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A new distance learning system for the Western Dubuque School District should streamline access for students and families in the district.

At the May 11 school board meeting, the board approved a three-year contract with itslearning, Inc. The district will pay $38,157 during the first year, $29,614 for the second year and $28,636 for the year three.

The system allows students to access lessons and assignments from their home, an ever-increasing need with traditional in-class instruction still uncertain at the start of next fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Simon, director of curriculum and assessment for the district, told the board the system will benefit students and their families, who now must access several different distance learning systems depending on the class.

“This is going to help us to be organized and be that one-stop shop. Looking at the family and student end of things, we now know they won’t be asked to log on to a bunch of systems just to continue to connect with us at school.”

Simon explained that district staff will receive training on how to use the system. “Our first round of official training is next week. There are options for two levels of training that will be what staff needs to get started. The expectation is clear to them that they need to be comfortable with the system and can utilize it next school year. They must also train students to use it at home without them.”

Simon told the board that both Western Dubuque High School and Cascade High School will do a trial run of sorts with distance learning with four summer class offerings. When Gov. Kim Reynolds first recommended school suspend classes in March, both high schools were just a few days into their third trimester. So the district is offering online summer courses in physical science, chemistry, personal finance and physics.

“Between the two high schools, there were close to 300 students who could take the classes,” Simon explained, adding that registration was limited to only those students who were enrolled in the courses when school was suspended.

She said 47 students had signed up for chemistry, 68 for personal finance, 58 for health and 81 for physics.

Students will receive grades that count toward their overall grade point average.

“The numbers are great. It’s a good sign and we will get some good feedback,” Simon added.

One downside, according to Simon, is that itslearnng, Inc. won’t be ready to use as the distance learning system. “We are already pushing the company as we just signed the contract with them last week.”

Students and staff will use Microsoft Teams as the distance learning system for the summer classes.

In other action:

• The board approved a resolution authorizing continued payment to staff, extending school closure through the 2019-20 school year.

• Approved several summer maintenance projects throughout the district.