Student schedules will look a little different at Perham High School, starting next school year.

Currently, students have five 75-minute classes each day.

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Next year, that’ll change to six 60-minute classes.

The Perham-Dent School Board voted to adopt the new class schedule format at a March 19 meeting, after high school Principal Ehren Zimmerman gave a presentation that highlighted a specific benefit for students: variety.

With six classes, or “blocks,” each trimester, a student will be able to take 72 classes over four years, compared to the current 60 possible courses.

When the five-block schedule was implemented, “Things looked a little bit different at Perham High School,” said Zimmerman. “There were a few more students in the building, and at the same time, there was more staff.”

Because teaching staff has been reduced over the years, Zimmerman said class sizes have gone up, which has affected the availability of elective classes.

Under the new schedule, most teachers will teach five classes and keep their preparation time. This will increase the total number of class sections available to 417 – up from the current 332 – without adding extra teaching positions.

Offering more sections within each of the core classes is “going to allow us to bring that class size down,” Zimmerman said, and then other sections can then be spread out. “I feel it works good for us.”

In theory, more sections will make room for elective classes that could not have been offered otherwise. Zimmerman said some electives may become every-other-year offerings to allow for even more options.

In addition, with an “extra” class block in the day, music classes will not be forced to overlap anymore. Choir and band will be offered during separate blocks so that all students may be present each day. Currently, students who are in band and choir must alternate between the two classes every day, which can make practice difficult.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson added that the schedule change will also give teachers a chance for some more variety in their days, allowing them to teach a new class or two.

In connection to the schedule shift, the high school will increase its core requirements for math and science. Beginning next year, students will need to complete four credits of English, social studies, math and science classes in order to graduate.

A “full course load” of credits will still be required to graduate, but the new total will be phased in gradually since upperclassmen will not have had the chance to take the extra classes. Each course will continue to count as half of a credit.

Seniors graduating in May will have at least 28 credits. The graduating class of 2018, current eighth graders, and on will be required to complete 34 credits (68 classes) in order to get a diploma.

In addition to the core changes, two technology classes will also be required for graduation: one class to be taken as a freshman or sophomore, another to be taken as a junior or senior. Students must also take a personal finance class at some point after their freshman year.

“We do give up some direct minutes on this proposal, and that could throw up some red flags… I’m not going to deny that piece,” said Zimmerman.

With the current schedule, students spend 4,500 minutes in each class through the year. Under the new plan, students will have 3,600 minutes in each classroom.

Zimmerman’s report went on to note that these minutes are “gained back” through taking more classes over a total career.

The Minnesota Department of Education regulates how many minutes a student must spend in school during a day and through the course of a year, not in individual classes. 

The district’s teacher contract requires at least 300 direct instruction minutes during the day. Because the overall schedule is not being significantly altered, the six-block format will still comply with the contract.

A shift to the high school’s start and end times was proposed in Zimmerman’s report. Classes currently begin at 8:25 a.m. and end at 3:22 p.m. The proposal is to move to an 8:20 a.m. start and 3:15 p.m. dismissal. These times may be changed as needed to fit with the district’s other needs.

Zimmerman said there will be “a considerable” amount of work on the staff side to prepare for the switch: especially for anyone creating a new class or who has to pare down an existing class to make material fit in the shorter time.

In other news:

-The school board voted to forgive the two student make-up days scheduled in June. Unless there is another snow day, students will be done with classes on Friday, May 30. The administration was given permission to decide how to make up those two days for staff.

-The board voted to approve an increase to the substitute teacher daily rate from $89 to $95 per day. According to discussion, substitutes have cited the difference in pay as a factor when deciding to substitute in another district instead of Perham. Perham’s rate will now match the neighboring districts of New York Mills and Frazee.

-Sales at ‘The Buzz’ shop in the student union have doubled compared to last school year’s final numbers, said Food Service Director Ken Davis. He was unsure why the shop’s revenues had increased at this rate.

-Enrollment went up last month, adding 15 students and bringing total enrollment up to 1,321 pupils in the district.