Streator High School is returning to a seven-class-periods per school day schedule in 2024-25.
Citing concern for the district’s financial forecast, the high school board voted 5-2 Tuesday in favor of getting rid of the block schedule, after hearing 14 people speak in public comment in favor of keeping the block schedule, including six students.
With a block schedule, students take their course load over two school days. Each day consists of four 78 or 79 minute classes and a study hall session. Students who spoke in favor Tuesday of the block scheduling said it allowed them to take an extra elective and provided them more time to complete course work while school was in session, giving them more time outside of school for extracurriculars, jobs and family life. After the disruptions of the pandemic, students also asked for the board not to impose another change to their school day.
More than 50 teachers, students and district parents attended Tuesday’s meeting moved from the library to the auditorium. Students presented the school board Tuesday with 400 signatures of students supporting the block schedule.
Board members Steve Hoekstra and Heather Baker voted in favor of keeping the block schedule. Board President Steve Biroschik, as well as members Earl Woeltje, Eric Hoffmeyer, Rich Tutoky and Gary Wargo voted to return to the schedule in place prior to the 2021-2022 school year.
Biroschik said he’s worried about the school’s finances moving forward. By going back to the old scheduling, he estimated the board will save “not quite as much as $150,000 to $160,000.” He said he feels bad the decision upsets students, but he said his responsibility is to spend taxpayer dollars the best he can and provide the best education for students with that money.
“Looking down the road, I’m worried about expenses,” Biroschik said. “I don’t want to have to lay people off. I’m willing to discuss a modification of the block schedule at some point. ... I just don’t want to see our finances in the red again.”
Superintendent Scott Cameron told the board Tuesday while this year’s projected budget looks OK, a $600,000 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant is set to expire and the district will move into another tier of state funding that doesn’t allow it to receive as much money.
The majority of Streator High School teachers also supported keeping the block scheduling, with six of them speaking in favor of it Tuesday. Fifty-five of 58 union teachers responded to a survey about block scheduling, with 46 of them saying they liked the schedule. Union leaders said they were disappointed in the vote Tuesday.
Streator High instructor Doug Harris told the board in public comment Tuesday the district has been in worse shape and asked board members to seek alternatives, rather than changing the scheduling system.
“Don’t make a decision at the expense of opportunities,” Harris said, saying the board has faced tougher situations in the past when the state wasn’t making its payments to school districts and programs remained in tact.
Streator welding instructor David Taylor said the block scheduling made an impact in vocational courses, noting, for example, about 50 girls were enrolled in welding, up from just a few students years before. Agriculture instructor Riley Hintzsche said the district invested money into its facilities, including the auditorium, and electives have allowed students to make the best use of them.
“Last May, the high school offered 34 different courses career and tech,” Hintzsche said. “There were 1,339 duplicated students in those courses; our enrollment is 750 students, so that’s several students taking more than one. Reverting back to the traditional schedule will cause conflicts that will not allow them to do that.”
Junior Palmer Phillis asked the board to take students opinions into account, saying the current scheduling provided students with more opportunities both inside and outside of school.
“This is important to me,” Phillis said. “The ability to take electives has a direct impact on students.”
The board commended students for sharing their opinions.
Hoekstra said nights like Tuesday were why he ran for school board. He said he considers taxpayers, staff and students into his decisions. He believed taxes would not change if the school kept its block schedule, but that teachers and students made their opinions clear, noting he received hundreds of emails, that keeping the schedule was the way to go.
“We would be doing a disservice not to listen to (students and teachers),” Hoekstra said.
Wargo said he read studies on both kinds of schedules and isn’t convinced block schedules have a positive impact. He said the block schedule reduces instructional time and provides too much of a gap between classes for students who are struggling. He concluded the block schedule is unsustainable in the district’s financial projections.
When Biroschik was asked if he was concerned getting rid of the block scheduling would stunt blossoming FFA and theater programs at the high school, he said “I hope not,” noting those programs have had a history of being in place for students for decades.
Cameron said administrators and counselors will be busy looking at graduation requirements and scheduling for the next school year.
“We have to start taking those steps now, so we’ll be ready for next school year.”