STAMFORD – Conflict over a change in high school schedules marked the first half of 2022 and is set to affect a Nov. 8 election that will call on voters to fill three Board of Education seats.
The schedule dispute also may influence next week’s school board vote to extend Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s contract for an additional year.
The controversy included city hall protests by students and teachers, online petitions by parents, no-confidence votes against Lucero from teachers at five schools, and a determination by two high school principals that the schedule change would be “catastrophic.”
Lucero dropped the scheduling plan this month, but a member of the Board of Education and a city representative said the ordeal raises questions about her leadership and the role of the school board.
Despite opposition from teachers, administrators, students and parents, Lucero was moving forward with the scheduling change, with the support of Democratic school board President Jackie Heftman, until it was clear that a majority of the nine-member board would not support it, said Becky Hamman, a Republican board member.
“They knew they had only four votes. They wanted to avoid a public vote,” Hamman said. “That is what it took to change course. Five board members, Democrats and Republicans, came forward and overrode a board that was complacent.”
The elected school board, which provides the only oversight of a superintendent, should not be complacent, Hamman said.
“When teachers in the field say something is a problem, you have to hear them. Teachers stood up to the superintendent, but she persisted,” Hamman said. “Letters were coming in from parents, phone calls were coming in. They were standing up against the board, but not everyone was listening. Listening should remain objective and there should be a spirit of cooperation when major curriculum and schedule changes are being made.”
City Rep. Sean Boeger said he initiated a text conversation with Heftman because teachers, students, parents and residents should know how the controversial plan came to be reversed.
“I asked President Heftman whether the Board of Education would make a public statement, and whether she felt it was important for the public to know, but she wouldn’t answer,” said Boeger, who provided the text. “I think people need to know the truth behind this, because the way for them to have a say in what goes on in the school system is through their votes for candidates for the Board of Education. They should know where board members stand on matters like this.”
Voters choose school board members on rotation. Each election, three of the nine members must run again if they wish to keep their seats.
Hamman is not up for reelection on Nov. 8, but three Republican candidates vying for this year’s seats – Diane Melchionne, Lisa Butler and Joe Andreana Jr. – wrote a letter last week citing the “stubbornness” of the Democrat-majority board and the school administration in “sticking to such a disastrous plan,” and that it is “important to understand exactly what transpired.”
The school board “could have and should have stepped in to stop this failed proposal” but instead “the majority that controls the decision-making simply got in line in support of the superintendent’s plan, despite it being widely rejected by teachers, principals, community members and parents,” the candidates wrote.
Eventually two Democrats on the school board joined the three Republicans in refusing to support the schedule change, the candidates wrote.
Boeger, a Democrat, said politics should have nothing to do with school board votes.
“Education is not a partisan issue. Our country makes everything partisan. It shouldn’t be,” Boeger said. “The Board of Education is accountable to the citizenry of Stamford, not the superintendent, not a political party.”
The three school board seats open this year are those of Republican Nicola Tarzia, who did not get his party’s nomination; Democrat Jennienne Burke, who is not running again; and Democrat Dan Dauplaise, who was endorsed by his party. Democrats also nominated Michael Hyman and Versha Munshi-South.
Lucero, Heftman and school district spokesman Justin Martin did not respond to requests for comment Monday and Tuesday.
In January Lucero proposed switching Stamford and Westhill high schools from a seven-period schedule of 50-minute classes – Stamford is one of a few districts in Connecticut still using it, they said – to a “4×4” schedule in which students take four 90-minute subjects a day one semester, and four different 90-minute subjects the next semester.
Opposition was immediate. Faculty and students said that if the district wanted to switch to a block schedule, it should be the “A/B” model used successfully at the city’s smallest high school, Academy of Information Technology & Engineering.
In the A/B model, students take four subjects one day for 90 minutes each, and four different subjects the following day, alternating throughout the school year.
Lucero then proposed a hybrid of the two block schedules and pushed forward with that. The Stamford and Westhill high principals tried planning the hybrid schedule and deemed it a failure because it created complications they said could not be overcome.
The school board is set to discuss Lucero’s evaluation Thursday, and vote on her contract extension next Tuesday. Lucero’s base salary, plus employer contributions and benefits, total $406,000. Her contract ends in June 2024, and if approved will extend to June 2025.
Hamman, who has worked as a teacher, administrator and principal and holds a doctor of education degree, said she wants “parents to know the deeper issues behind the scenes.”
Some school board members “don’t want the superintendent to look bad,” Hamman said. “But that should not be a motivation behind actions the board takes.”