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It’s decided

January 10, 2019

STAMFORD — A new high school schedule is coming.

District officials have confirmed they are moving forward with plans to switch Stamford High School and Westhill High School from six daily class periods to four 85-minute periods. Students will take a total of eight classes, alternating four each day.

Administrators have been discussing the change for some time, but it caught some Board of Education members by surprise this week, who said they were hearing about the proposal for the first time.

“Would I be right in saying this change is going to happen?” board member Jackie Heftman asked at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “That you’re going to spend the next several months educating people about what it is, rather than it may happen and we’ll listen to the community before we make a decision? ... The question about whether or not it’s going to happen has already been answered...would that be correct to say?”

“That’s correct to say going back to last April. To both faculties, it was communicated,” said Brian White, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

Discussion of the change sparked even earlier, about two years ago, at a committee level following recommendations to look at the high school schedule through research and visits to schools in Norwalk and Newington, according to White. A new bill going into effect this year requiring students to earn at least 25 credits to graduate made the change more imminent and necessary. The committees planning the change consisted of teachers and administration.

White said Stamford students right now need 20 credits to graduate. The new schedule will add a class for students, who currently take seven courses, and require an increase in offerings, as well as staffing. The change anticipates adding four new teachers at each school, first at Stamford High, which will experience the change this fall, and then at Westhill in fall of 2020.

Stamford’s magnet high school, the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, has been on the eight-block schedule for more than a decade already.

“We wanted to make sure the schedule that was created afforded students the type of learning opportunities aligned with current Connecticut core standards and Stamford’s curriculum,” White said, adding the district hired consultants to come up with an optimal proposal. “We also looked at climate variables, a schedule that’ll support a positive climate in our high schools and also provide for academic supports.”

Board members expressed concerns about how the changes could affect special needs students and students who receive services, as well as how teachers will break up the 85-minute block so students stay active and engaged. They also asked administrators to consider looking at later start times for the high schools as well in light of the change.

Betsy Allyn, chair of the school board’s Teaching, Learning and Community Committee, questioned why no board members had been been included on the committees that formulated the change, despite being told last April they’d be involved.

“It was disappointing to some of our board members to have you this far down the road before this came back to the board and get our feedback,” Allyn said. “For any change to be really successful, you have to get the voice of those people the change is going to be (affecting) and get their buy-in. Do you think you’ve done that and do you think you’ll be able to do that by the first day of school? To me, sitting here, that makes me a little anxious.”

Allyn also asked about parent and student involvement. White said there hadn’t been any on the committees, but officials will keep all stakeholders involved going forward, including through strong communication about the change and by getting feedback following a test run of the schedule in May.

“I’m confident I can collect feedback from students, parents and staff,” said Stamford High School principal Raymond Manka. “I’m confident over the course of the next couple of months, that’s reasonable. ... The opportunity exists now for board members to be involved.”

White added they’ll continue to engage students, teachers and parents during the first year of the change and make adjustments accordingly.

“It’s important in year one we’re actively engaging,” White said. “We fully expect we’re going to learn a lot. A significant part of our plan is not just communicating out ... a big part of our plan continues on to year one to make sure we’re actively getting that feedback routinely throughout the year.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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