Thursday, June 8, 2023

CHS Teachers Voice “Serious Concerns” Regarding Move to 4×4 Block Schedule

Letters to the Editor submitted to The Coronado Times are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher, editors or writers of this publication. Submit letters to [email protected]

Editor’s Note: These below letters were originally sent to the Coronado Unified School Board on Friday, March 26th, 2021

Good Afternoon Trustees Pontes, Valdes-Clayton, Anderson-Cruz, Keszei, and Antrim,

I have attached a word document with individual letters drafted for your collective consideration about the 4×4 schedule that the CUSD is intending to implement for the 2021-2022 school year at Coronado High School. A hard copy of each of these letters will also be provided to the District Office before the close of business on Friday, March 26, 2021.

The English Department, Fine Arts Department, History Department, Math Department, Physical Education Department, Science Department, Special Education Department, and World Language Department have each written a separate letter to you, our School Board, to share with you the grave concerns we have about implementing the proposed 4×4 schedule. Each department has drafted a letter about how students in their department would be negatively impacted by the proposed 4×4 schedule. Each letter from a department includes the individual teachers from that department who oppose implementing a 4×4 schedule.

We collectively recommend that the CUSD Board of Trustees reconsider implementing this 4×4 schedule and we expect that the CUSD Board of Trustees will take immediate action to add this to a Board Agenda at its earliest convenience.


Casey Tanaka, on behalf of all aforementioned CHS Teachers on the attached 8 letters.

History/Social Studies Department

The History/Social Studies Department of Coronado High School is writing to notify the Coronado Unified School District Board of Trustees and the public of its concerns with the 4×4 schedule being proposed for the 2021-2022 school year. The following are some of the reasons why our department feels strongly that this 4×4 format will have a noticeably negative impact on student learning and student well-being:

  1. While moving to a 4×4 schedule might allow our students to take more classes, these classes will have to be run in half the amount of time. This means the relationships between students and teachers at CHS will be built over one semester rather than over an entire school year. Students and teachers at CHS have long believed that these relationships, sometimes nurtured over multiple school years, have been a big part of the positive experience of attending CHS. The quality of the relationships built at CHS will be significantly diminished if we as an institution focus on pushing students through their courses in half the amount of time.
  2. In the History/Social Studies Department, a larger number of students take the AP offering, per grade level, than they do the College Prep option. Our AP classes are generally survey courses meant to last an entire school year. Our textbooks are written for adult audiences and are not meant to be taught in a semester. A student taking an AP History course will be expected to read, comprehend, and retain material covering over 1,000 pages in an AP History class, and will have only a semester to do so. This will add stress to the lives of our CHS students.
  3. If a student misses a week in a class that only lasts a semester, it will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Units that take two to three weeks in our current format will need to be accelerated to roughly one or one and a half weeks.
  4. AP Exams are scheduled for the first two weeks of May. This means that any AP Class in the second semester will have to cover a full year of material in less than one semester. This will again produce a more difficult schedule to get students through a 1,000+ page textbook while only having the months of February, March, and April to do so. This is not an improvement over our current yearlong schedule. All AP classes in the second semester will labor under this constraint. Our master schedule will also have to be constructed to put a disproportionate number of its AP offerings in the first semester to overcompensate for this systemic flaw of the 4×4 format.
  5. Placing a disproportionate number of rigorous classes in the first semester means that the new Master Schedule for the History/Social Studies Department will likely create uneven teaching assignments and new limitations. If a student has to drop an AP class the first semester, that class will not likely be offered again in the second semester.
  6. A change to a 4×4 schedule in August of 2021 would mark the 4th format change for students and teachers at CHS in just a 17-month time period. In March of 2020, we made our first switch to an unstructured, all distance learning format while holding students harmless with a letter grade no lower than where it was in March, 2020. In August of 2020, we switched to a highly structured, all distance learning format that relied mostly on the use of Zoom and PowerSchool. In February of 2021, we then pivoted to a Concurrent Curriculum Delivery Model where we met simultaneously with students, both in-person, and in Zoom. Switching to a 4×4 schedule would be the most dramatic switch of the four. Students and teachers deserve a return to normalcy, not another overhaul of the way we do business as educators and students.

