Education

In Iowa City schools, online learning to continue even after pandemic

Program's director Gregg Shoultz spearheading effort to give families a virtual choice

Gregg Shoultz, seen Jan. 11 in the Iowa City Community School District offices, was appointed as director of online lear
Gregg Shoultz, seen Jan. 11 in the Iowa City Community School District offices, was appointed as director of online learning for Iowa City schools in August. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Iowa City Community School District is launching a permanent online learning option next year.

The program — Iowa City School District Online — will be a blend of self-paced and live instruction from an Iowa City teacher, spearheaded by the new Director of Online Learning Gregg Shoultz.

A longtime employee of the district, Shoultz took over the new role amid unprecedented demand for online learning spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

In August, 5,000 students signed up for the district’s continuous online learning option mere days before the first day of school.

“We were all taken by surprise by the large number of students choosing to go 100 percent online,” Shoultz said.

District leaders quickly realized they needed someone to spearhead the online learning program, and the school board appointed Shoultz on Aug. 18.

The district had 10 days to get students registered for classes, a process that usually takes about three to four months, Shoultz said.

Background: From Waterloo to Guam

With a long background in education, Shoultz was ready to tackle the challenge of getting the online learning program going in earnest.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

A Waterloo native, he graduated from the University of Iowa before he started teaching English in Woodstock, Ill.

After meeting his wife, they decided to move abroad, and he taught in Switzerland and Guam.

“When I grew up in Waterloo as a white male, I was in the majority,” Shoultz said. “But as soon as I went to Guam, I learned an important lesson about how it might feel to be in the minority.”

He’s worked in the Iowa City district for 20 years, first as a principal at Northwest Junior High School and then as principal at West High School.

Now, he is essentially serving as a principal to online learning students.

The future of online learning

That role will continue even after the pandemic, in the form of the Iowa City School District Online.

Shoultz is working with district leaders now to determine a procedure for students to apply for the online program.

After students enroll, the district will determine how many teachers are needed.

He expects around 500 students to enroll the first year. Currently, 6,200 students are enrolled in virtual learning because of COVID-19 precautions.

The district has tried to bridge socioeconomic gaps by providing all students a laptop or tablet and internet access, including providing multiple hot spots to families with more than one student learning from home.

“We try to make sure there is universal access, but there are some apartments in areas where hot spots just aren’t working well,” Shoultz said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Although some students are “thriving” in online learning, others struggle with attendance and completing schoolwork, he said.

Online learning in the pandemic

Despite the problems, 40 percent of Iowa City students still are enrolled in continuous online learning, Shoultz said. And until educators are vaccinated, he thinks it’s unlikely students will be able to return to school safely 100 percent in person.

“We’re hopeful when we’re allowed to have three models of school — 100 percent in person, online and a blended option — we will have fewer kids falling through the cracks,” Shoultz said. “Until that time, we are all concerned about learning loss.

“We’re positioning ourselves moving forward to reclaim the learning that’s been missed. If we keep our kids safe through a pandemic, we can go back and pick up the pieces.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.