The Governing Board of the Coronado Unified School District met at District Offices on Thursday, April 15th, for their regularly scheduled board meeting. The bulk of the meeting – which was long and contentious – centered on pushback from teachers, students, and community members regarding the 4×4 bell schedule set to launch in fall of 2021.
Editor’s note (4/21/21): A 4×4 schedule allows students to take 4 classes per semester and up to 8 classes per year (verses 6-8 classes at one time over the course of a year. More details from CUSD in this short video).
According to previous reports from Megan Battle, CUSD Director of Learning, the schedule was developed to expand college and career readiness, increase equitable access to opportunities, allow for remediation and acceleration opportunities, and to allow students to more readily access A-G requirements for UC admissions. According to school administrators, the 4×4 bell schedule was approved in a 5-0 vote in open session of a May 2020 school board meeting.
But many students, teachers, and community members aren’t supportive of the change, citing a lack of transparency, disregard of student and teacher involvement in the decision-making process, and concerns about student learning, achievement, and mental health. The negative perception and lack of teacher and student buy-in, according to teacher, student and parent comments, is related to students who take AP classes, students with special needs, military students, CoSA students, student athletes, and concern for the kids who have experienced stress and trauma related to the pandemic.
Below video bookmarked to play comments from Coronado teacher, Casey Tanaka:
Longtime Coronado High School teacher and city councilman Casey Tanaka expressed his “profound disappointment” in the “deliberate strategy” to leave teachers out of the decision-making process.
“The Coronado Unified School District is not a healthy or properly functioning school district as most Coronado High School teachers are concerned,” said Tanaka. “It’s ludicrous that teachers have had to beg and plead with this board to be heard.”
Tanaka shared that a 4×4 schedule would ultimately do more harm than good, and that the teachers at CHS see this new schedule as the effort to place the quantity of classes offered ahead of the value of high-quality, year-long instruction at a manageable pace for teachers and students. Tanaka referenced the 42 teachers from eight departments who signed letters voicing opposition to the 4×4 bell schedule in the March 31st issue of the Coronado Eagle Journal.
“If the 4×4 was such a great idea, there would be at least one academic department at CHS speaking in favor,” said Tanaka. “Instead, we are united in raising our voices to this board, and we urge you to stop being a rubber stamp to anything being proposed by your administrators.”
Below video bookmarked to play comments from Coronado teacher, Smoky Bayless:
Smoky Bayless, Spanish language teacher at CHS and 1984 grad, said that the school faculty has discussed the idea of a 4×4 schedule three times in 33 years, and each time they decided it did not fit the “unique needs” of Coronado, and called the fall implementation a “big surprise.”
Bayless said that the data supporting the 4×4 schedule is 15 to 24 years old, and the teachers had “zero” input on the schedule. He cited recent survey results that only 6% of CHS teachers feel that the 4×4 bell schedule adoption was made collaboratively and transparently with input from all stakeholders.
“There was no participation, no collaboration, and no buy-in,” said Bayless. “This process was not honorable, honest or transparent and shows a complete disregard for the value of our opinions and our concerns and in-depth knowledge of our students’ needs.”
Below video bookmarked to play comments from Coronado teacher, Nicole Belong:
According to a recent survey, 76% of CHS students are against the new schedule, and CHS teacher and ASB advisor Nicole Belong said it was “concerning” that students are worried.
“Our students are our most important stakeholders,” said Belong. “That’s why we are all here. For us not to think about their concerns…that is concerning to me.”
Student Zoe Searles said, “The student body has spoken…this alone should lead to re-evaluation.”
Below video bookmarked to play presentation by Assistant Principal Catherine Burling and Principal Shane Schmeichel:
Coronado High School Principal Shane Schmeichel, who shared a presentation outlining the 4×4 implementation with Assistant Principal Catherine Burling, touted the plan’s virtues, including increased flexibility and the ability to provide opportunities for remediation and acceleration to expand college readiness.
“As you have heard this evening, the bell schedule change process was not perfect,” said Schmeichel. “We had hoped for more widespread and organic buy in … [but] this is where the process has landed, because it does maximize opportunities for students.”
Schmeichel said that contrary to how the staff has seen the process, there has been opportunity for teacher involvement.
“We, the administrators of Coronado High School care about the teachers,” said Schmeichel. “And we want them to feel supported. Our job is to work with them as a team to make changes that will be good for the students.”