In conclusion, the underlying premise of the 4×4 schedule is that doing a year’s worth of material in a semester is feasible and desirable. Our department is adamant that an attempt to cover a year of material in a semester is ill-advised and will create more problems than it would solve. The groups who should be front and center advocating for this change are students, parents, and teachers. NONE of these three groups have been campaigning for this change. Until these three groups vote for such a staggering overhaul of our system of educating students at Coronado High School, this proposal to switch to a 4×4 schedule should be delayed or abandoned.

With Serious Concern,

A Unanimous History/Social Studies Department (With 142 Years of Collective Teaching Experience)

Nathan Aldworth (21 Years)
Davin Heaphy (33 Years)
Tamara O’Brien (30 Years)
Ian Silverman (21 Years)
Casey Tanaka (22 Years)
Joseph South (15 Years)

Science Department

Dear Coronado Unified School District Board,

The Coronado High School Science Department respectfully requests that the new School Board immediately reconsider the decision to switch to a 4 x 4 schedule for the 2021-2022 school year, and add an agenda item to the next CUSD Board meeting. Below are some of our concerns as they relate to student success in Science classes:

Inter-period student exhaustion and mental processing.

Science classes are cross-discipline by nature. Students must read, write, make use of math, as well as assimilate the specific content information. In the best moments, students are guided to use higher-order thinking skills: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Not only is this demanding work for students,  this is tiring work, specifically for the non-AP track students. Most students can’t sustain this for a 90-minute period, 5-days per week.

90-minute periods are crushing for students with special needs.

We are concerned that students who need reinforcement to learn new material will struggle with the pace demanded to acquire the knowledge needed to be successful in a 4×4 model. All content must be covered in a shorter amount of time and in less depth (15-20% shorter than current). Peer-reviewed studies show that students who cover major topics in depth (defined as one month or longer) in high school science classes earn higher grades in college science classes.


A major concern is the lack of time we will have to build relationships with students. Science can be a challenging subject to learn. Building personal relationships with students is what can help them get through the toughest content. We spend months getting to know each of our ~150 students. Creating these relationships takes months. Each day we strive to get to know each student while also guiding them through Science content. Students truly seem to feel comfortable in January or February. If we switch to a 4 x 4 schedule, these important relationships, which are always noted as a strength of our school site, will not be as easily built and students will be negatively impacted.

Four classes per term actually reduces student course flexibility.

Although students may take up to 8 classes per year with the 4 x 4 schedule, they will be limited in the number of AP classes they can take yearly. Due to the massive amount of content covered in AP (college level) courses, the vast majority of these classes will only be offered once per year, in the fall. Currently students can currently enroll in 5 or 6 AP classes and interact with the content over an 8-month period. In the 4 x 4 schedule, students can take 4 AP classes and will have only 4-months to meaningfully learn the content. Most importantly, the class would end 3-months before the AP exam (only offered in May), meaning students will be evaluated on whether they earn college credit for a course they finished months prior.

Thank you for addressing our valid concerns about the proposed schedule change by adding this as a future agenda item.


Bill Lemei – 21 years of teaching experience
Nicole Belong – 17 years
Amanda Vanasse – 16 years
Karoly Tippets – 16 years
Luke Bernardy – 7 years
Nandi Devan – 7 years

Math Department

Dear Coronado Unified School District Board Trustees and Superintendent Mueller,

The CHS Math Department requests that the Board immediately reconsider their plan to move to the 4×4 schedule.  We believe such a move will negatively impact student learning and achievement:

