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Bemidji school board discusses possible high school schedule changes

The possible adjustment of Bemidji High School’s block schedule was the lone topic of a special work session on Wednesday between the Bemidji school board and BHS Principal Jason Stanoch.

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Bemidji High School (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- The possible adjustment of Bemidji High School’s block schedule was the lone topic of a special work session on Wednesday between the Bemidji school board and BHS Principal Jason Stanoch.

Being a work session, no formal action was taken with regards to adjusting the current four-period block schedule, which has been in place for 26 years. The two possible options discussed were a five-period or six-period school day.

Stanoch walked through the logistics of the current four-period block schedule and compared it to a hypothetical five and six-period schedule. The model comparison took into account several factors including teacher workload, start and end times, food service and transportation with the key factor being budgeting.

Many of the other factors were highlighted before the potential cost savings of making a switch, the sole reason a scheduling change is being considered in the first place. This was in response to the failed second attempt at a referendum levy increase in November and follows the district's first consideration of adjusting the block schedule back in January after the first referendum failed in November 2020.

"I want to talk about the budget. I mean, that's why we're talking about (potential scheduling changes) right now," board member Jeff Lind said. "With regards to our budget, I'd like to know where the savings would come from."

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District Human Resources Director Jordan Hickman detailed that anywhere from half to three-quarters of a million dollars could be saved even with one extra class each day. The cost savings would result from discontinuing internal staff overloads with classes above the recommended enrollment limits, and not needing to hire as many part-time staff members.

However, the five-period schedule would also require more money to pay substitute teachers needing to teach for 75-minute classes as opposed to 60-minute classes for the six-period schedule.

Comparing teacher workload using examples of 35-student classes, the current four-period schedule would have a teacher in control of around 105 students. In a five-period, they would teach 140 students, a possible 33% increase per day. For a six-period, they would teach 170 students as a 67% increase in student load.

With no way of knowing what enrollment will look like in the coming years, Lind emphasized that the budget will ultimately drive the class sizes and that there's no surefire way to know how much these adjustments will help the district's budget shortfall simply through talking hypotheticals.

As a trade-off to increased teacher workload and regarding the five-period schedule, board member Sarah Young asked how significant class size reductions would be, a metric that will be more closely examined at upcoming board meetings and work sessions.

Young also brought up student workload, saying, "I think the student input is really important in this discussion especially with the differences that could come with their homework load."

This was a "con" listed for the six-period schedule, along with the increased number of transitions being a safety risk for students added to the fact that a lack of staff would also lead to a lack of supervision between classes.

The six-period schedule would replicate what Bemidji Middle School currently uses, though lunch breaks would be made more difficult since the high school requires a four-lunch system.

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Being the first work session in their second go at possible scheduling changes, many details are yet to be ironed out and more discussion will follow at the Dec. 20 regular board meeting and future meetings.

Regarding an implementation timeline, any changes would be made starting with the 2023-2024 school year with following years reserved for any other adjustments and evaluation. The four-period block schedule will remain through at least the 2022-2023 school year.

Changes made would also be reflected at the Bemidji Area Education Center, Lumberjack High School, First City School and Lakeside Learning Center.

Weighing the costs and benefits, board members left the meeting seemingly in agreement that the five-period schedule would be the best alternative.

"This is the fifth or sixth time in my 19 years in the district that (scheduling changes) have been discussed," Hickman said in closing. "The five-period schedule is the best option I've seen. It would save a lot of good things in the schools, help create a better schedule for those not functioning at the college level. I'm impressed."

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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