Iola schools shift away from flexible learning plan

Students told to pick a model and stick with it by October 9th.

IOLA, Kan. – It almost goes without saying that students, teachers, and districts have had to adapt a lot this school year.

“It’s felt a little bit unstable this first nine weeks with so many changes,” says Iola School District Curriculum Director Jenna Higginbotham.

Now, the Iola School Board has decided to shift away from their flexible learning model — telling students to pick a learning model by October 9th and stick with it for the rest of the semester.

So far this school year, students have had the option of switching between in-person and remote learning if they needed to.

“Our board wanted to give parents an option because there was really a lot we didn’t know at that time,” says Superintendent Stacy Fager.

“It’s been fine, but we’ve had a lot of students making that switch for various reasons, which has turned into a domino effect,” explains Higginbotham.

Higginbotham explains that they’ve gotten calls from parents about wanting to switch their students to a different learning model almost every day, and some students have switched more than once. And it’s a little more complicated than just having a student do school in the school or at home.

“Every time there’s a switch, we have, maybe it’s Monday. So a parent calls, I want my student to come back on site. So that starts on Tuesday. So we have to tell teachers on Monday that they’re gonna a new student on Tuesday,” Higginbotham explains. “So every student that switches, we have to change them to a new class on our testing side, or online textbooks, our accelerated reader. Like every online platform.”

So the decision to move away from that flexible option, Fager says, was to make it simpler for everyone working to make learning work behind the scenes.

“We’ve had time to get acclimated to in-person and remote learning, so now we’re ready just to move forward,” says Fager.

“My hope is it’ll make a big difference because our classes are gonna stay the same, teachers are gonna be able to continue moving forward. And then our classrooms are gonna start to feel like, oh, there’s some stability,” says Higginbotham.

If a student doesn’t like the learning model they choose, they will be able to switch again at the beginning of the next semester at the beginning of 2021.

The district will continue to have quarantined or isolated students do remote learning, regardless of the learning model they choose.

Enrollment

Enrollment is also down by 57 students within the district — caused in part by the pandemic, and parents seeing the different options for learning that are available.

“There have been some shifts from parents that have just elected to go to virtual options for their children, like K-12, that’s just a totally online platform,” explains Fager. “Also we’ve experienced, especially in our younger setting, homeschool options this year that weren’t as prevalent in the past. But I think that parents have worked together with the pandemic to decide that for safety reasons they would rather keep their child at home.”

Since the district received funding based on the number of students that are enrolled, Fager says they will start to see the effects of the decrease as soon as the next school year.

“It just makes the district make those tough decisions on staffing as we move forward for next year,” says Fager. “We’re very hopeful with the new facilities that are going in that we’ll see some new students come into the district.”