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Governor Gordon’s education advisory council releases its final report with recommendations

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Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) Council Advisory Group released its final report last week with recommendations on how to improve the state’s K-12 education system. More than 7,000 responses were gathered from educators and administrators, the business community, current students, and retired educators, among others.

Gordon announced an effort to lead the state’s education system into the future in May 2021. The RIDE Advisory Group’s objective is to make Wyoming’s K-12 education system into one of leadership at the national level.

“Wyoming’s future is intertwined with education,” Gordon said. “If we don’t provide a world-class education system, we will be challenged to stay competitive in a changing world and retain the families that make up both the fabric of our communities and the heart of our workforce.”

Seventeen listening sessions were conducted by the advisory group. Some of the topics identified by stakeholders expressed a desire to focus on early childhood education, including pre-kindergarten, taking new approaches to teacher preparation and engagement, establishing “districts of innovation” that allow for the opportunity and for the flexibility to try new ideas and to find new approaches for school and district accountability, including how to approach testing and assessments, among several others.

Approximately 60 percent of the 7,000 survey respondents indicated that they thought students weren’t adequately prepared for life beyond high school. There were, however, some positive aspects that were expressed, too.

“I think the comments ranged in anything from school’s boring, it doesn't teach enough life skills, et cetera, all sorts of comments,” said John Masters, chairman of the RIDE Advisory Group. “There were also very positive comments that [said] we have some great programs, some great educators, we do a good job of funding our schools, things of that nature, too.”

There was some criticism levied at the long-time educational model that schools have used to educate students in that it doesn’t fully conform to the different needs and learning styles of different students.

“The educational model largely in use around the country essentially developed, I don't know, many decades ago, perhaps 150 years ago,” Masters said. “The students are given a lot of information. They're expected to assimilate that information into their own mind, and then be able to do something with it. That model, which has worked pretty well but is now being replaced in many local and statewide educational programs with one that says not all children are the same and they don't learn the skills or the subjects in the same sequence that maybe we think they should. And they don't learn in the same method.”

Some of the recommendations in the report include establishing strong definitions of competency, making it possible to understand how students and demonstrate mastery of a subject before moving on, developing school-level plans for implementing student-centered learning, guidance to schools based on research and practice and allowing for school that allows schools to take control of what works best for them, in addition to supporting teachers and faculty to adopt their practices to this new approach. It also seeks to engage local and state stakeholders, such as the business community and post secondary institutions to better build an understanding of the shift to student-centered learning and to increase communication with parents and guardians about changes in their children’s school.

Other emphasis was placed on the mental health of students and faculty, which Masters indicated hasn’t been adequately discussed on a statewide basis.

“Some districts are doing a great job of addressing it, some are struggling, and so we thought that was an issue worth surfacing and mentioning that perhaps a more cohesive approach needed to be taken,” he said. “I think COVID brought or highlighted some of the mental health challenges that are present. We saw that with kids staying home and not interacting with other children, but that created some stresses not just among the children, but with parents and children, and we saw the pressures that were put on the faculty to do things in a different way caused a lot of deep concerns for them.”

Though the purview of RIDE’s recommendations focused on the state’s K-12 education system, there were concerns that were raised from survey respondents about the access to pre-kindergarten programs and the preparation of students for kindergarten and their educational careers as they get older.

“We do not suggest that there'll be a statewide preschool system established but we do think that resources need to be available if a parent or parents are struggling in preparing their child,” he said. “The observation that was made both in the responses to our survey, but also in the literature and the people we spoke with was there's a vast disparity between how well-prepared children are as they enter the kindergarten door. And somehow, if we can elevate the children who are otherwise going to struggle, everyone will benefit.”

Some school districts in the state are already attempting or to accomplish the objectives of RIDE, even though they may not label their efforts as part of RIDE’s recommendations.

“There are some that are really attempting to address student individual needs rather than treating all students the same, Masters said. “The challenges I think will be first getting the community support necessary so that the community, which includes parents and includes future employers, includes everybody, understands that the educational experience for this particular child may vary from what that person experienced when they went through school, and nevertheless understand that it's important and it's valuable, [and] will accomplish the goals that were established.”

Masters added that implementing these recommendations won’t necessarily be easy and that results may not occur immediately. Other states across the country that have implemented similar standards can also be looked to as examples of what works and what doesn’t.

“We're not going to be the trailblazers here, but we don't want to be the laggards either,” he said.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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