SCCSD’s new virtual academy, for all online schooling, gets state approval
After almost a year in which some Sioux City School District students took online instruction as a way to navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic, those who like that method can go fully online next school year, district Superintendent Paul Gausman announced Monday.
Gausman said the pandemic has been a difficult thing to work through in educating children in a safe way, but a silver lining is the online teaching that began late last spring and continued into the 2020-21 year has shown some pupils prefer to get all their instruction online.
Asserting that the 30 to 60 teachers who have taught pupils online this year have done so with good results, he said, district officials sought and now have received Iowa Department of Education approval for a fully online school, called a virtual academy, for those who want it.
“This will be a very personal decision for individual families and students,” Gausman said at a news conference Monday.
Gausman said details remain to be worked out on whether or how pupils who attend the virtual academy would participate in co-curricular or extracurricular activities, such as music or sports. He said it is certainly true that some students fare better in traditional courses held in schools, for the socialization that affords.
Gausman said pupils who want to take virtual academy have until March 1 to apply to do so, for instruction that would begin in August for the 2021-22 year. He said once the number of interested students is known, then the corresponding number of teachers would be set.
The students would learn in their homes, using technological equipment from the district, and those with glitchy Internet access could also get a boost from mobile hot spots. Gausman said it is probable the teachers who would be instructing courses would be volunteering for that method, considering it their strength, and they might be located in one building.
He said the virtual school will be “an independent enrollment center that offers virtual learning for students in grades K-12. The virtual school will have a permanent presence in the district, so families can rest assured that students enrolled in virtual school can continue a seamless online school experience.”
District students have been in a hybrid system of instruction twice this year, with that coming in the first two weeks and last two weeks of the fall semester. In those four weeks, half the students attended school in person on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other half on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Beyond those students, about 3,100 Sioux City School District pupils opted for full-time online instruction, as a family choice they selected prior to the year starting. The number of students who stuck with that method has dwindled, and there were 1,461 pupils taking all their courses online at the start of the second semester.
The superintendent said the virtual academy students would participate in classes daily, have the same academic calendar and earn full course credits, like all other students.
Gausman said not only existing district pupils but also any student in Iowa could take part in the virtual academy if they take the step of open-enrolling into the district. He said there are roughly 10 such virtual academies so far in Iowa.
District officials are looking to come up with a name for the virtual academy. People are asked to look at the district website for ways to submit names by Feb. 15, and a decision will follow. Other details for people who have questions about the academy are on the website as well.
“We look forward to the community members who take part in it,” Gausman said.