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Education

Northwest tries new tactics to attract students

in Education/News
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Northwest College in Powell, facing declining enrollment for the last several years, has launched several efforts to build up the number of students attending the two-year school.

As of the fall of 2018, the number of full-time students attending the college in Powell stood at 807, compared to 948 in the fall of 2017.

College President Stefani Hicswa attributed the decline to the improving economy.

“Community college enrollment is directly tied to unemployment,” Hicswa said. “As people go to work, they don’t go to college. This is the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, so they’re not choosing to attend college at this point.”

The college also faces competition from for-profit schools that can spend more on marketing, Hicswa said.

Northwest is changing some of its marketing approaches, such as relying more on social media, to reach students with its message, said Carey Williams, the college’s new director of Communication and Marketing.

Williams said efforts are focusing to spread the word about the college’s location, affordability, the quality of its programs and the college experience it offers.

“Those four things, Northwest College excels at,” she said.

In addition, the college is sending recruiters to meet with potential students, said Dee Havig, Northwest’s interim vice president for Student Services.

“Marketing tells us that social media is what students are wanting, but we’re also hearing they like that face-to-face and making that connection to someone with the school,” he said.

Hicswa said the college is also looking at new degree programs, partnerships with regional colleges and universities and the construction of a new student center to attract more students.

Ray Peterson is back, hoping lawmakers will heed his calls for ed funding cuts

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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

A former state senator who was ousted from the Legislature after sponsoring a bill that threatened to cut education funding is doubling down, saying more money needs to be cut.

Ray Peterson of Cowley said he was alarmed when he learned the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee recommended a $19 million education “external cost adjustment” — a boost to allow school funding to keep up with inflation. Weeks later, Gov. Mark Gordon also recommended an education adjustment of $19 million in 2020, and $19 million for the following year. 

“My concern is it’s not sustainable with the downturn in coal,” Peterson, a Republican who lost re-election in 2018, said in an interview. “That’s where a lot of our education funding comes from: Coal, oil and gas.”

So now he’s speaking out. No longer in the Legislature, he said he wants to start a discussion, hoping lawmakers will be empowered by his talking points. 

“I hope my defeat is not used as a poster child.” he said. “These decisions are hard.”

Nevertheless, the Wyoming Education Association says Peterson’s views are outside the norm and may not pass constitutional muster. The WEA points to a 2017 Public Opinion Strategies poll it commissioned that found 78 percent of registered voters agreed with the statement: “Even with the tough budget situation, funding for K-12 grade schools in the state should NOT be cut.”

And while Peterson questioned education salaries and spending compared to Wyoming’s neighbors, WEA President Kathy Vetter noted in Education Week’s report card, Quality Counts 2019, that the state ranked sixth nationally in education – higher than all five of its neighbors. 

2018 session bill

Education became a central topic in Peterson’s 2018 re-election primary after he sponsored a bill  designed to prevent districts from squirreling away large cash reserves for construction, he said. After several amendments, the cut to Wyoming schools would have been around $40 million, Peterson said, but it was shelved as other school funding measures were working through the legislative process. 

Components of Peterson’s bill were folded into another piece of legislation that cut education by around $29 million — and that bill passed. 

Less than six months later, Peterson – who had served since 2004 and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee — lost re-election to R.J. Kost, a Republican who retired from a long education career. 

This round

This time around, Peterson is offering a graph that he said charts 40 years of education funding in Wyoming — and an overall spending increase of 400 percent.  

If inflation was kept closer to the Consumer Price Index, he said the increase should only be around 120 percent.

Peterson acknowledged some of that increase occurred when legislators decades ago decided to direct more cash toward schools. Money also was distributed from the state to equalize funding among school districts after a series of Wyoming Supreme Court decisions that funding must be uniform. 

He also said some of the education funding increases were a deliberate decision by the Legislature to offer attractive salaries to lure and keep teachers in the state.  

But now Peterson thinks enough is enough. He thinks cuts could be constitutional if they were applied in a manner in which no school district disproportionately suffered. 

