Education

WPM is committed to covering education issues in Wyoming in a thoughtful and thorough way. This page captures all education-related stories we've aired and updates you on broad issues.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says he is still weighing the attributes of the three finalists for the state’s new Education Director.  The Director would run the State Department of Education.  

Mead has interviewed all three, but says he wants more time to consider them.

Wyoming Department of Education

Recent leadership and policy changes have caused upheaval in the Wyoming Department of education, but the collection and processing of data has been insufficient for years. An audit of the WDE’s Information Management unit is showing that there are major flaws in the system, and that an overhaul of the department is in order. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

In light of Wyoming’s high suicide rate, the state Legislature’s Joint Education Committee has voted to draft legislation that would implement the Jason Flatt Act in the cowboy state. It would require all school teachers to participate in a two-hour suicide prevention training every year to maintain their licenses.

Wyoming had the highest suicide rate in the country in 2012.  Joint Education Committee co-chairman Senator Hank Coe says it’s an especially tough issue in his district. Six people in Park County have taken their own lives so far this year.

A group of students from Fremont County School District 6 asked the Joint Education Committee to help crack down on school bus fly-bys in the state.

A fly-by is when a motorist illegally passes a school bus that has stopped to load or unload students, while raising a stop sign and turning on flashing warning lights.

Eleven-year-old Makayla Strahle of Crowhart was one of nine children killed in fly-bys nationally during the 2011 school year.

Fremont County District 6 Superintendent Diana Clapp says she was glad the committee was receptive to the students’ message.

A new report shows that the Wyoming Department of Education data collection and processing arm is needs serious improvements.

Today the Wyoming Board of Education begins the process of trying to find a Director of Education.  Board Chairman Ron Micheli said the board plans to interview a group of candidates this weekend and narrow the list to three by Saturday and submit that list to the governor for his consideration. 

The Director will be in charge of running the State Department of Education after Superintendent Cindy Hill’s duties were changed by the state legislature.  Micheli said that he’s looking for someone who will be a good fit for Wyoming.

A search firm says there is a lot of interest in Wyoming’s opening for a new Director of Education.  The position was created by the State Legislature to take over day to day operations of the State Department of Education. 

Associated Press

Fremont County School District 38 in Arapahoe has a new acting superintendent.

Former assistant superintendent Chantell Denson stepped in last week when former Superintendent Jonathan Braack left to take over the Niobrara County School District.

During the 16 months Braack was superintendent, the once struggling Arapahoe Schoo met No Child Left Behind’s requirements for Annual Yearly Progress for the first time under the Safe Harbor program.

Thirteen Jackson Hole High School students swept the preliminary rounds of a competition that will take them to Washington, DC next month, where they’ll represent Wyoming at the National History Day competition.

Fifteen-year old Bella Wood is a student in teacher Jeff Brazil’s Honors U.S. History class, which participated in the contest themed “Turning Points in History.” She says this is her second chance to take a project to the national competition. Wood says they’re experiences she’ll take with her into college and beyond.

Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium / University of Wyoming

More than 500 girls from across Wyoming will gather at the University of Wyoming Tuesday for the annual Women in Science Conference.

The Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium hosts the event, during which the middle- and high-school students learn about various applications of science, technology, math and engineering. In past years, students have identified animal skulls, developed computer games, and learned about anatomy in UW’s Human Cadaver Lab. Many of the scientists leading the programs are women.

Courtesy of University of Wyoming

This weekend a new set of graduates are leaving the University of Wyoming.  For some, they are facing an unknown job situation, but others are ready to jump into their careers.  The graduates also talked about Wyoming’s efforts to keep them in-state. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck sat down with three graduates from U-W’s College of business and found that two are leaving and one thinks he’ll hang around a bit longer.

May 7th is Teacher Appreciation Day.

Kathy Vetter, President of the Wyoming Education Association, taught elementary through high school students in Wheatland during her 30 years in the classroom. She says that teachers’ responsibilities have changed as students’ own roles have changed. “When I started teaching,” says Vetter, “going to school was the student’s job. Now, that’s only one of many jobs students have, that they have to divide their time amongst—and so there’s more pressure on the teachers and the students.”

Bob Beck / Natrona County High School

Wyoming’s Interim Education Director is expressing concerns about the state’s declining graduation rate.  Jim Rose notes that Wyoming’s high school graduation rate has fallen below 80 percent for the second straight year.

The most recent numbers show that 78-point-nine percent of public high school students graduated in the 2011-2012 school year. Rose says this is an indicator that the state has some work to do to get the graduation numbers higher.

A lawyer representing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill is threatening to sue over comments by legislators that appeared in a white paper explaining why lawmakers removed much of Hill’s power.  The white paper was crafted to respond to non-legislative members of the Wyoming Republican Party who expressed concern over the law's passage.  It was distributed in an email by Big Horn Representative Rosie Berger.   Hill’s Attorney Robert DiLorenzo wrote Berger saying that the white paper appeared to be defamatory and he demanded that Berger provide proof for several statements

The Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee has approved a resolution endorsing the drive to repeal the state law that took power away from the state superintendent of public instruction.

