Editor’s note (5/07/21): 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).
The Coronado School Board met on Tuesday May 4th at 5pm at District Offices, located at 201 Sixth Street, for a special meeting of the board regarding the highly controversial 4×4 bell schedule. The schedule, which was approved by the board 5-0 in an open session of the May 2020 meeting, was once again green-lighted for a fall 2021 rollout in a 3-2 vote.
According to school administrators, the schedule was designed to expand college and career readiness, increase equitable access to opportunities, allow for remediation and acceleration, and to allow students to more readily access A-G requirements for UC admissions.
Trustee Esther Valdez-Clayton, who voted to keep the 4×4 in place, explained that her decision came down to educational equity. She expressed that many Coronado High School students aren’t competitive for college admissions without spending extra money and taking classes outside of current CHS offerings.
“Why not give every child, every day, that opportunity to be challenged at school, and provide them the maximum array of educational opportunities at this school district?” said Valdez-Clayton. “I want this for all of your kids … and to see that every child has good equitable educational access, now, immediately. Let’s not delay that.”
Two CHS graduates wrote in and shared that CHS students aren’t afforded many of the same opportunities as students in other schools, and they had to leave the campus in order to gain these experiences. 2017 CHS grad and current Harvard student Owen Schafer said that, in order to stay competitive for college admissions, he had to enroll in additional coursework outside of CHS.
“It was surprising to arrive at college and meet a host of students who had already taken other courses that were not available to me, like advanced economics, environmental science and accounting to name a few. I often wondered how many other students from CHS would have gotten into top schools if they’d had those same opportunities,” said Schafer.
But many teachers, students, and parents strongly opposed the plan, and some said it would be downright harmful. In fact, six of the eight in-person speakers and 25 of the 33 write-in comments were against the 4×4 plan. A concerned parent, Steve Rauber, even started a website voicing concerns against the plan, www.4x4coronado.com
“If this is such a good idea, it should be easy to sell,” said Rauber. “I believe people are against it because it’s not a good fit for our kids, or for Coronado… The public puts a tremendous amount of trust in the board to do what is right for all students. Don’t violate or erode that trust when there is so much opposition from parents, students and teachers. Once you lose that trust you will never get it back.”
Several teachers spoke out against the schedule, claiming it would be detrimental to most students, and that they themselves felt disrespected and that their voices had been “stifled.”
“CHS teachers were never invited or able to share our qualifications or our body of knowledge,” says Heather Bice, a veteran teacher of 14 years. “To date, no research-based instructional practices, models or programs have been provided to CHS teachers in preparation for a schedule change of this magnitude in the fall.”
Other teachers expressed dismay in regards to how the 4×4 schedule would affect special education students, who might not have the capacity to sit through 90 minute-long classes.
“I’ve been asked to write sustained attention goals for my students,” said Katherine Quinly, CHS Special Education teacher. “This is asking the students to meet the needs of the schedule, instead of the schedule meeting the needs of my students.”
Dana O’Connor, Special Education Teacher and Co-Chair of the Special Education Department, cited an extreme lack of communication and collaboration to ensure that special education student needs would be met.
Smokey Bayless, CHS grad and longtime foreign language teacher, said that using a 4×4 schedule to address the high number of D and F grades was like “hiring a bulldozer” to demolish the school instead of coming to an appropriate solution. He called the decision-making process “disgraceful” with zero stake-holder collaboration or buy-in, and said that teachers felt “stomped on” and “suffocated.” He also questioned the social emotional impact of forcing a 4×4 plan on the students.
“I want to compete with the other schools, but not when it comes to suicide,” he said. “I ask Karl Mueller to stop this train wreck before it causes more damage to our collective health and harms our students.”
Former school board member Lou Smith spoke on behalf of the 4×4 plan, sharing that the board was discussing this plan more than three years ago. He expressed dismay that teachers, students, and parents were taken by surprise.
“Three years ago, we were talking about the 4×4 all the time,” said Smith. “So, when I hear people say, I didn’t know this was going on, I say, golly, where were you?”
