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

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.  

Wyoming Education Association

Issues facing students, schools and the teaching profession are being addressed this week at the National Education Association’s Annual Meeting in Boston. Kathy Vetter, President of the Wyoming Education Association, has joined close to 8,000 educators from every state to exchange ideas about how to improve education.

 

Yellowstone Recreations Foundation

Kids in the Cody area will soon have more recreational opportunities thanks to $250,000 grant from the Daniels Fund. The grant was written by the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation in collaboration with various community organizations. Amy Woods, the Foundation Manager and Grant Writer for the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, said the grant was written with a focus on winter recreation.

“Seeing as how we are in winter 12 months out of the year, it seems, that’s a huge area where youth programs can thrive, and we just need the funding to do it,” Woods said.

Wyoming Public Media

The University of Wyoming does a good job graduating students with developed critical thinking skills, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal.  Out of 100 public colleges and universities who participated in the study, UW ranks 14th.  

 

Aaron Schrank

A funding crisis brought on by a downturn in the coal industry has left policy makers struggling to figure out how to fund education. This year school districts took a hit of $34 million to their operating budgets.

 

That’s primarily money for teachers and staff, as well as materials and supplies. But the funding for school construction and maintenance is also running out.

 

PBS

Wyoming is one of 45 states that officially celebrates Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the freedom of African-American slaves in the United States.

Even though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery, in 1862, it was three years later on June 19th, 1865 when slaves in Texas received word of their freedom. Celebrations of this day became known as Juneteenth.

In 2003 the state legislature passed a bill dedicating the third Saturday of every June to honor this historic moment.

Native American Student Summit

Historically, many say the University of Wyoming has not been a supportive place for Native American students. In 2015, the UW Bookstore falsely accused several visiting Native American high schoolers of shoplifting during a recruitment visit. And a general lack of support has caused some tribal students like UW senior Mia Holt to feel unwelcome.  

 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Wyoming’s child well-being rank dropped from 12th to 27th nationally according to this year’s Kids Count Data Book put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Samin Dadelahi is the Chief Operating Officer for the Wyoming Community Foundation, which provided some of the data. She said since the newest report uses data from 2015, what the lower ranking reflects is the impact of Wyoming’s economic downturn on kids.

What do parents think about Wyoming’s K thru 12 education system? At a time when the state is adopting new guidelines laid out by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and policymakers are considering major funding shortfalls, Sheila McGuire, president of the Wyoming Parent Teacher Association, spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson, about why the parent voice is so critical. 

Photo by Gabriel Pollard from Flickr with Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

A growing deficit in funding continues to loom over the K-12 education system in Wyoming. The legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee and Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration came together Monday to work together towards a solution.  Most lawmakers say it will require a combination of cuts and revenue to resolve the deficit. 

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