  1. The CPM curriculum used has 3 underlying principles, one of which is “practice with concepts and procedures should be spaced over time; that is, mastery comes over time”. Students simply cannot cover twice as many standards in a 90-minute block as they can in 2 45-minute periods.  Not only are we losing >20 hours of instruction time per course, we also are hindered by our student’s ability to master those concepts so quickly.  Catherine Burling shared yesterday that our minutes will be reduced by 15% per course.  This is in addition to the lack of efficiency of the block scheduling.
  2. Our last WASC report commended CHS teachers on the relationships they have with their students. It takes time to develop relationships, build trust, and get to know the personalities and needs of all of our students.  Under the 4×4, we will have less than half the time to build those connections.
  3. High risk students may have more opportunity to repeat courses, but we are afraid that these students will also fail at higher rates because they won’t be able to keep up with such a fast pace. Last year we piloted an E-Period support class that showed tremendous promise; approximately 50% of the students were able to pass second semester AND be successful the following year.  These students were scaffolded and supported and finished the year without the need to repeat the course.  Sadly, this course was not offered this year and will not be feasible in the 4×4.  These students will be forced into the undesirable fail/repeat cycle.
  4. While we applaud the Board directive of wanting to increase opportunities for more choices for students, in fact next year students will have FEWER math classes since Honors IM2 and IM3 will no longer be offered. Creating a master schedule under 4×4 in such a small school is difficult.  Secondly, we have asked that freshman math be a year-long course (which is done in some schools) so that younger students receive a good foundation before experiencing gaps of time between courses and this proposal was not considered.
  5. CHS has a high percentage of students associated with the military who come from traditional scheduling. Transfer students will be difficult to place if they arrive mid-term and have missed too much content to smoothly transition.

We request that the 4×4 schedule be put on the next Board Agenda, so that all concerned stakeholders (students, parents, teachers) can have the opportunity to discuss this impact.


The CHS Math Department (138 combined years of high school teaching experience):

Sandra Davis (30 years)
Dianne Chrisman  (30 years)
Michelle Walker (24 years)
Nancy McGreevy (29 years)
Elizabeth Castillo (10 years)
Sean Castillo (9 years)
Dante Thomas (6 years)

Fine Arts Department

Dear Coronado Unified School District Board Trustees and Superintendent Mueller,

The Coronado High School Fine Arts Department respectfully request of the Board an immediate reconsideration of the plan to move to a 4×4 schedule. Following are some of our department’s foremost concerns as they relate to student success in the visual arts at Coronado High School under a 4×4 block schedule:

(Art Specific Concerns)