In response to a question from board member Dr. Helen Anderson-Cruz about the effect of the schedule on special needs students, Schmeichel said that staying in classes for longer durations actually benefits students who struggle with executive functioning, as they are not shifting classroom environments, and this increases their socio-emotional capacity. He said the schools who have previously employed a 4×4 schedule actually saw a reduction of students needing extra help.
When asked by board member Esther Valdez-Clayton whether or not this was the best time to implement a 4×4 plan for faculty and staff, given that students and teachers are still reeling from the effects of the global pandemic, Schmeichel did not hesitate.
“I can’t imagine going backwards,” said Schmeichel. “I can tell you from my experience with the 4×4, [when it was implemented] my students improved, my instruction improved … My personal and professional opinion is that transitioning to the 4×4 will be good for our students. Can we master a 4×4? Yes.”
Board member Whitney Antrim expressed concern in regards to lack of enthusiasm for the plan.
“How do we force people to do it that are adamantly opposed, after a pandemic, when students are suffering from depression, anxiety, and fear…with teachers that don’t want to be doing it?” she asked.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of the meeting followed when board president Lee Pontes got out of his seat to “say his piece” at the speaker’s podium.
Below video bookmarked to play comments from President of the school board, Lee Pontes:
“I haven’t slept well in two weeks,” he said. “It makes me quite ill to have to stand up here, and get through this tonight. It anguishes me to hear their discontent … We’ve had a lot of push back, some rightfully so. Whatever miscommunications we’ve had to this point, I feel terrible how strongly you feel your words weren’t listened to.”
Pontes asserted that, when it comes to how the schedule change will impact the students, the effects would be minor, as the seniors are graduating, the freshmen are coming from CMS, and the sophomores are coming off a COVID schedule.
“Are they [the students] really indoctrinated into the old schedule? So, who is this going to impact? The juniors … they will take the brunt of it, and the teachers because they are going to have to change they way they teach.”
Pontes later alluded to the idea that if the teachers hadn’t voiced their concerns with the student body, the students might not be so adamantly opposed. Referring to the teachers, Pontes said, “Either the resistance needs to stop, or you go work somewhere else.”
According to Pontes, the 4×4 schedule, which appears to have been executed successfully at other top-performing high schools, is the schedule used by Canyon Crest Academy, a highly-ranked school in the San Dieguito school district. (Coronado Superintendent Karl Mueller was principal of this school from 2004-2007.) Canyon Crest appears to outperform Coronado High School, according to published reports.
“The kids from Canyon Crest, when it comes to student achievement, I hate to say it, they eat our kids’ lunch,” said Pontes. “Every year, year after year.”
Pontes said there’s only one reason this school outperforms Coronado.
“Do they have better facilities? Do they have better teachers, are their parents more supportive than our parents? Do they have better textbooks than our kids have?” he said, “Nope. But they have a 4×4.”
Pontes said that Coronado is Mueller’s “first love” and that he and other senior administrators would leave if the schedule change does not come to fruition.
“Karl came here with the desire to make this the best district in San Diego,” said Pontes. “Where is Karl tonight? We got an email saying he isn’t well. I don’t know if he is in a hospital bed. I don’t know if he’s on a beach in Hawaii. But I can tell you one thing…he’s looking at want ads.”
Anderson-Cruz, who has a PhD on education, was asked to weigh in. She indicated that when the board examined the idea of a 4×4 schedule, everyone was on board and they were “cheerleaders” for the program. But she said the district fell short on implementation.
“Clearly, from the research I have, under ‘mistakes to avoid,’ it says a ‘flawed decision-making process,’” said Anderson-Cruz, quoting from a study on how to successfully implement a 4×4 schedule.
The research states, “Schools should convene a broad set of school and community stakeholders, examine the advantages and disadvantages of block versus traditional, and come to a consensus on what schedule is best for the school context.”
“I don’t think the push back is just the program, I think people are tired, I think it’s been a tough year, everybody has gone through so much, and stepped up to the plate when we asked them to do things that were very difficult,” said Anderson-Cruz. “More discussion is okay … but we need to get our teachers on board. The teachers need to believe this. I need to believe this isn’t going to harm children.”
Antrim said that the biggest problem the district has right now regarding the 4×4 is the failure to communicate.
“I think we have a chance to remedy it, and bring the parties together at the table,” said Antrim. “I don’t view it as caving, I view it as listening to our community and our families. This might be the right thing, but it has to be done with buy in.”
A special meeting is set on May 4th to discuss the potential delay of the 4×4 schedule.
“There’s a disconnect here, and we need to reconnect,” said Anderson-Cruz.