New 4×4 Block Schedule Receives Mixed Feedback

Stamford Public Schools announced mid-January that all three public high schools would move to 4×4 block scheduling this fall, with every student taking four 90-minute classes one semester, and four different 90-minute classes the second. Teachers would teach three out of the four periods each semester, with one period to prepare lesson plans.

According to district representatives, this decision was made following a myriad of research, collecting and analyzing data, visiting districts with 4×4 schedules across the country, and collecting input from parents, staff, and students. This new schedule has been in the works for over five years. 

“We are one of the only schools in the state of Connecticut that’s still running a seven-period schedule,” said Amy Beldotti, Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, during a virtual meeting of the BOE’s Teaching, Learning and Community Committee (Stamford Advocate). Darien, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Danbury, Norwalk, Bethel, and Wilton high schools all employ an eight-period block schedule. 

The 4×4 block schedule provides students the opportunity to earn up to eight credits per year (32 over four years), thus ensuring the fulfillment of the 25 credit graduation requirement. Fulfilling credit graduation requirements grew to be a concern when they increased from 20 to 25 in 2019, beginning with the incoming freshman class (class of 2023) and ongoing. At Stamford High School (SHS) and Westhill High School (WHS), students have the opportunity to take 28 classes if they take seven classes every year for four years. But even with three unrestricted credits present, some students could be at risk of not graduating. At AITE, the risk is lower as students have the opportunity to take 32 credits if they take all eight classes every year for four years. 

With the 4×4 block schedule, 24 credits can be completed before senior year, leaving English as the only required senior class. This can be completed in one semester, allowing students to partake in an internship the second semester. With seven unrestricted credits available, students have flexibility with their schedules to arrive later or leave earlier to engage in outside opportunities, retake classes, or take more courses in areas catered to their interests. SPS also says the 90-minute classes prepare students for college, as the time frame mirrors college classes.

The 4×4 block schedule seeks to relieve many complications of the existing models at SHS and WHS. The hassle of six transitions between classes would be reduced to three transitions, student workload per semester would be decreased, and alignment among all three schools would be created. The 90-minute classes strive to give more time to build productive academic and personal student-teacher relationships, enabling in-depth learning and increased feedback from teachers. 

However, the reaction to the 4×4 block schedule proposal has been overwhelmingly unfavorable among Stamford students, parents, and teachers. Several petitions against the proposal were started by students throughout Stamford. One of them was AITE Freshman, Kim McGowan, who garnered 1,700 signatures in a few days. An anonymous AITE teacher started a petition for AITE teachers and every teacher signed against the proposal as well. Students, teachers, and parents flooded the email inboxes of Beldotti, Dr. Tamu Lucero, Superintendent of Stamford Public Schools, and Board of Education members. A constant complaint among educators was that they felt their input was not solicited.

Following severe backlash, the initial proposal was changed to a “hybrid” 4×4 block schedule, where four periods would be kept, but certain classes would be offered in a full-year model via an A/B schedule. Those classes include band, Advanced Placement courses, journalism, and agricultural science. Left with an open period on the days when those classes do not meet, students are free to attend a study hall or choose another class in the A/B schedule to attend on those days. Teachers would continue to teach five classes in this model, rather than the originally proposed six classes. 

Although the hybrid 4×4 block schedule fixed some original issues, many were still unsatisfied, especially AITE students and teachers. A few years ago, SHS and WHS attempted to switch to AITE’s A/B block schedule but received backlash from their respective communities. The new 4×4 block schedule was proposed in an attempt to be a compromise. However, AITE is not standing for it at all, as students and teachers find no problems with the current A/B schedule. 

Several BOE meetings have been held throughout January. Following the release of the hybrid 4×4 block schedule, a Student Advisory Board meeting was held before one of the BOE meetings. During this meeting, students were permitted to directly talk to Lucero and Beldotti. “None of our questions were truly given proper answers in my opinion. I feel like a lot is still unknown about the schedule and they are rushing into it so much. They expect to have this implemented in six months when they don’t have the details figured out yet,” said AITE senior and student body president, Aishwarya Sivasubramanian. At the BOE meeting, no parent, student, or teacher was in favor of the hybrid schedule.

Despite the BOE’s positive affirmations for the 4×4 block schedule, students have brought up several concerns. One of them was the SHS and WHS teachers’ capabilities of teaching 90-minute classes when they’ve never done so before. “The Board of Education’s thinking is too optimistic to believe that every teacher is going to put in the time and the effort to make everything interactive especially when they’re forced to do something that they don’t want to do, same with students,” said Sivasubramanian. Scheduling concerns have been expressed as well, such as the regulation of free periods and making sure students fulfill their credit requirements before graduation. But retention has been one of the greatest concerns so far. “The district is saying that retention is fine, which I think is ridiculous because they care about summer learning loss, but they’re not caring about an 8-month gap,” said Sivasubramanian.

A vote was put up by the BOE on whether they should support the proposal, but before voting on it, they further discussed the proposal with the Teaching, Learning, and Community Committee. “This is good because it shows that more discussion needs to be had about it, which is great because it shows that they’re actually listening to the public’s voices and want to see what more they can understand,” said Sivasubramanian. A final decision, following potential reconsiderations, will be made sometime in the upcoming months.