  • The watering down of projects, attention span limitations, and LESS PROJECTS per term than in a regular year-long schedule: For example, in clay and wood work, projects take a specific amount of time to cut, glue, dry, glaze and fire. In two-dimensional artwork, the same limitations present themselves in countless ways. You can’t speed up an adhesive. It takes the time it takes, period. Furthermore, either due to attention span limitations or the watering down of material, learning is likely to be less efficient in intensive blocks (especially in classes such as math and science—see Bateson’s study).
  • Lack of mastery of art skills built up through consistent and daily/year-long exposure to visual art and the practical applications grown therein over a sustained period of time: For example, the AP Studio Art portfolio that is submitted to the college board is based solely on the student artists’ “sustained investigation that shows evidence of practice, experimentation, and revision over time.” Much like the portfolio required for entrance and acceptance into university art departments, the AP Studio Art exam seeks evidence of a sustained investigation that demonstrates a depth and breadth that can only be achieved by concentrating on a specific idea over an extended period of time (to include all of the years prior it took to build the skills required of a “sustained investigation” in the first place).
  • The continuity effect and creating art portfolios for college entrance and AP Studio Art: Complications in 4×4 scheduling and long gaps between courses doesn’t allow for the crucial continuity and studio time needed in the fall to create a portfolio for college apps by the December deadlines, nor does it allow for any teacher/student mentoring therein. For example, there is currently no AP Studio Art or Portfolio Art course offered for the upcoming fall term (due to the limited number of classes we can offer in a 4×4 in a school of our size) and therefore no teacher guidance built into the student’s day. Furthermore, this gives AP Studio Art students little over three months to complete a sustained investigation in the Spring term, which is virtually the opposite of a “sustained investigation.”
  • Mixing class levels is not the answer: The studies and our past practice show that mixing levels is not the answer. For example, in the case where seniors must develop a portfolio by December and/or AP students need the studio hours/mentor time built into their school day in the fall but have no other option other than to enroll in a beginning art course and work independently while the instructor is teaching said course, though it is better than nothing, it is clear they will get no attention when mixed with lower level classes. It’s not ideal for either the beginning students or the upper levels.
  • Retention issues, compromised skill-building and momentum: Development of technical skills will be lost in the long gaps of time between taking a beginning level art course and advanced level classes—for example, a literal and figurative drawing and painting muscle is slowly and painstakingly built up over an extended period of time and the technique gained will, in great part, be compromised in the gaps (the muscle gets flabby, if you will—it’s like three steps forward, two steps back). Additionally, without the daily exposure to peer feedback and a collective studio inspired practice, the momentum to continue their exploration in the arts is at risk.
  • “One and done”: Enrollment in electives such as visual art often declines when students are forced to decide between academic and enrichment classes. Furthermore, waiting so long in between beginning and advanced classes can dissuade students from pursuing a longer-term exploration in the arts (speaking to the momentum factor), and not knowing whether or not you want to take an advanced class second term because you haven’t even taken the beginning class yet (slated for the first term) causes a conundrum of sorts, given students must decide on their schedules the year before.
  • Absences due to illness will be extremely stressful on the already compromised health and wellness of our students: Students who miss art classes will miss one-time art demonstrations and instructional lab time that they can’t get back—combine that with no open studio hours now offered after school or at lunch, getting caught up becomes an overwhelming if not seemingly impossible task when coupled with the urgency of their academic load.
  • Great concerns that our uniquely special 25-year-long tradition of building art installations and murals on campus and in the community will die under the constraints of a one term course. Virtually every permanent large-scale artwork on the campus of Coronado High School has taken a full year to design, execute and create. This pertains as well to community art events such as the beloved Chalk Walk and Black Box exhibits that require a complex network of preparing, planning, and scheduling to pull off—they are a year-in-the-making events that will become prohibitive under the constraints of a 4×4.
  • CONNECTIONS! CONNECTIONS! CONNECTIONS! Currently students make contact with a minimum of six adults outside their household every week for the entire school year at CHS. This means 1) more eyes on the students who may be in need of some kind of extra support who could otherwise and easily slip through the cracks and 2) more time to build those very special teacher/student connections that CHS grows so beautifully! In a 4×4 students will have three teachers at a time for half the year—you do the math (and even if a student and teacher are fortunate enough to forge a meaningful connection in that short of a time frame, in spite of the anecdotal evidence showing otherwise, the student then moves to another course second term and loses that support).

THE TAKE-AWAY: While purporting to give students more course options and increased depth of study, it appears 4×4 block scheduling does neither, especially in a school of our size. There is no data to support the claims that students learn more with block scheduling, and it appears the majority of our students are still opting for 6 classes nonetheless. The only clear advantages of block scheduling accrue mostly to administrators and teachers; but the complex issues of course options and scheduling, the continuity effect, the enormous burst of burden on students who simply catch a seasonal flu or worse yet transfer midterm (such as our military students), the lack of opportunity for student mastery over time, student workloads and the extreme challenge of compressing AP courses into a few months, the impact on our decades-long tradition of building and celebrating beautiful art on campus, and compromising the depth of our teacher/student connections…to what end?

LET THIS GENERATION OF STUDENTS EXHALE and experience a sense of well-being and equilibrium again in their high school experience before throwing them into yet another unprecedented stressor! What they and their families have experienced occurs every one-hundred years–they’ve earned the exhale, all of them.


The Fine Arts at Coronado High School and The Coronado School of the Arts (106 combined years of teaching experience):

Laura Hill (28 years)
Anna Woerman (12 years)
Kelly Telebrico  (12 years)
Karrie Jackson (18 years)
Ken Heskestad  (15 years)
Riana Bucceri  (21 years)

English Department

Dear Board Members:

Thank you for your support of our work.

We acknowledge the board’s decision to move to a 4×4 schedule for the 2021/22 school year. We oppose the plan to adopt a 4×4 schedule for the 2021-2022 school year because of the lack of adequate planning and a concern for students’ and teachers’ social-emotional health as we emerge from a year of distance learning.

It has been insufficiently demonstrated to us that the benefits of moving to a 4×4 schedule will outweigh the disruption to the established, successful curricula offered across departments at CHS. Our ability to connect with, challenge, and champion our students has consistently been applauded by WASC.