The Central Committee approved the resolution on a 40-32 vote over the weekend in Buffalo.

The action is a slap at the Republican controlled state Legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Mead who approved the law during this past legislative session.

Schools across the country have embraced sweeping anti-bullying measures in recent years. Universities and schools districts are encouraging teachers to celebrate diversity and discourage exclusionary language, but at the upcoming Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, the University of Wyoming will host a group that say teachers need to beexplicit about their acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning students.

State Superintendent Cindy Hill will take her case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Wednesday District Court Judge Thomas Campbell refused to issue a preliminary injunction and restore her powers and duties immediately.  But he did send her case immediately to the Wyoming Supreme Court for further action.   

The Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead approved a law this winter taking away many of the superintendent's powers and duties. It included replacing the superintendent as administrative head of the state Education Department with a director appointed by the governor.

Wyoming is getting more money from the federal government to improve its lowest-achieving schools.
 
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced today that Wyoming will get $1.1 million in 2013. It's the third year the state has gotten a grant from the department's School Improvement Grant Program.

Nine other states, including Colorado, are also getting money.
 
The department says states will distribute the money to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for it and show a strong commitment to using it to improve student performance.

A district judge in Cheyenne says he will rule in a week whether to restore the powers and duties recently taken away from state schools Superintendent Cindy Hill.
 
  Judge Thomas Campbell heard more than two hours of testimony and arguments Thursday in Hill's lawsuit challenging a new law that removed her as head of the Wyoming Education Department.
 
  

March 1st a series of automatic cuts to federal spending—called the sequester—went into effect. Education is one of the areas Wyoming will feel the cuts most acutely. A White House report says the state will lose millions of dollars in school funding.

Jim Rose, interim director of the Wyoming Department of Education, says a 5% cut to the federal education budget would mean special needs students would get less funding.

The Wyoming legislature grabbed headlines early in the session by stripping powers from State Superintendent Cindy Hill.  Now they they’re focused on ways to improve education.   Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more….

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that would focus accountability in education on individual schools in the state.  The statewide education accountability phase one bill would establish benchmarks for schools. If schools don’t meet those benchmarks, they will have to develop a school improvement plan.  Senator Chris Rothfuss says that lawmakers hope to measure student performance in coming months.

The State Senate continues working on a bill that would require schools to be accountable for student performance.  Under the bill, each school in the state would need to meet a pre-determined performance rating. 

Senator Charles Scott successfully amended the bill to say that a principal could be fired if his or her school falls short of that rating two years in a row.

“All these accountability structures are very fine, but when the day’s over you gotta do something if the performance is not adequate,” Scott says.

Max Klingensmith / Creative Commons

The Wyoming Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would rate schools on student performance. 

The school accountability measure was amended by the Senate to say all schools that do not exceed pre-determined academic targets would have to develop improvement plans. 

The House version of the bill said meeting targets was sufficient.  

Senator Chris Rothfuss of Laramie says the Senate is shooting for a higher bar. 

Wyoming Department of Education

After hearing from whistleblowers and attorneys that there may have been irregularities in spending within the State Department of Education, the Wyoming House of Representatives has set aside money to perform a whistleblower audit of the department. 

Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says Superintendent Cindy Hill has denied that money was spent improperly, but he says the legislature is obligated to determine if there is any truth to the charges and the House will ask for a complete audit.       

Topic of the Week

What do you think of the bill that would allow guns in Wyoming schools and colleges?

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  Governor Matt Mead has signed into law a bill that strips powers from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In turn Superintendent Cindy Hill has filed suit, claiming that the new law is unconstitutional. 

Mead also announced that Community College Director Jim Rose will serve as the interim Director of Education. 

Mead said he did a lot of soul-searching before agreeing to sign the bill.

“I don’t think anybody would view this as a celebration, I think we would view it as a duty we must go forward on for the kids in Wyoming,” Mead says.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

After two weeks of discussion, the Wyoming Legislature has voted to remove some duties from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The legislation awaits the signature of Governor Matt Mead. 

The bill would hand over administration of the State Department of Education to a Governor appointed Director of Education. 

Opponents of the bill once again complained that they were going against voters who supported the election of Superintendent Cindy Hill by a two-to-one margin. 

Rock Springs Republican Stephen Watt again asked the House to slow down.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming House of Representatives has joined the State Senate in passing a bill that would strip a number of powers from the State Superintendent and give them to a Governor appointed Director of Education.  The Superintendent would remain on state boards and commissions with the other four elected officials.  But the new Director would run the State Department of Education.  Top lawmakers crafted the legislation right before the legislative session; and many believe that the legislature is moving too quickly.  But some observers say the move is overdue.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck

The Wyoming House of Representatives defeated a pair of amendments during the second day of debate on a bill that would remove some duties from the State Superintendent and give them to a governor-appointed Director of Education.  

Jackson Republican Keith Gingery asked for $20,000 to be set aside to allow State Superintendent Cindy Hill to fight her loss of power in court.  During that discussion Gingery expressed disappointment about the tone of the debate on the issue.

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