Fairfield district proposes middle school block schedule
FAIRFIELD — The town’s middle schools may switch to a block schedule next year.
Staff are proposing a new middle school schedule for next year that would double the length of classes and have them meet every other day, rather than daily. This would mirror the high school schedule, which switched to block periods in 2015 to largely positive feedback.
District leadership argues that a block schedule would create necessary time for specialized learning and reduce time wasted on transitions and homeroom. Some teachers, meanwhile, are concerned that these blocks are too long for middle schoolers’ attention spans and would sacrifice important daily contact with students.
The block schedule takes the traditional eight, 44-minute periods each day and turns them into four, 88-minute blocks that meet every other day. By removing 143 annual hours of between-class transitions and homeroom, the schedule creates room for an additional 44-minute period everyday for intervention and enrichment.
This intervention/enrichment period would contain targeted educational programs that are currently missing from the middle school schedule, Schools Superintendent Mike Cummings said at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
“The schedule that we have in place struggles to meet the learning needs of our students,” Cummings said.
The district spent a year studying possible changes to the 20-year-old middle school schedule. Through input from community members, feedback from high schoolers and visits to other districts, staff determined that a block schedule was the best way to meet the educational goals of the district.
“We feel strongly that to do justice to the curriculum that we have at the middle level and to meet [Fairfield’s] standards, we need time, dedicated time, with [students] everyday where they can spend time on a content area, digging deep,” explained Fairfield Woods principal Gary Rosato.
Staff said that, if implemented, they would develop a comprehensive professional development plan to ensure that all teachers are prepared to adjust to a block schedule.
“We need to make sure that teachers have all of the training that they need to feel comfortable to do this transformation to a block schedule, and do it right,” said Tomlinson Principal Anthony Formato.
Even with professional development, however, some teachers are skeptical of a block schedule.
Frank Sahagian, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Fairfield Woods, voiced concerns about middle schoolers being unable to focus through 88 minutes of class and the lack of clarity about what would go into the intervention/enrichment period, which runs the risk of turning into a wasteful study hall.
Woods sixth-grade Spanish teacher Jane Vigliotti added that for many courses such as world languages, daily practice is key to maintaining and growing skills. Additionally, she noted, the block period would make absences more costly, with students missing more content per day when out.
Woods music teacher Jeff Desrosier lamented that the block schedule would reduce the time allotted for music class, a valuable part of the middle school curriculum.
Among concerns that teacher voices haven’t been adequately included in the decision-making process, the Fairfield Education Association administered a survey to middle school staff last month.
According to Sahagian, the 186 responses to the survey showed that only 14 percent of teachers were in favor of implementing the change next year, while 31 percent were fully against it.
The rest of the respondents fell somewhere in the middle, with 15 percent saying they were in favor of the change but did not think they’d be ready for the next school year, and 40 percent saying they were still open to a change but had too many unanswered questions.
FEA President Bob Smoler said this mixed bag of reactions demonstrated the level of uncertainty towards a block schedule, and that they will need more details before determining whether it is something teachers can fully support.
“We are cautiously optimistic about what is to come, but we are very, very concerned that this be implemented with fidelity,” Smoler said. “It’s too early to say whether this is something that teachers can be enthusiastic about.”
The district will present a fuller implementation plan, including budgetary impacts, to the Board of Education in January.