Aaron Schrank

Education Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: aschran1@uwyo.edu

Before joining WPR, Aaron worked as a freelance reporter in Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in audio journalism from the University of Southern California. His radio work has aired on programs including NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Public Radio International’s The World. Aaron has roots in Phoenix, Arizona, Southern Illinois and New Jersey. When not reporting, he spends time hiking, camping, traveling and exploring film, music and food.

Ways To Connect

Wyoming lawmakers met in Cody this week to continue their work updating the state’s school funding model. School funding is updated every five years in a process called recalibration. 

Members of the legislature’s Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration spent much of this week’s meeting discussing teacher salaries.

Senator Chris Rothfuss of Laramie says lawmakers were presented data showing that Wyoming teacher pay remains above average.

Martin Schulz via Flickr Creative Commons

Pope Francis’ recent statements framing global climate change as a moral issue could be hard to swallow for some Catholics in Wyoming—where just 42 percent of residents say they believe climate change is caused by humans. 

via Jackson Hole Community School Facebook

The Teton County school board faces a decision about whether private schools will need to foot the bill for their students to participate in activities at Jackson Hole High School.

For years, the district has allowed students from the Journeys School and Jackson Hole Community School to join activities like sports teams and the drama department at the public school, but the state’s block grant does not provide funding for those students.

The school district’s Chief Operating Officer, Brad Barker, says this has cost the district about $96,000 a year.

UW

It’s been a tough year at the University of Wyoming. Several students there died, including two deaths by suicide in about a week. 

By the time UW students return from summer break, a new plaza will be built, commemorating all students whose lives were cut short while they were enrolled at the University.

The project was approved by the Associated Students of UW two years ago. The group’s vice president, Emily Kath, says it seems even more appropriate now, following this year’s tragedies.

Wyoming Education Association

The Wyoming Education Association says fixing the federal education law No Child Left Behind is a top priority as the group heads to the National Education Association’s annual meeting this weekend.

There’s a bipartisan bill in Congress to revise No Child Left Behind—dubbed the Every Child Achieves Act. It would provide states more freedom and flexibility when it comes to accountability and testing than the existing law.

National Park Service

Fire Reforms Heat Up Congress

Pine beetles and drought is leaving Wyoming and other states more susceptible to wildfires than at any point in recent memory, yet the federal fire policy doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the new climate. Wyoming lawmakers are trying to solve the problem.

Teton County School District Superintendent Pam Shea will retire at the end of this month, after working in the district for more than 30 years.

Under her 9-year tenure as the district’s top administrator, student test scores and teacher salaries rose, and the district launched successful efforts like its dual immersion Spanish program.  

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie senior Keenen Large watches from the bleachers as his grade school counterparts parade through the school gym in traditional dress. This is what the school calls ‘Indian Days.’ Keenen remembers what it used to be.

“When I was a kid it was like five days,” says Large. “Man, every day was fun. They actually brought a buffalo here and they really performed a gutting ceremony—and then we ate it afterwards. It’s good.”

University of Wyoming

A University of Wyoming Board of Trustees initiative to boost the College of Education into national prominence in teacher preparation took a step forward Monday.

Trustees accepted a $500,000 dollar grant from The Daniels Fund, a Denver-based private foundation, which will be used to plan the first phase of the effort.

Angus Thuermer / WyoFile

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees approved a process and timeline Monday for recruiting and hiring UW’s next president.

That process will include hiring a search firm, forming two 14-member committees to select candidates and appointing a recruiter to oversee the entire process.

Wyoming Public Media

The four-year graduation rate for students on the Wind River Indian Reservation hovers around 50 percent, compared to 80 percent in the rest of Wyoming. In this hour-long forum, Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter Aaron Schrank explores the many factors—from historical trauma to family poverty—that contribute to below average education outcomes for Native American students.

 Lawmakers are taking another crack at putting a new safety tip line in place for Wyoming schools.  

The Joint Education Interim Committee moved Thursday to draft legislation to create the Safe2Tell tip line, which would be modeled after a system developed in Colorado in the wake of Columbine.

Both the Wyoming House and Senate passed a similar bill in this year’s session, but it failed to become law when the two chambers couldn’t agree on amendments.

Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming’s education policymakers say the state needs to provide better career and technical education for K-12 students.

The number of CTE classes and students around the state has declined in recent years, even as labor market data indicates a need for more graduates with work skills that are typically taught in such classes.

Representative John Freeman of Green River says it’s hard to find qualified CTE teachers—and programs like the Hathaway Success Curriculum mean less time and resources for career education.

Wikimedia Commons

Lawmakers are taking a look at whether recreation mill levies create inequity for Wyoming students.

Under state law, communities can collect one mill from taxpayers—or one one-thousandth of the assessed property value of a school district—to pay for recreational facilities. Frequently districts use the mill levy to pay for such things as swimming pools and enhanced auditoriums. 

Wyoming lawmakers want more flexibility in how schools are assessed under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

Members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability met in Saratoga Wednesday to discuss how to reform Wyoming’s system for evaluating schools. A rework of the state’s accountability system is required by legislation passed this year.

The task force responsible for weighing in on the future of student testing in Wyoming held its kickoff meeting in Casper on Monday.

The assessment task force is made up of 26 teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and businesspeople from around the state.

Under state law, the group is charged with recommending an approach to assessment that fulfills accountability requirements –and furthers learning and achievement for Wyoming students.

Over the past few months, a set of proposed reading materials for students in Cody has led to more than 40 complaints from parents, the resignation of a school board trustee—and that board’s decision to form a group to address all the complaints before any resources are adopted.

But, on Monday, the group of teachers that recommended the contentious reading materials decided to pull back their recommendation until policies change.

Cody High School teacher Rick Stonehouse chairs the group—and says the process hasn’t been working well so far.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow was part of a delegation of U.S. state schools chiefs who visited China this month to discuss education issues.

The trip was paid for by the Council of State School Officers and was the third dialogue of its kind.

Officials Are Optimistic About Sage Grouse Protection Plans

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel came to Cheyenne to announce a massive plan to conserve Sage Grouse habitat in several western states. Wyoming started its own conservation efforts in 2007 and Jewel says it is a model state. The question is whether the federal efforts can keep the Sage Grouse from being placed on the endangered species list. 

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is a small, struggling school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The students there have been pushing towards one major goal: graduation. And, today, as part of our series on the school, we’ll hear some of those students cross the finish line. 

As family and friends file into the Fort Washakie gymnasium, the class of 2015 is outside posing for a final group photo. English teacher Mike Read offers a quick pep talk as he snaps his camera shutter.

Antoine Cully/UPMC.

 A University of Wyoming professor is part of a research team that has come with a groundbreaking way for damaged robots to adapt and continue to function.

The study was published Thursday in the science journal Nature—and is titled ‘Robots That Can Adapt Like Animals.’

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Some parents in Cody are raising concerns about a reading curriculum that the local school board will vote to approve or deny next week.

The proposed resources are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and were suggested by a committee of educators in Park County School District 6 after years of discussion.

But critics don’t like the way some the reading materials address topics like war, slavery, global climate change and the treatment of indigenous people.

The state of Wyoming paid a school district in Montana $438,000 this year to educate 35 children who live on the Wyoming side of the border in Yellowstone National Park.

Administrators in both states say the arrangement has worked well.

The federal government had paid for these students for decades—but it stopped last year due to budget cuts.

Students in the Mammoth Hot Springs area previously did not belong to any school district. Now, they attend school in Gardiner, Montana, but live within the expanded boundary of Wyoming’s Park County School District One.

Aaron Schrank

Life after high school looks a bit different for every Wyoming graduate. Some are set on college or a career. Others are more worried about making money this summer. In an effort to prepare students who are less interested in academic options, one high school started a program that trains some seniors to be commercial truckers.

For the final two weeks of his Douglas High School career, Garret Blackburn has been spending most of his time hanging out in the parking lot.  

“This is definitely a lot more interesting than sitting around the classroom,” Blackburn says.

University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees is gathering public input this week into its process to find a successor to President Dick McGinity.

McGinity announced he’ll step down when his contract expires next year—but only if the presidential search is successful.

The search is to be an open process—unlike the controversial closed search that produced President Robert Sternberg in a few years ago. Trustee Mel Baldwin of Afton is optimistic that this approach will be more successful.   

USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the Wyoming Department of Education a $65,000 grant to boost local food programs at schools across the state.

So-called ‘farm to school’ programs have been on the uptick in Wyoming in the past few years. The Wyoming Department of Education says the grant money will be used to put on 5 regional conferences to get school districts and local producers into productive partnerships.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow says these partnerships benefit Wyoming students nutritionally—and educationally.

Courtesy University of Wyoming Institutional Communications

Dr. Ray Reutzel has been named dean of the College of Education at the University of Wyoming.

Reutzel is a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Utah State University. He will begin leading UW’s College of Education in July.

Reutzel takes the reigns amid increased attention on the College of Education. Last year, the University Board of Trustees launched an initiative to elevate the school to national prominence. Lawmakers on the education committee have made that their top interim priority.

Wyoming Department of Education

 A task force charged with improving distance education in Wyoming held its first of six meetings in Casper last week. The 14-member group will present findings to lawmakers in October.

“It went exceptionally well,” says Brent Bacon, chief academic officer at the Wyoming Department of Education. “We all worked together, did a lot of brainstorming, and came up with some great next steps.”

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