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Governor’s education group starts sifting through feedback regarding K-12 changes

A small chalkboard sits on a desk with the word "education" written on it in capital letters. A pair of reading glasses and a red book with a pen resting on top sit next to it.
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Recently the governor's K-12 education advisory group called Reimaging and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE), provided some responses that some seven-thousand Wyomingites provided about the strengths of Wyoming's education system. John Masters is the chairman of the group and he joined Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck to discuss what they heard.

Bob Beck: Maybe it would be a good idea for you just to explain to the listeners what this group is trying to do?

John Masters: It's a pretty big task, but we're trying to see if we can suggest improvements to the education system and try to modernize it, perhaps bringing it more in line with the needs of students and the public going forward.

BB: You talked to a number of different groups. Could you comment on who you were hearing from?

JM: Well, in advance of the survey, we spoke with members of the executive councils of the State Board of Education, the superintendents, the Education Association, a lot of school board trustees, and then we talked with the former Superintendent of Public Instruction and the current Superintendent. So we've spoken with folks in the education community of Wyoming, but not everybody, obviously. And part of the purpose of the survey was to reach out to try to hear from the voices that might ordinarily not be heard.

BB: What I thought was interesting is that you've talked to so many people in the education community, who, in my read, did not think that the state is doing a very good job of preparing students for the future when discussing learning outcomes and expectations. Many had some concerns about that. What was your take on that?

JM: Well, I think there's a disconnect. The public and recent students seem to think they were less prepared than they should have been. But members of the education community felt almost 50/50, that they weren't doing a good job of preparing students. And I'm not sure why a disconnect exists, it may be that there's just not a good communication of what's going on. Or maybe that this is an issue, which we need to take seriously and try to find some way to solve it.

BB: My first takeaway, when I saw some of those responses, was I wondered if it had something to do with the testing and some of the other things that you've got going on and are requiring of educators.

JM: Certainly the educators, the responses that I saw, and I haven't seen them all, but there seem to be a lot of distractions in the classroom that were taking away from teaching time. And so from the educators who responded, at least the ones I saw, they seemed to have brought to our attention that they really were not in a position to teach as much as they wanted to teach. And I'm not quite sure how we tackle that issue. Because these are things that have been placed. These requirements have been placed upon them throughout the years by the legislature, or the federal Department of Education, or maybe even local school boards, and administrators. So I'm not sure how to sort all that out and what we can do about it, but that's certainly an issue that has kind of risen to the top there among them at least.

BB: It did sound like also there's some enthusiasm for maybe doing more in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

JM: Well, STEM has been a focal point for at least 10 years. And so I know that the school districts themselves have tried to emphasize that. There were quite a few, a large percentage of the responses said, we needed to teach more practical stuff. And so there's a little dichotomy there between, should we focus on the STEM type classes? Or should we focus on life skills and how to learn critical thinking, for example. So I'm not sure that they have to be sacrificed one for the other, but there's certainly a tension.

BB: Now you're going to be doing some listening sessions. The first couple will be June 14 and 15. Then after that, you're gonna go to Rock Springs, Powell, Riverton, Gillette, Casper and Cheyenne. What you looking for is to have the public show up and talk to you?

JM: Yes. And so we know that some people either missed the opportunity to participate in this survey, or wanted to say more than they were able to say in the survey. Or they just learned about this and now have thought about it and want to share some additional thoughts. We were a little bit surprised that we received over 7,000 responses to our survey. Our challenge right now is to try to decide how large a venue we need for these public meetings, and whether we will have 10 people or 500. So we're asking people to give us a heads up if they plan to attend. It's not critical that somebody register in advance, but it would really help us planning ways to make sure we have a venue that's appropriate. We have a company that's going to help facilitate these meetings, and they will tell us how best to interact with the public at that time. So it will largely depend on how many folks show up and how we are able to interact.

BB: You worked with the Department of Education, so I'm sure you're aware of feedback you got during that time. Plus you're like me, you talk to normal people who bring up this stuff all the time. And so where do you think we're heading with all of this? And do you have a guess as to what people are indicating what they want to see change?

JM: What should change? What can we change if we had, I guess, infinite ability to make change? If we could better engage parents with the school systems, I think that would really be a big help. Now, keep in mind that some parents struggle, pulling down multiple jobs, and have many kids that they have to worry about, things of that sort. But that parent-child support is really important. And I don't know that we as a group will be able to do much other than make some suggestions. Now, on the other hand, I think we can modernize what goes on within the classroom. And there are innovative things going on now. So don't take that to mean that we're not modern. But you know, there are techniques and there are tools, especially ones that we've been exposed to because of the pandemic, which I hope we will be able to learn from and use better to prepare our kids.

The governor and others have called our existing system an industrial model, which suggests that at the end of the day, we produce a widget that looks like every other widget. And that's probably not what the public wants nor what the child needs. I think we need to somehow find a way to appreciate and foster and grow the individual talents and skills of each child and prepare them in that fashion. Obviously, they need a certain baseline of skills. But we also want to encourage people to fulfill their best ambition.

BB: If people want to attend they can sign up and get more information at https://ride.wyo.gov/

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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