Virtual Learning 'Not Yet Perfect' In Sioux City As Nearly 900 Students Who Tried It Return To The Classroom
Nearly 900 students in the Sioux City Community School District have moved back to in-person instruction after trying to learn virtually. The change is causing the school district to take a look at moving some staff around, but it’s also brought some problems to light.
The school district initially wanted families to commit to virtual learning for at least a quarter, but district officials felt that was too rigid. During Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Gausman said in the 13 days since the school year began they’ve seen a large number of students – more than 830, he said — that have quickly switched from virtual to in-person learning.
“And that causes havoc, not only for our virtual staff and students of course, but it also causes the domino effect of adjustments for our in-person teachers,” Gausman said.
There are 50 teachers dedicated to virtual learning exclusively. Associate Superintendent Kim Buryanek gave a more precise snapshot of the number of students that have dropped virtual learning in favor of returning to the typical classroom – 887 students, she said. This decrease brings the total number of students learning virtually down to 2,215.
“Many students and families realized that virtual learning was more difficult to meet the expectation of teachers, to support learners online independently, to get connected and to learn the systems and to use the systems,” Buryanek said.
This week, the school district is “balancing classes,” Buryanek said, to narrow the student-to-teacher ratio. District spokeswoman Mandie Mayo elaborated in an email to IPR that they're re-evaluating where teaching staff have been assigned because of the fluctuations in virtual and on-site enrollment numbers.
“By the end of the week, I anticipate that middle school virtual classes will have less than 30 students in each section and the high school sections will be below 35,” Buryanek said.
Superintendent Paul Gausman added the district might also be moving some teachers from an in-person to a virtual classroom at the elementary school level. Elementary school teachers would have a minimum of 21 students in their virtual classrooms and a maximum of 42 students, split up into two or three virtual sections, he said.
“Many students and families realized that virtual learning was more difficult to meet the expectation of teachers, to support learners online independently, to get connected and to learn the systems and to use the systems,”
No additional students have opted for virtual learning since last Friday, Buryanek said. She added there is still room in physical classrooms for students who wish to return.
“And we are allowing that to happen,” Buryanek said. “These numbers are higher than what we want them to be in the virtual setting.”
In August, more than 1,000 Sioux City teachers were trained on Microsoft Teams. But online learning has not been going smoothly for some classes in the district. Amanda Gibson, a parent to a second grade student at Perry Creek Elementary School, said her family has been “sorely disappointed” in the virtual learning that has been offered so far.
“Instruction is given in a handful of 20-minute intervals. And most of that time is eaten up by parents and students asking technology-related questions, or showing off their pets, or talking about their upcoming birthdays.”
Gibson said her son’s online class is overcrowded, with 66 students. Superintendent Gausman later looked up the elementary school class and said it has 55 students. Gibson also said she has spent around 6 hours a day teaching her son, while he has received less than an hour a day of direct instruction from his teacher.
“Instruction is given in a handful of 20-minute intervals,” Gibson said. “And most of that time is eaten up by parents and students asking technology-related questions, or showing off their pets, or talking about their upcoming birthdays.”
Gibson compared her son’s virtual learning to that of an independent study. In an online app where children do math problems, she said no teacher has showed him how to complete the more difficult equations.
“He has put pencil to paper exactly once and has not yet opened an actual book,” Gibson said.
Mayo said in an email that though this second grade class has 55 students, "direct instruction is split into sections that allow smaller groups to interact with the teacher throughout the day."
The Sioux City Community School District began the 2020-2021 school year with its more than 15,000 students in a hybrid learning model for the first two weeks of school.
The district then shifted to full in-person learning on Sept. 8. Gausman said at one point, 30 percent of the district’s students had opted for virtual learning.
“This system is not yet perfect,” Gausman said. “And we know it is not yet perfect. But by practicing patience and working through the challenges together, this will move in a proper direction.”
He continued, “It’s better today than it was 12 days ago.”