Strengthening Education In Wyoming

Strengthening Education Reporting is a reporting initiative that focuses on critical problems and successes in Wyoming ‘s education system. 

Wyoming Public Media received a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant to strengthen education reporting in Wyoming as part of the national American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen program. This long term national public media commitment, supported by the CPB, assists public broadcasting stations in reporting on a wide array of education issues that impact on graduation rates in their communities.  

Building a strong education culture in communities starts with public awareness and involvement. Public radio reaches thousands of listeners, and can play a significant role in building awareness and focusing public attention on issues that shape education in Wyoming.

WPM’s long term goal to make this position a permanent part of the network’s reporting team. WPM is looking for support from individuals and entities who have a passion for education, and who want to make a difference in Wyoming’s future. 

Support comes from:

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and from these Wyoming Foundations:

  • Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation
  • John P. Ellbogen Foundation
  • B.F and Rose H. Perkins Foundation
  • Seidler Foundation / Sam and Carol Mavrakis
  • Joe and Arlene Watt Foundation

View information on NPR State Impact Education programs from the following links:
Florida, Indiana, Ohio.

We welcome ideas about stories we can cover.  We also would like to hear your education success stories as well as failures.  If you’d like to share information, please email: aschran1@uwyo.edu, btwo@uwyo.edu and ckuzmych@uwyo.edu

Aaron Schrank

Most people on the Wind River Reservation have seen Craig Ferris on the sidelines of the basketball court at Wyoming Indian High School. As head coach, he’s led the Chiefs to four state championships. But most days, Ferris can be found driving around and knocking on doors—putting the full-court press on a major problem for reservation schools: attendance. Ferris works for Wyoming Indian Elementary. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank spent a day on the job with him, and has this report.

FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

A State Board of Education task force report is calling for a standardized testing system that better aligns with Wyoming’s content standards. It also recommends that Wyoming adopt a test that is used by more than one state, to allow for more comparison.

Wyoming is looking at replacing its current year-end test, PAWS, with something new. The task force has met 7 times since June to study testing needs.

The group wants a unified testing system for third through 10th grade, rather than PAWS for grade-schoolers and the ACT in 11th grade.

Aaron Schrank

Inside a Casper art gallery, a few dozen teachers are seated in a circle, listening to a presentation chock-full of teambuilding buzzwords.

This is a “design camp” for Natrona County’s new academy-based learning center. These educators get together weekly to plot a reinvention of the high school experience for kids in Casper.

 

“When we open our school, it’s going to be the first time for a whole new way of learning,” says Bryan Aivazian, a coach at one of four career academies that will be housed in the new center, which opens in one year.

Wyoming Public Media

Tonight at 8:00 pm, Wyoming PBS will broadcast ‘Steps To Success For Wyoming’s Native American Students,’ a co-production with Wyoming Public Media.

For information on where to find Wyoming PBS in your area, click here. You can also be part of the discussion online. Share your questions and comments throughout the broadcast on Twitter, using the hashtag #WindRiverEducation.

Courtesy The Guild Charter School

The Natrona County School Board voted unanimously Monday to deny an application for a new Casper charter school.

The proposed Guild Charter School would focus on classical education and use individualized learning plans for all K-12 students. Co-founder Tiffany Leary says she started the application process last year.

Joanne Johnson via Flickr Creative Commons

Wyoming is waiting on federal approval for its plan to improve equal access to high-quality teachers across the state.

These plans are required under the No Child Left Behind education law. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education ordered all 50 states to revamp them.

Wyoming submitted its new proposal last month. Wyoming Department of Education Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor says the state’s equity planning committee found two major gaps to address.

U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr Creative Commons

Homelessness among Wyoming students grew 40 percent from the 2012-2013 to 2013-2014 school year, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

That’s more than four times the average increase seen around the country—and means the number of homeless students in the Cowboy State has doubled since the recession.

Courtesy University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming and the state’s 7 community colleges are celebrating the success of the GEAR UP college access program with events around Wyoming this week—as part of national GEAR UP week.

GEAR UP—or ‘Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs’—is a federal program that provides low-income families with support and resources for college success.

University of Wyoming

This summer, the University of Wyoming’s College of Education welcomed a new dean. Dr. Ray Reutzel was hired amid a major effort by the University’s Board of Trustees to boost the College to national prominence in teacher training. Reutzel himself attended the College decades ago. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank sat down with Reutzel—and began by asking him what impact his experience as a student at UW's College of Ed has on his approach as its dean.

 

 

School performance data released Tuesday by the Wyoming Department of Education shows a gap between how the state says its schools are doing and how the federal government says they’re doing under No Child Left Behind.

The majority of Wyoming schools at least partially met expectations under the state’s accountability system in the 2014-2015 school year. But only 17 percent of Wyoming schools met federal expectations—called ‘adequate yearly progress.’

Aaron Schrank

Fiorella Lazarte is an early literacy coordinator with Jackson’s Teton Literacy Center. Today, she’s driving across town to the home of one her 5-year-old students. 

“We’re going to Camilo’s home,” says Lazarte. “They live in the Virginian Apartments. And the Virginian Apartments itself is an area where the working class lives.”

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.

Two pieces of legislation that could reform the controversial No Child Left Behind law are going to a conference committee. 

The Senate version of the bill allows states to determine how to use federally mandated tests for accountability purposes and lets states decide if they will allow parents to ask to opt out of standardized tests. The House version would just give parents that right. Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis hopes that stays in the bill.

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.

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.

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.”

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.  

Ben Ramsey

In the small town of Pinedale, people have a lot of opinions about sage grouse. That’s because Pinedale just happens to sit in the middle of some of the best sage grouse habitat in the state. It’s also in the middle of some of the best oil and gas fields in the country. So when a Pinedale math teacher joined forces with a sage grouse conservation project, it started a community conversation.

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.

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.

Ben Ramsey

A Pinedale high school teacher used math to teach kids about the importance of sage grouse conservation last week. Cami Dudrey’s Algebra I class collaborated with the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation to solve real world math problems related to putting reflective tags along fences in a critical sage grouse breeding area outside Pinedale.

“Kids don’t see the application of math ever. The most common question I get is when are we ever going to use this?” Dudrey says. “Math’s everywhere. So just finding something to apply any type of math to helps the students connect.”

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.

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.

Abhi Sharma, Flickr Creative Commons

Hundreds of parents, students, and teachers showed up for a contentious school board meeting about reading curriculum in Cody Tuesday night. 

Cody teachers, administrators, and parents spent nearly three years selecting reading and language materials for the school district. They chose Houghton and Mifflin’s Journey curriculum books.

School Superintendent Ray Schulte says 8 or 9 people filed 40 complaints against the selection. Newly elected school board member Scott Weber had problems with some of the content.

“There’s junk science in there.”

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.

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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