Pacing a year’s worth of curriculum into a semester will require time and careful planning. This move requires a substantial overhaul of tried-and-true instructional practices and assessments.

  • Adapting to distance learning, hybrid learning, and concurrent content delivery has consumed all available professional development time this year. The close of this school year will certainly bring more changes and needed adjustments. We are proud that we have remained effective in roles that have dramatically and persistently changed over the past year.
  • We are stretched thin. You have been dealing with the unpredictability and personal and professional stressors of the global pandemic. So, too, have we. To effectively transition to the new learning conditions of a 4×4 schedule, we need not only time and resources, but an emotional energy that will take some time to restore after this year of unremitting challenges.
  • We can see that the move to 4×4 rests as much on business principles as it does pedagogical ones. Of course it is the business of the Board to run the district prudently, but dismantling a successful structure in order to economize is imprudent.

As educators, we want to be able to stand behind this change in learning conditions. We want to feel sure of its legitimacy. We would want to plan for it meaningfully and completely.

Waiting until the 2022-2023 school year to proceed with further schedule shifts would allow us to meaningfully teach and support our students through the current pandemic and any changes to come.


The English Department:

Jean Pehrsson, Scott Dwinell, Heather Bice, Tam Hoang, Josh Chao, Matt Stoever, and Amanda White

Special Education Department

Dear Coronado Unified School District Board Trustees and Superintendent Mueller,

The Coronado High School Special Education Department respectfully requests that the new School Board immediately reconsider the decision to switch to a 4 x 4 schedule for the 2021-2022 school year, and add an agenda item to the next CUSD Board meeting. Below are some of our concerns as they relate to the success of students who need special education services:

4×4 class scheduling is not best for student support classes.

With a move to a 4×4 schedule, students who currently receive special education services in the context of a Study Skills class will face a challenging choice: the option of attending their support class for one term (half of the year) for a similar number of minutes as they are currently receiving, condensed into one term OR effectively doubling their service minutes and time away from general education peers by attending Study Skills for both semesters. The former choice is what students will be automatically enrolled into unless an IEP meeting is held. Currently, when a student is enrolled in Study Skills for their entire high school career, it takes up 16% of their class schedule. In the new schedule, when a student is enrolled in Study Skills for their entire high school career, it will take up 25% of their class schedule. If a student has goals related to their behavior, self management, emotional regulation, or work completion, it is not clear how services will be provided to meet these goals if the student is enrolled in Study Skills for only half of the year. If a Special Education teacher is co-teaching an English and Math course, this leaves only one section of Study Skills available per term, which could increase the number of students per section significantly. The special education department drafted a creative year-long class schedule for Study Skills to address all of the above concerns; however, that plan was rejected without another alternative proposed.

90 minute block periods are likely to decrease students’ opportunities for inclusion.

Students with disabilities are entitled to the opportunity to participate with their general education peers to the extent possible. Historically, our students with moderate-severe disabilities have taken up to three classes during a semester outside of the self-contained special education environment. Students with the same ability level will now have fewer opportunities each semester to take a variety of general education courses. Unfortunately, none of the students in our current moderate-severe class currently have the endurance to remain in a block period with their peers; in our current schedule, this means that many students are missing out on opportunities for general education inclusion. The current students that are participating in one period of general education are spending 14% of their day in general education, and with the schedule change, they would immediately be expected to spend 25% of their day in general education. Expecting students to adjust their abilities to meet the needs of the schedule is unrealistic and not in the best interest of students.

The 4×4 schedule is not best for students who have executive functioning challenges, poor health, or mental health needs.

We are concerned that students who have challenges with executive functioning (attention, organization, planning) will not be able to maintain attention and focus in four daily 90 minute blocks. Our current schedule (2020-2021) allows students the opportunity for a varied schedule throughout the week, giving them days to break from their most challenging classes, and a 30 minute break in between each block. In previous years’ schedules, before adding in extended breaks between classes, students expressed how challenging block days could be if there was no break embedded during class. The catch-22 is that adding additional breaks during class time further takes away from time spent on learning the class content (time that is already reduced by 15-20% in a 4×4 schedule). Additionally, absences due to health or mental health are common for students in special education programs. Each day a student misses will be like missing two typical school days. If a student returns from a weeklong hospitalization for mental health concerns, they will return to an overwhelming workload. Students with physical and mental health concerns often need additional time to build relationships with their teachers, and the 4×4 schedule will give them only a few months to feel comfortable sharing their physical or emotional needs with a teacher.

