Tennessee Watson

Education Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: twatso17@uwyo.edu

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-­producing Wage/Working (a jukebox­-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.

Ways to Connect

Tennessee Watson

 The sun will be getting a lot of attention on Monday, as spectators don their glasses and stare up at the solar eclipse. But for the first time ever you’ll be able to watch from above as the moon paints its shadow across the earth.

The opportunity is possible thanks to the countless hours put in by teams of volunteers -- dotted along the path of totality – who have been working hard to figure out how to share the eclipse live from space.  

 

Wyoming Department of Education

The Wyoming Department of Education has released the results of statewide high school assessments. The ACT test is given to 11th graders, and the ACT Aspire test given to 9th and 10th graders, are used to help predict how well students are prepared for life after high school, whether that's in college or pursuing a career.

 

University of Wyoming Magazine

This school year will be marked by transition for Wyoming educators as they adjust to reduced budgets, new federal policies, and new accountability procedures. And there will also be a new leader in Wyoming to work with these issues.

 

On August 1, Superintendent Jillian Balow welcomed aboard Megan Degenfelder as the new Chief Policy Officer for Wyoming’s Department of Education. Balow said she brought Degenfelder onto the team because of her unique perspective.

 

National Public Health Information Coalition

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. For parents with kids headed off to school, that means it’s time to make sure they’re up to date on their vaccines.

 

Every school and childcare facility in Wyoming requires kids to have certain vaccines like tetanus and hepatitis B. Kim Deti with the Wyoming Department of Health said if children are not up to date they can be asked to stay home from school.

 

pixabay.com

State law requires 85 percent of Wyoming students to read at or above “proficient” by the time they are in third grade – that’s the ability to comprehend and analyze a text.

 

The way educators determine if they are making progress and meeting students’ needs is by giving annual assessments and looking an individual student data. And beginning this year, the tests given to students in kindergarten through tenth grade will be part of one integrated system, replacing the three different assessments used previously.

 

Wyoming Department of Corrections

This fall, prisoners at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington will be able to earn college credits through a program called Wyoming Pathways from Prison.

This is just one of the many educational opportunities this unique partnership between the Department of Corrections and the University of Wyoming is offering incarcerated Wyomingites.

Wyoming Department of Education

Educators, community leaders and students gathered this week for the 8th annual Native American Education Conference at the St. Stephen’s Indian School outside Riverton. The two-day event focused on promoting understanding, building relationships and generating ideas about how to best support Native American students.

 

Rob Black is the Native American liaison for the Wyoming Department of Education, and he helped organize the conference. He said while the conference focuses on solutions, it doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff.

 

Google Maps. Stars added by Tennessee Watson

Natrona County, Laramie County School District #1 and Albany County Schools are all under federal investigation for their handling of sexual violence. The districts are three of 137 nationwide under review by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for Title Nine compliance issues.  

Title Nine is the federal act that prohibits sex discrimination and obligates all federally funded educational institutions to protect students from gender-based violence.  

School district superintendents across Wyoming are encouraging families to make their voices heard during the school finance recalibration process between now and January.

In a letter sent out by Campbell County School District One Superintendent Boyd Brown, he asked families to consider: “Should today’s student get the same or a lesser education than previous graduates due to energy market fluctuations?”

He also wanted them to think through, what would happen if fewer subject areas were offered, or if class size increased, to save money?

Tennessee Watson

On July 6, 2017, the University of Wyoming came under federal investigation for its handling of reports of sexual violence made last year. The student who filed the complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said she came forward with the hope of strengthening the university’s policies and procedures. 

With energy revenue down, Wyoming state finances are tight and that has lawmakers looking for ways to streamline spending. Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration is responsible for figuring out how that works. One place they are looking is K-12 education. Senator Dave Kinskey serves on the committee. He said he wants to be sure Wyoming is getting the most bang for its buck. 

Tennessee Watson

Wyoming spends significantly more on education than most states. The national average is around $12,000 per student each year, while Wyoming spends over $19,000. But Wyoming’s funding deficit has caused policy makers to question what exactly the state is paying for, and if the high price tag is required to provide a quality education. 

On Tuesday, legislators on the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration met for the first time with APA Consulting — a firm contracted to help re-evaluate the state’s educational program and funding model.

Mexican Consulate

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests and deportations have increased in Wyoming and Colorado this year, which has kept Berenice Rendón busy.

Consul General Rendón started her position in April, leading the Mexican Consulate’s offices in Denver. They work to support Mexican citizens living in Colorado, eastern

Wyoming and eastern Montana. Rendón recently made her first trip to Wyoming to visit with Mexican community leaders, local law enforcement and political leaders in Cheyenne.

