Wyoming Education reforms move forward as the Hill debate continues

Jul 19, 2013

Unless you are new to the state or have lived under a rock, you are aware that the state legislature passed a law that changed the powers of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and placed a Director in charge of Education.  Now lawmakers are investing a report that suggests possible wrong doing by Superintendent Cindy Hill…charges she denies.  It might lead people to worry about education in the state.  But lawmakers want you to know that they continue to try and make change for the better.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has the story…

BOB BECK:  Over a week ago leadership in the state legislature made the decision to investigate allegations in a report that suggested that Superintendent Cindy Hill misspent federal money, misused the state plane, and mistreated employees.  The results of their findings could actually lead the legislature to consider impeaching Hill who has a little over a year left in her current term. Hill denies the charges and says it’s a witch hunt and her supporters accuse lawmakers of piling on.  Senator Eli Bebout says that charge is unfair.

ELI BEBOUT:  How can you say you are piling on if you want to confirm facts?  We’re not piling on we want to know if the facts are true or if the allegations can be backed up by facts.  That’s what we are talking about.

State Representative and Education Committee member Cathy Connolly admits that the Hill business has been a distraction.

CATHY CONNOLLY:  When we have the whole reorganization of the Department of Ed and Superintendent duties, when we have all of these lawsuits coming up, or course it’s a distraction.  I would be remiss to say it’s not.  But I hope that we can finish with it, put it behind us and really move along with what’s best and better. 

BECK:  For the last three years Wyoming has embarked on an ambitious effort to improve education in the state.  Lawmakers are changing state standards, they are implementing major accountability measures for schools and teachers, and they are looking at new and innovative ways to improve learning.  The Joint Education Committee recently met to continue those tasks and House Chairman Matt Teeters was excited.

MATT TEETERS:  I think today if felt like we were back in the saddle again.  It felt good, we were having high level policy conversations about how we are going to move forward and I’m encouraged by that because I think we are all ready to move on with our lives. 

BECK:  Some of those discussions concerned getting more Native Americans to graduate and what might be done at lower grade levels to improve that.  They looked at how do improve virtual learning, how they can encourage early childhood education for some at-risk students, how the curriculum for the Hathaway scholarship is working.  He says the commitment to improving education has never been stronger. 

TEETERS:  Oh, I think we have one of the best systems in this country and I think as we continue to look at innovative ways to make it better it’s only going to get better.  You know we have a strong commitment from the legislature and the governor’s office both to continue high levels of funding which is important.  And now we are looking at ways outside the box really to try and dramatically improve the quality of education in this state. 

Senator Jim Anderson says he’s waited for almost two decades to see the kind of innovation the legislature is trying to pursue.

JIM ANDERSON:  What we are doing in education in Wyoming is not very effective, if you continue to do the same things and get the same result that’s a little bit of insanity.  So what we are trying to do break out of that mold and do things in a much more effective manner. 

BECK:  Anderson says that ever since Interim Director Jim Rose started running the Department of Education, the Department has been much more cooperative and has worked with legislators to develop their ideas.  Rose says with a permanent Director there’s more innovation to come.

JIM ROSE:  Looking at a fairly substantial change in the state standards and how we assess those standards with the common core and the statewide assessment coming on in 2015.  You know and the discussion about alternative learning environments, distance education, a lot of those kind of things. I think we are on the cusp of some fairly major changes.  

Educators and representatives of the State Board of Education also like the new ideas.  As one educator said, despite the white noise, things are heading in the right direction.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.