Former board member Maria Simon, who approved the plan in May 2020, said she was surprised at some community reactions to the 4×4, and said that the plan was the result of thought exchanges with the parent community that wanted extended opportunities in the arts, STEM, and more course offerings at the high school level.
“It frankly stuns me that there are people who think 4×4 is some dumb, hair-brained idea that just got dumped on the high school staff for no reason,” said Simon. “It’s not, and it wasn’t. It’s a strategic part of a student-centered vision for higher academic achievement for all Coronado students.”
Simon said that bell schedules have already been changed at the elementary schools and middle schools to accommodate for more learning in these pathways, and that now change needs to happen at the high school level.
“We don’t have to be the best high school in the county, but we do have to be the best high school for Coronado students, who deserve a level playing field,” she said. “We are losing ground compared to other schools in the county. And it saddens me that teachers are telling students they can’t do this. They can.”
Two military parents wrote in, speaking out in favor of the plan, and sharing that the military school liaison would amend scheduling snafus for students moving mid-year, and that the new schedule actually helps military kids use their benefits when applying to UC schools. This was a subject that CHS Principal Shane Schmeichel and Vice Principal Katherine Burling addressed in their presentation to board members, following the public comments. They also addressed other points of contention regarding students with IEPs, CoSA students and AP students.
All board members, along with Superintendent Karl Mueller, admitted that the rollout was imperfect. Mueller expressed regret that he was unable to attend the last board meeting, which was also heated and contentious.
“I definitely honor the collective experience of our staff, and I regret that it has become such a divisive issue with our shareholders and school community,” said Mueller. “It is not an ‘us versus them’ scenario. [The plan] was intended to increase access to education to every child, every day.”
But not everyone was convinced. A motion to rescind the 4×4 bell schedule was made by Trustee Whitney Antrim, and seconded by Trustee Stacy Keszei.
“There are still more questions than answers right now, and I can still not escape the nagging sense that this is not the best for CUSD right now,” said Antrim. “We haven’t had consistent leadership and encouragement and the enforcement to guide this process… none of our students should be the guinea pigs in this experiment.”
She also expressed concern about the “toxic” environment for teachers and students.
“The divisive, condescending tone and bullying from the top down is a problem,” she said. “The mistakes have to stop, if we are going to turn around and build trust, and give students the environment that they deserve.”
Keszei expressed that she thought the 4×4 bell schedule was “fantastic” but she wasn’t pleased with the rollout when it came to transparency and building trust with teachers, students, and community members.
“There are some concerns with this program. The San Diego County Office of Education told us what NOT to do,” said Keszei, in reference to how a 4×4 bell schedule should be implemented. “And we did it. We made all the mistakes.”
Finally, after almost five hours, it came down to a final vote on whether or not to rescind the 4×4 bell schedule. Antrim and Keszei voted to rescind the 4×4 bell schedule, while Pontes, Valdez-Clayton, and Anderson-Cruz voted against the motion.
“Now is the time to implement [the 4×4 bell schedule],” said Pontes. “We need to give our kids immediate access to all the things we have heard about tonight…equity, the A-G requirements, and remediation.”
Valdez-Clayton shared that educational equality is of upmost importance.
“We have a duty to provide public education that is equal and accessible to every child,” said Valdez-Clayton. “It should be accessible to remediate, and accelerate, initiate and plan, but within the walls of Coronado Unified School District.”
Dr. Anderson-Cruz said that, although she was not pleased with the rollout, and that trust with teachers needed to be rebuilt, the 4×4 was a plan that delivered “excellence in education and equality to all students,” and that “kids come first.”
“There’s never a good time for change,” said Anderson-Cruz. “I am in favor of the scheduling for learning, and not for convenience. I, like Valdez-Clayton, have to separate the process from the program. I make my decision on what I think is best for the kids, and emphasize the need for collaboration and respect for our teachers… we have heard your voices.”
Community members are urged to watch the board meeting in its entirety at this link: