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

Aaron Schrank/WPR

Thanks to the Pope’s environmental encyclical, some Wyoming Catholics are studying big issues like global climate change for the first time. Laramie’s St. Paul’s Newman Center is hosting a 4-week course this summer to dig in to the document.

Aaron Schrank

Ryan Reed loves rodeo. And each July, he makes a pilgrimage here, to the so-called “Daddy of ‘Em All” in Cheyenne.

“You just feel like you’re on hallowed ground when you’re here.” Reed says.

Roaming the Frontier Days midway, this amateur steer wrestler and calf roper is like a kid in a candy store. 

“Yesterday, during the bareback bronc, I actually got some dirt flung on me,” says Reed. “I really felt like I’d been hit by some special dirt or something. That’s just kind of the feeling I have about the place.”

Wyoming Department of Education

Three years after Wyoming adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, schools here are still struggling to teach to the new standards. That’s according to survey results released this week by the Wyoming Department of Education.

Only about 1,000 teachers, 54 principals and 28 curriculum directors responded to the department’s survey. WDE acknowledged the response rate was low, but the information is helpful.

Courtesy Annie E. Casey Foundation

Wyoming has improved in national child well-being rankings over the past year, but still ranks very low when it comes to child health. That’s according the Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday by the Annie. E Casey Foundation.

Wyoming saw improvements in economic well-being, education and family & community concerns—and rose from 19th to 16th place overall in the annual rankings. But the Cowboy State still ranks 45th in the nation for child health.

Aaron Schrank

A look at what our news team has been up to during Cheyenne Frontier Days as well as the various stories being gathered and experienced. 

Wally Gobetz via Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. House and Senate will soon begin negotiations to reconcile two different bills that would rewrite the federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ education law.

The law has not been updated in 14 years. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—which was last revamped with NCLB in 2001. Last week, the House passed its own Republican-backed bill.

If Congress comes together on a bill that President Obama will sign, it would mean big changes for Wyoming.

Flickr Creative Commons

Results released Thursday by the Wyoming Department of Education show that students performed worse on this year’s standardized test than they did last year.

The Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students—or PAWS—measures students’ aptitude in math, reading and science.  The test is taken by students in grades 3 through 8.

Last year, 58 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient on reading. This year, less than 52 percent did. Math scores didn’t drop as sharply as reading—and actually rose slightly for some grade levels.

Commons

Plague Vaccine Could Bring Black Footed Ferrets Back To Meeteetse

A plague vaccine might help bring one of the most endangered mammals in North America back to Northwest Wyoming where they were discovered. Black Footed Ferrets may be restored to the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse, because their food, prairie dogs, are coming back.

Courtesy Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust

 

 

Kelly Matthews teaches special education at Jackson’s Colter Elementary School. She rents a studio apartment in town—above a garage workspace.

“It’s not an optimal place, but it’s a roof,” Matthews says.

Matthews makes $67,000 a year. That’s more than the $58,000 average for Wyoming teachers, but it’s not enough to get Matthews into a 2-bedroom place for her and her 8-year-old-son.

“He gets the bedroom, and mom gets the couch,” says Matthews. “I’ve been sleeping on the couch for two years.”

www.uwyo.edu

Future teachers studying at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education will have more help paying for school, thanks to a $1.8 million gift from Ray Kennedy.

Kennedy was a former teacher who retired in Laramie. He died May 1 at age 90. The Raymond D. Kennedy College of Education Scholarship fund represents his life’s savings. 

The College is still determining how exactly the scholarship will be disbursed, but John Stark with the UW Foundation says it will make a big difference for aspiring educators.

Ralph Alswang via Flickr Creative Commons

The White House says neither of the bills in Congress to rewrite the country’s chief federal K-12 education law would do enough to close the achievement gap nationwide.

In Wyoming’s lowest-performing schools, 48 percent of students score proficient in math, compared with 80 percent of students in other schools.

Nationwide, 29 percent of students at low-performing score proficient in math, compared with 65 percent at all other schools. A report released by the White House Monday shows similar gaps exist for reading and graduation rates—in Wyoming and around the country.

J. Stephen Conn via Flickr Creative Commons

Central Wyoming College is home to the state’s only Film & TV program. This summer, that program will become a full-fledged production company to put together a pilot for a crime drama set and shot on and around the Wind River Reservation.

The show will be called “Wind River,” and will star several professional actors from the Riverton area as well as Reservation locals.

Governor Matt Mead is turning to the Wyoming Humanities Council to facilitate more productive discussion on a refugee resettlement program in the state.

Wyoming is the only state without a resettlement program, and the Governor says misinformation is slowing down progress on the issue.

Wyoming Humanities Council Executive Director Shannon Smith says her group will send experts around the state to lead public discussions about refugee resettlement. 

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.

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