The leaders of the Dubuque community schools will continue to give students the opportunity to learn practically next year and to consider whether to make the offering a permanent feature.
“If it’s of high quality, and the students are successful, and the data shows that they’re learning, and that’s what they want, then we’ll try to determine if we can make it happen,” said the Superintendent Stan Rheingans.
Pursuing e-learning and considering its future is one of 19 initiatives district leaders are proposing to lead in the 2021-2022 school year. Rheingans shared the officials’ priority initiatives for next year with school board members in a strategic plan update session on Monday.
The district has offered an e-learning option during the current school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials surveyed students who are currently learning online, and between 450 and 500 of them said they would prefer to continue doing so next year, Rheingans said.
Given the number of students who want to continue learning online, officials have decided to continue virtual learning. Rheingans noted that the state is allowing districts to continue offering online learning for another year due to the pandemic.
“We certainly don’t want those 500 students choosing to go elsewhere, so we’ll be offering an online situation for primary, middle and high schools next year,” Rheingans said ahead of the meeting.
At the elementary school level, enough students are interested in virtual learning for the district to offer one class per grade level that would be taught by a teacher from Dubuque.
At the high school level, educators are changing their approach to online learning for the next year in a way. At the college level, students will receive live virtual instruction from district teachers in nearly any classroom and will be able to access their instructors during office hours online, said Mark Burns, executive director of secondary education, before the meeting.
At the high school level, students will still primarily access their courses through the online platform Edgenuity, although students in Advanced Placement classes can watch their courses live. In world languages classes, students will follow their classes using the district learning management system for high school students and virtual interactions with teachers.
“We did a parent survey earlier this spring, and a majority of families said they would like this option (with more regular contact with teachers) in college, and the majority of families said they would love the Edgenuity option in high school, ”Burns said.
As the district continues to implement its e-learning option, officials will begin to consider whether they want to offer continuing education online – which would require state approval.
Rheingans said district leaders will examine the feasibility and costs of offering an online program, as well as the number of students who would be interested once the pandemic is over.
“If we have a significant number of them, we would like to know what is the best way to serve them locally, rather than freely registering them in another district of another community,” he said.
School board member Lisa Wittman said that while online learning works for many students, she still wants them to be engaged and hopes they will find their way back to class.
“I just hope they find a way to engage rather than just using their computer,” she said. “… I hope they find a way to physically engage.”
Board chair Tami Ryan noted that students can still be engaged at school even if they are not physically present, and that they can still participate in activities such as track and field. She said virtual learning gave students another choice.
“It’s about finding the engagement that works for you,” she said.
Board member Mike Donohue was not present at the meeting.