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A Weston County school district has more than doubled its enrollment thanks to a virtual program

The bobcat is the mascot for WCSD #7, which serves students in Upton and now statewide through their online education offerings for students in grades K-8.
Weston County School District #7
The bobcat is the mascot for WCSD #7, which serves students in Upton and now statewide through their online education offerings for students in grades K-8.

Weston County School District #7 (WCSD), which serves Upton, has nearly tripled its enrollment this school year by offering online education offerings to students statewide. It’s currently one of a few virtual learning programs offered to students in distance form in the state. This is the second year that the district has offered the program, which has approximately 500 students enrolled in addition to around 225 students that attend classes in person in Upton.

“We partner with a company called Tech Trep Academy that operates in a number of different states, and they have to have their curriculum, [and] they establish it tied to the state standards,” said Clark Coberly, superintendent of WCSD #7. “It's nothing that's designed by our district or our teachers, we just have oversight of that, and it's a K-8 program. It does not serve students in grades nine through 12.”

The district first implemented the virtual program in the 2021-22 school year. Park County School District #16, which serves Meeteetse, had already been part of the program for a year but decided against hosting it again. After searching for a new host district, WCSD #7 agreed to Tech Trep Academy’s proposal. The first year, there were around 300 students statewide that participated in the program. Instruction is offered by Tech Trep Academy teachers and in certain areas from Upton-based staff.

In addition to WCSD #7, Big Horn County School District #1,theWyoming Virtual Academy, based in Lusk and affiliated with Niobrara County School District #1, the Cowboy State Virtual Academy, affiliated with Sheridan County School District #1 and Sweetwater County School District #1 all offer a virtual program.

“It's been positive for us, I think, and it's been positive for Tech Trep, but most importantly I think what it's allowed [is for] families across the state of Wyoming that are choosing this type of format now have that opportunity to do so as opposed to they're not just homeschooled, they're actually enrolled in a Wyoming school district,” Coberly said. “A homeschool student is not required to take the WY-TOPP [Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress] assessment. However, if you're enrolled in a school district, which the students are technically, non-resident enrollees in Weston 7, they are required to take the WY-TOPP assessment, they're required to follow a curriculum that is tied to the Wyoming state standards. So, there's a little bit more oversight than just a traditional homeschool arrangement.”

None of the “brick and mortar” students, as Coberly described those who attend school in person in Upton are participating in the virtual program. WCSD #7 has experienced a decline in their in person student population for these students. For years it was around 250. Coberly attributes the decline to Upton having lost population in recent years. Students in the district’s online program are considered students of Upton Elementary or Upton Middle School.

“Our arrangement is, obviously as these [online] school students become enrolled in our district, it increases our ADM [average daily membership] which drives the funding for school districts,” he said. “We have more students, however since we're not the one providing service, we don't have the overhead cost of providing [or] hiring staff, buying materials and those different types of things in buying technology. We serve as a host, we get a percentage of that ADM, and then the rest of that ADM or the rest of that increase through the contract goes to Tech Trep Academy to run their program.”

WCSD #7’s online school includes special education courses. Those are provided by teachers at Upton Elementary and Upton Middle School. Students needing occupational or physical therapy services can receive those in their local communities through agreements with WCSD #7.

“It's been beneficial for us so that as our enrollments [has] gone down, we haven't had to riff staff members,” Coberly said. “Our special ed staff has taken on more students so that they can kind of fill out their schedule.”

WCSD #7 was the fifth smallest school district in the state in terms of enrollment three years ago before hosting the online program. Students enrolled online are generally spread out over the state. Coberly said it’s difficult to estimate what future enrollment figures may look like, but he hopes that their online offerings will provide a boost to the district in the years to come.

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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