By Ermell - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42799634, Cropped by Tennessee Watson

The 2017 Solar Eclipse overlaps the beginning of the school year in Wyoming. The majority of districts will start classes just after — on the 22 or 23 of August — and two districts in the path of totality made sure students had the day off. Fremont #6 starts on the 17, but students will have the 21 off. The school board in Fremont #24 voted to move the first day of school back to August 23, out of concern for the influx of visitors to the area.

Office of Governor Matt Mead

The accounts that fund education saw an unexpected revenue boost, which brought the predicted education shortfall from $400 million down to $250 million, according to Governor Matt Mead.

 

Mead said coal is coming back — along with oil and gas — but he cautioned the state is still running short on funds. He added that means the legislature will have some hard work to do during the 2018 Budget Session, as they consider further budget reductions or alternate revenue through new taxes.

 

Wyoming School Boards Association

School board members and district superintendents gathered recently to discuss the changes underfoot in Wyoming’s education system with an eye toward reforms they would like to see during the 2018 legislative session.

 

Brian Farmer, Executive Director for the Wyoming School Boards Association, said his organization held a joint meeting with the Wyoming Association of School Administrators, and the topic of teacher accountability was high on everyone’s list.

 

State of Wyoming Legislature

As a part of the state’s efforts to confront a funding deficit brought on by the downturn in the energy industry, the 2017 Legislature established the Wyoming Government Spending and Efficiency Commission.

One of its first actions was to request that all major agency heads report on their work to reduce spending and improve efficiency.

Tennessee Watson

In the library of Sunflower Elementary school on Gillette’s southwest side, Dr. William Heineke is hard at work as a psychologist. He’s putting on two hats, with shorts over his pants, mismatched shoes, and instead of a pen, he tucks a toothbrush into his lapel. The Mardi Gras mask he’s putting on followed by his eye glasses might be deceiving, but this wild outfit is part of a serious effort to help troubled elementary school kids. They’ve been diagnosed with things like anxiety, depression, anger issues and are at risk for suicide.  

Wyoming Department of Education

The Wyoming Department of Education reported Thursday that student scores on statewide assessments have seen some improvements. The Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students — known as PAWS — tests students in grades 3-8 in reading and math, and grades 4-8 in science.

Logos courtesy of APA and the Wyoming State Legislature

The Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration—charged with looking for ways to reduce spending in the face of funding shortfalls—announced they will be working with APA Consulting to assess the current school funding model.

Wyoming Department of Education

In response to the current state funding crisis, the Wyoming Department of Education surveyed school districts to see how cuts were impacting their annual budgets. The results confirm the budget crisis is impacting summer programming.

 

Of Wyoming’s 48 districts, Big Horn School District #2 in Lovell and Teton County School District #1 in Jackson, were the only two districts not included in the survey results.

 

Chair and umbrella from Pixabay. Design by Tennessee Watson

Summer school might sound like a punishment, but according to Karen Bierhaus from the Wyoming Department of Education, it often provides opportunities for students to learn in more creative and engaging ways.

However, due to changes in the school funding model during the 2017 Wyoming Legislative session, funding through the Wyoming Bridges Program for summer and extended day programs no longer exists.

By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitolderivative work: O.J. - United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17800708
courtesy of Randy Haas

A summer hike up to a 13,000-foot alpine meadow can be exhilarating. But what if you decided to stay up there for the rest of your life? The lack of oxygen, frigid temperatures, and sparse vegetation would make it tough. Archaeologists know hunter-gatherers traversed highland areas thousands of years ago, but presumed they also had to spend time in lowland areas in order to survive.

That idea is now being challenged by a team of researchers at the University of Wyoming who have made a rare discovery.

University of Wyoming Staff Senate

Representatives from the University of Wyoming Staff Senate met with President Laurie Nichols Friday to ask for what they say is a much needed overhaul to the staff compensation system.

 

Staff Senate President Rachel Stevens said base level salaries have not increased since 2008 and UW staff earn less than their counterparts at other state agencies.

Tennessee Watson

The State Board of Education approved full accreditation for 46 of Wyoming’s 48 school districts, and all 13 institutional schools for the coming school year.

Tom Sasche, the board’s coordinator, said the annual process helps ensure districts are meeting established standards and showing improvement.

“In addition to the statewide assessment system and the accountability system, Wyoming participates in something called the Advanc-Ed Accreditation Process,” said Sasche.  

Pages