Administrators and teachers at Northeast Community School District have expressed concerns that its online education provider, Edgenuity, is not adequately instructing students.

Despite being locked in to pay for the first semester of Edgenuity’s services — which will cost the district $33,570 — administrators are recommending that at least some students who are struggling should quit Edgenuity and instead begin receiving instruction from Northeast staff. Some, according Northeast Superintendent Neil Gray, have already made the transition.

Northeast offered Edgenuity instruction to middle school and high school students whose families did not feel safe sending them to school in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first semester, 26 students utilized Edgenuity. However, Gray said over a dozen of them will be stopping to return to school in some form.

Gray and fellow administrators say some students using Edgenuity are not meeting benchmarks or regularly attending classes, and that Edgenuity’s teachers are not doing enough to help them make progress.

Amanda Coyle, an account supervisor who works for Edgenuity, said teachers “monitor student progress, grade assignments, and work with students on an individual basis to offer extra help.”

However, Gray said he and other administrators have begun talking to parents and students themselves to encourage participation and engagement with the Edgenuity classes. 

“If a kid ends up not being successful, we don’t want to wait for interventions in the second semester,” Gray said. “We want to help now.”

Waiting could add more responsibility onto a teaching staff already stretched thin, he said. 

Coyle said Edgenuity’s teachers work hard to build relationships with students, and the service has multiple intervention strategies in place including virtual meetings with students, their parents, and school district personnel. 

Gray praised some of the Edgenuity teachers for taking a personal approach with their instruction, but said for others, that effort hadn’t materialized.

Edgenuity’s format

Northeast contracted with Edgenuity — through the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency — with the intent of those 26 students receiving their full-time education without the school needing to intervene. That was one of the features that made Edgenuity enticing, Gray said. Edgenuity took on the responsibility of educating and tracking student success, he said.

“We’re paying for it – and they were supposed to take care of our needs. It isn’t happening,” Gray said. “We take it personally. It’s hard to see some of the lack of success in these kids.” 

Gray said Northeast administrators have, in some cases, made weekly phone calls to ensure students are fulfilling their requirements and attending lessons. They were hoping those responsibilities would be taken care of by Edgenuity.

Northeast School Board member Andy Friedrichsen asked at the October board meeting what could be done financially. 

“Where’s the accountability for this? We paid taxpayer dollars for this and they are supposed to deliver, and they didn’t,” he said.

Gray said the school would “possibly” seek compensation to make up for the loss of services. 

Gray said over 8,000 students in Iowa are partaking in Edgenuity’s services. He surmised the onslaught of new students could have overloaded Edgenuity. 

“It’s probably no one’s fault, just a capacity thing, and maybe kids weren’t prepared,” he said. 

Parents provide feedback

Northeast Secondary Principal Jennifer Huling said some families have struggled with learning from home beyond the curriculum. 

She said families have told her, “this is not good for our family. It is affecting our jobs. It is affecting our mental health and our kids’ mental health.”

Secondary Assistant Principal Jeremy Heeringa said a family he spoke to said their student was having success in the program, but even in that case, “there was no support from Edgenuity. They were just on their own.”

Gray said Northeast plans to continue offering Edgenuity to the students who have been successful in the program, and the district could make health and safety adjustments for the students who would be returning to school to finish the semester in person.

 “We could create a safer environment at school (for those students),” Gray said. “We are trying to use every nook and cranny, and if they need to be in a space by themselves, so be it.”