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

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.”

Aaron Schrank

One week after the most recent death at UW, Animal Science Professor Dan Rule is in the Student Union with 20 others discussing symptoms of depression and warning signs for suicidal thinking. Rule says he’s here because he cares about his students.

“I don’t care if they’re an 18 or 19-year-old, or if they’re a 40-year-old non-traditional student or even if they’re a veteran,” says Rule. “They’re my kids when they’re in my room.”

Illustration: Jared Rodriguez /truthout.org via Flickr Creative Commons

Wyoming ranks fourth in the nation for the number of students its schools refer to law enforcement and courts. That’s according to a data analysis by The Center for Public Integrity.

The investigative news organization looked at Department of Education data from 2011-2012 school year. In that one school year, Wyoming schools sent school discipline problems on to law enforcement agencies at a rate of about 12 per 1,000 students. That’s twice the national average.

One way to tell how schools are doing with computer science is to look at how many students take the Advancement Placement exam for the subject. And, in the entire state of Wyoming, over the past four years, just one student took the AP computer science exam.

That one student was Casey Mueller—and the distinction is news to him.

“I was not aware of that, actually,” says Mueller. “I was kind of shocked in one sense. But, on the other hand, there was part of me that wasn’t surprised.”

Rebecca Martinez

The new dean of the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science began his tenure last month. He took on the job amid a state and industry-backed push to boost the school’s status nationwide.

Dean Michael Pishko says the so-called ‘Tier 1’ Engineering Initiative—which was announced three years ago—is not simply looking to deliver a bump in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

UW

The University of Wyoming is urging its community to pull together after a pair of apparent student suicides on campus over the past week.

Last Tuesday, the University says a freshman student from Ohio was found dead in a vehicle on campus.

This week, a 19-year-old freshman male student from Jackson, Wyoming was found dead inside a residence hall.

“The fact that two happened so closely together is absolutely a huge concern,” says University spokesman Chad Baldwin.

He says UW is offering counseling to students who have difficulty coping with the incidents.

University of Wyoming

The Hess Corporation announced a $15 million donation to the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources Thursday. Hess has now given a total of  $25 million to UW, making the oil and gas giant the largest corporate donor in the university’s history.

The funds will go towards construction of UW’s High Bay Research Facility—as well as equipment used in the facility and some proprietary research done there. Hess’s research will focus mostly on figuring out how to tap hard-to-reach oil and gas reservoirs.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is on track to graduate more students than ever this year. It still won’t be a big number, but getting a high school degree is a big deal for students at this small school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Some are making college plans. Others are just crossing their fingers hoping to get through the rest of the school year. 

Blaze Condon was a junior last semester, but she’s earned enough credits to graduate from Fort Washakie in May. She says it felt great to break that news to her family.

Bob Beck

Governor Mead Says The Legislative Session Had Some Disappointments

A few weeks ago the Wyoming legislative session came to a close and Governor Matt Mead admitted that he had a number of concerns. The biggest was the failure of the legislature to pass Medicaid Expansion. The governor tells us that he knew it would be a tough sell, but it was tougher than he thought.

As kids across Wyoming take the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students—or PAWS—test this month, the State Board of Education is looking for input on the future of statewide testing.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the state needs to decide what test it will use to gauge student learning down the line. Board member Sue Belish says lawmakers asked the State Board to play a role.

In the recent legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers voted to allow the State Board of Education to again consider the Next Generation Science Standards. In its first meeting since the session ended, the Board voted unanimously Tuesday to get back to work adopting science standards.

Last year, a committee of Wyoming science educators recommended the Next Generation Science Standards after 18 months of review. All members of that committee will be invited back to continue their work--and those who don’t return will be replaced.

Willow Belden

Some University of Wyoming professors have been traveling to fourth grade classrooms around the state in an effort to research and improve the teaching of Wyoming history.

The project combines history with art and hands-on activities. Education professors Allen Trent and Peter Moran plan to bring it to each of the state’s counties by the end of this school year.

The lesson plans and resources they use are all online for any Wyoming teacher to access. Trent says that’s important.

Wyo. Republicans Now Fighting To Preserve Obamacare Funding

One of the biggest Supreme Court cases of this term could wipe away the insurance subsidies that tens of thousands of Wyoming residents now rely on under so-called Obamacare. Matt Laslo has the story from Washington on how Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is now scrambling to find a Plan B for a law he's staked his name as a doctor opposing.  

