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Bemidji school board reviews schedule change, graduation requirements

Bemidji High School’s eventual transition to a five-period school day was one focus area at the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday.

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BEMIDJI — Bemidji High School’s eventual transition to a five-period school day was one focus area at the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday.

BHS Principal Jason Stanoch took some time to update the board on progress regarding the updating of district materials and other preparations being made ahead of the next school year.

Stanoch specifically detailed graduation requirements that will change each year up until 2027, citing a commitment to not punish students for credits they won’t be able to complete when the schedule changes part-way through their high school experience.

“A (BHS) student gets four years of education. It doesn’t get any larger (with the schedule change) and it doesn’t get any smaller,” Stanoch said. “So we looked at the instructional outcomes of how much we expect students to accomplish within their high school career.”

Stanoch referenced the current 28-32 model where BHS students have to pass 28 out of 32 credit attempts — or 87.5% — to receive a diploma.

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As the first class to be affected by the schedule change, the 2024 graduating class will need to pass 29 credits including 18.5 core required credits and 10.5 elective credits.

The 2025 class will need to attain 31 credits including 12.5 elective credits, and the 2026 class will need 33 credits including 14.5 elective credits.

Starting with the class of 2027, 35 out of 40 attempted credits will be required for graduation — the same 87.5% metric that’s observed presently. Personal Finance, currently offered as an elective class, will also be required for graduation starting with the 2027 class.

Lumberjack High School and the Alternative Education Center will not observe this same requirement nor follow the same credit load restructuring.

“Not wanting to punish students for this, we want to make sure that we’re equitable,” Superintendent Jeremy Olson said. “Those graduation credit requirements are changing each year as students have the opportunity to attain more credits with the five-period days.”

Stanoch noted the benefits and challenges of the new schedule. A couple of challenges include the reduction of BHS’ transitions between classes from seven minutes to five minutes and issues regarding supervision.

On the flip side, he cited a student’s increased choices for elective classes in high-interest subjects, lower class sizes that may come with additional sections and cutting costs by not needing to use overloads when a teacher has to teach during their prep period.

“That would be quite a weight off of our shoulders because having to implement overloads means a teacher is teaching all day versus being able to teach and have a prep time,” Stanoch added.

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The initial approval

The board initially approved the schedule change at a Feb. 3 special meeting as a cost-saving measure following the failure of two referendum attempts in November 2020 and November 2021.

No specific dollar amounts were discussed at Monday’s meeting, but former Superintendent Tim Lutz detailed in February that the district could see projected savings of $320,000 a year if the district made no additional staffing cuts.

At the February meeting, the board spoke in terms of full-time equivalents, or FTEs, which are a measure of an employee’s scheduled hours divided by the employer’s hours for a full-time workweek.

For example, a full-time employee working 40 hours a week would be a 1.0 FTE, while a part-time employee working 20 hours a week is a 0.5 FTE.

One FTE costs the district around $80,000 a year, with the potential $320,000 in savings coming from cutting four FTEs by discontinuing these staff overloads.

District Human Resources Director Jordan Hickman added in February that each teacher in the four-period schedule teaches for 270 minutes with three classes running 90 minutes each.

With the five-period schedule, each teacher will have four classes running 75 minutes each, adding up to 300 minutes of instructional time a day and giving students 30 extra class minutes a day.

“We’re not getting 10% of the highly qualified instructional time that we employ teachers for,” Hickman said regarding the four-period day in February.

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That 10% efficiency would allow the district to potentially gain back anywhere from zero to eight FTEs in future school years with the cost savings of eight FTEs totaling around $640,000, though this can vary based on enrollment and inflation.

The board ended Monday’s schedule discussion by approving its new graduation requirements policy as the transition from a four-period to a five-period school day continues.

The full meeting can be viewed on the Bemidji Area Schools YouTube channel.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19, in the district board room.

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