Thank you for addressing our concerns about the proposed schedule change by adding this as a future agenda item. We are happy to provide specific student data supporting our assertions upon request.


Katie Quinly (Co-Department Chair, 10 years experience)
Dana O’Connor (Co-Chair, CHS Teacher of the Year 20-21, 9 years experience)
Brooke Scott (CHS Teacher of the Year 19-20, 14 years experience)
Aaron Brooks (10 years experience)

Department of World Languages

Dear Coronado Unified School Board Members,

We, the undersigned instructors of the Department of World Languages at Coronado High School, have concerns regarding the proposed shift to a 4×4 schedule for the 2021-2022 school year. It is our belief that this change will have a detrimental impact on our language learners.  The focus of this letter, then, will be to illuminate specific issues most relevant to the World Language Department.

First, with the switch to the proposed 4×4 schedule, every course currently offered at CHS will be shortened, and will end up with approximately 15% less minutes. (This data point was published by the high school administration). There are two primary ways to address this loss of course minutes. One is simply to cut out portions of the curriculum. With most of our academic courses, however, State standards must be covered, so the curriculum cannot be trimmed. In these cases, we will be forced to load the students up with even more independent learning and, yes, more homework.  We will need to set a pace significantly faster than our students are accustomed to, and we will have less class time for guided practice, and one-one-one interaction, both of which are critical for successful language acquisition.

Second, under the proposed 4×4 schedule, where all class periods will span 90-minutes, there will be a measurable loss of class-time efficiency. Adolescents maintain better focus and learn more efficiently when working within shorter learning blocks. Within our existing schedule, most of the class periods are only 53 minutes in duration.

This negative impact on efficiency, coupled with the loss of course minutes is so profound, in fact, that many of the high schools who have made this transition to a 4×4 found themselves forced to add to their World Language programs at least one if not two, full-length courses. Whereas once these schools could cover the pre-A.P. curriculum in just three courses (as we currently do at CHS), language students are now needing to take at least four or five courses to be adequately prepared for success within the A.P. Language class. How many of our young language learners will be dissuaded by these additional requirements, and will end up deciding not to go all the way through to our A.P.-level courses?

Many of us educators at Coronado High School have dedicated our professional lives to being part of this Islander Community. We are our students’ most loyal advocates, and we are unwaveringly committed to support them as they grow and develop into whole, balanced, emotionally healthy, and academically-prepared young adults.

To this end, we urgently request of the Coronado Unified School Board that you reconsider the pre-pandemic decision to transition our high school to a 4×4 schedule for the 2021-2022 academic year, and that you open this topic up for discussion.

Thank you for your consideration,


Smoky Bayless (33 years at CHS)
Steve Merrill (25 years)
Mia Bertelsen (23 years)
Cynthia Gifford (8 years)

Physical Education Department

To the Students and Parents of Coronado High School,

The Physical Education Department of Coronado High School has the following concerns when it comes to our curriculum and transitioning to a 4X4 schedule.

  • As a department we have had no professional development to date on how to implement Physical Education/Health curriculum in this model.
  • We worry about what we should cut out of our curriculum, especially in our Fitness for Life (9th grade) class. The class deals with a basic fitness curriculum but also health topics that include: mental health, drugs, sex education, and nutrition. Along with the state mandate of 400 minutes of physical activity every two weeks it will be impossible to fit in the curriculum we are currently covering.
  • These “heavier” topics are much more successful when taught after the instructor knows the students better which happens over time.
  • Issues with Facilities and where our classes will go along with Middle School classes.


Robin Nixon
Jeff Beckley


CUSD Update: Teachers, Students Push Back on 4×4 Schedule; Special Meeting Set for May 4th

Managing Editor
Managing Editor
Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is happy to call Coronado home and to have raised her children here. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising, trying new restaurants, and just walking her dog around the "island." Have news to share? Send tips or story ideas to: [email protected]