Aaron Schrank

In most schools, campaigns to keep students from smoking use simple slogans like “Be Smart, Don’t Start,” but those targeting Native American kids are a bit different. On Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, you’re likely to hear more nuanced catchphrases like “Keep It Sacred,” and “Traditional Use, Not Commercial Abuse.”

That’s because tobacco is an indispensable part of many Native American traditions. But with sky-high smoking rates on reservations, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports that the need to limit nontraditional tobacco use is greater than ever. 

Wyoming school districts say they are pleased that state lawmakers voted to approve inflation adjustments for school funding during the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

On Wednesday, Governor Matt Mead signed the legislation approving those cost of living adjustments for schools.

Sublette County School District One’s Superintendent Jay Harnack was part of a coalition that lobbied for the funding. State law requires these adjustments, but districts haven’t seen them in recent years. Harnack says this will allow his district to get back on track.

Funding for Wyoming afterschool programs could be on the federal chopping block.

Most afterschool programs in the state have been supported by more than $5 million in grants provided each year under the federal education law No Child Left Behind. But Congress’s current reauthorization proposals for the law would allow states to spend federal education funding however they want—with no specific money tied to afterschool programs.

Photo Courtesy Wyoming Catholic College via Facebook

Wyoming Catholic College in Lander has decided not to offer federal grants and loans to its students. It says doing so could threaten the school’s religious liberties.

Last year, the small, 8-year-old college took its first step toward accreditation. The move meant credits earned at W-C-C could be transferred to other schools—and made it eligible for federal loan programs.

But the college’s Board of Director’s voted unanimously last month not to participate in those programs—known as Title IV.

A greater percentage of Wyoming high school students graduated on time last year than the year before. That’s according to data released Wednesday by the Wyoming Department of Education.

The four-year graduation rate for the 2013-2014 school year was 78.6 percent—up from 77.5 percent the year before—and compared with 81 percent nationwide. 

  

Some Call It A Disappointing Legislative Session

The Wyoming legislative session is coming up on its last week. It’s a session that’s seen the defeat of Medicaid Expansion and some other key issues. Because of that, critics say they really haven’t accomplished much, and some legislators agree.  

Aaron Schrank

There’s a nationwide push to get more students involved in STEM education. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But, despite enthusiasm—and Wyoming’s above average school funding— few K-12 schools in the state have been able to build the STEM programs they’d like. Many of those that have—have done so not with funding and support from the state—but from the energy industry. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports.

The official child poverty rate in Wyoming—and around the country—may be too high. That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report says the measure created 50 years ago fails to account for the impacts of social programs and tax policy on poverty. It says a newer index—the Supplemental Poverty Measure—better measures the success of anti-poverty programs.

Over the past year, The Next Generation Science Standards have stirred debate in Wyoming—which continues today. Lawmakers have taken issue with what the standards say about climate change. Laramie Democrat Pete Gosar has something of a front row seat for this discussion. He’s recently been named chairman of the State Board of Education—after serving for four years on that body, which is responsible for reviewing and adopting education standards. Wyoming Public Radio's Aaron Schrank spoke with Pete Gosar to get his take on the standards—and the controversy around them.​ 

A group of Casper parents is looking to launch a new charter school for high-achieving kids. They're planning to submit their application to the Natrona County School District on Monday.

The proposed K-8 school is called The Guild Charter School. Backers say the school would offer individualized learning plans for each student and be more academically rigorous.

Bob Beck / Natrona County High School

This year, a University of Wyoming program that helps low-income high school students plan for college will run out of funding, but backers hope to keep it going.

The Wyoming College Advising Corps is funded by a federal grant. Last year, the program provided resources to about 400 Wyoming students.

Project Director Teresa Nealon says there are 10 full-time advisors in schools around the state, counseling students about how to prepare for college.

gosarforgovernor.com

Democrat Pete Gosar, who challenged Matt Mead in the Governor’s race last year, is the new chairman of the State Board of Education.

Gosar replaces outgoing chair Ron Micheli. Gosar says one the biggest tasks facing the board is putting new science standards in place. A bill that would allow the Board to consider the controversial Next Generation Science Standards is currently making its way through the legislature.

Wyoming Democratic Party

The executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party will resign this month. That’s according to an email sent to lawmakers and leaked to the public Tuesday.

Party Chair Ana Cuprill asked Robin Van Ausdall to step down from the position. Cuprill declined to comment explicitly on why that is, but said Van Ausdall’s leadership has served the party well and has allowed the Democrats to remain a relevant minority party.

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