to schools. Recently, Lucero invited teachers to have a conversation with her, but, according to Phanos, the meeting was very poorly attended.
“It came out quite clearly that the superintendent wasn’t listening to teachers, so why would they want to spend more time trying to communicate with her?” asked Phanos.
Drew Denbaum, an English teacher at Westhill High who attended the meeting, said one of his biggest concerns about the hybrid schedule was having students try to learn a year’s worth of information in a single semester.
“It’s sort of like someone says to you if you breathe twice as fast, then you can hold your breath for the other half of the year,” Denbaum said.
He was glad to hear that Lucero took into account the concerns that faculty and staff had about the schedule, he said.
Parents and Stamford residents also expressed concerns in a recent petition that got more than 500 signatures in three days. It demanded that the district stop the implementation of the hybrid system and adopt the A/B schedule. Earlier this year, students from AITE created a video in which they advocated for keeping the A/B schedule at their school.
Denbaum said he believes the best schedule is one the teachers developed before the pandemic. Called WIN & Go, it offers four rotating 65-minute periods each day, with flexible periods at the start and end of the day for students.
“I’m still very concerned about cooping kids up … in class for 90 minutes. But no one can be sure until we try it,” Denbaum said.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include comments by Jackie Heftman and Diane Phanos