“My concern is it’s a runaway freight train and nobody’s tapping the brakes,” he said. 

The constant increases in school funding come at the expense of other state programs, he said, since the state revenue pie is shrinking. 

Possible constitutional issues

However, Vetter, the WEA president, said in an email that in one of the Supreme Court’s education funding decisions, it ruled the Legislature must fund education “adequately and equitably” before anything else. 

The proposal for a $38 million spending increase in the first year of the coming biennium just barely meets the minimum recommendation for education funding set by the Joint Education Committee, Vetter said. 

“The Legislature has established a funding model that meets the constitutional guarantee,” she said. “Gov. Gordon’s budget proposal honors Wyoming students’ constitutionally protected, fundamental right to an equitable, high-quality education.”

Vetter doesn’t deny these are challenging times for the state’s economy, and that other parts of the state budget are suffering. But the Legislature has constitutional obligations.

“Sacrificing on education means sacrificing Wyoming’s future,” she said. 

Board of Education votes to move forward with computer science standards

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily 

After five months of anxiously waiting, the State Board of Education finally got the answer its members were looking for, clearing the way for adoption of statewide computer standards. 

Well, an answer, at least.

Back in June, the board asked Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to give her opinion regarding the constitutionality of the proposed computer science standards that have been in limbo for nearly two years.

On Friday, the board released the attorney general’s opinion to the public, which consisted of 20 pages addressing questions, concerns and advice on how to move forward with the standards, which the board ultimately voted to do. 

It was a long proceeding on Friday, with the board members meeting in an executive session for nearly three hours to discuss the AG’s opinion before reconvening to take public testimony and vote on the standards. 

Once they came back from the executive session, board member Sue Belish told the audience to “not panic.” 

“The public should be aware that we have a lot of discussion and work to do in relation to this opinion,” she said. Hill’s opinion addressed five questions from board Chairman Walt Wilcox, ranging from what determines which content and performance standards were mandatory for all students in grades K-12, whether labeling the curriculum in a certain way would infringe upon student uniformity and the effectiveness of implementation and aligning with the existing standards in schools across the state. 

In her opinion, Hill told Wilcox that the terminology in the standards was confusing and certain words weren’t used consistently.

“There are three types of state standards: content, performance and graduation,” she wrote. “The proposed computer science standards use three different labels (priority, supporting and enhanced). The word ‘benchmarks’ can refer to either the discrete items of knowledge that compose the standards or the grade-level or grade-band targets where those items must be taught.” 

Hill told the board that it should designate certain benchmarks from among the content and performance standards that are required for high school graduation, as well as set benchmarks for elementary and junior high students. She suggested removing the words “priority” and “supporting” from the benchmark description.

 In a memo to the board from Kari Eakins, chief policy officer for the Department of Education, she described the three labels as: 

  • Priority: All students are expected to be instructed on and demonstrate the mastery of the content and performance expectations included in these benchmarks.
  • Supporting: All students are expected to be instructed in these standards, taught within the context of the priority standards. 
  • Enhanced: Students have an opportunity for enrichment above what all students are expected to know and do as required by the priority benchmarks. 

In her conclusion, Hill noted that just because these standards will be mandatory for all schools, this doesn’t mean all students will have to learn all of them. She reiterated that the board should determine graduation requirements to include the computer science standards component and content benchmarks that should be mastered in lower grade levels and only create performance standards for those benchmarks. 

For the standards to be considered effective by the 2022-2023 school year, which is when the board plans to have them implemented, all districts should have aligned their instructional materials and assessments standards by that time. 

Laurie Hernandez, the Department of Education’s standards and assessment director, told the board most of the public comments the department received over the summer on the standards had to do with their implementation rather than their content.

Belish said she heard a number of elementary school teachers expressing concern about how daunting and difficult the standards seemed to be. 

“I think it’s more about the language of understanding with these new standards,” Hernandez responded. “This was the same thing with the 2012 math standards. Once I explained the language to those teachers, a lot of them told (me) they were already teaching those things. So that’s why we verified the comments as a concern over implementation.” 

Public comments on the standards came from educators and students from across the state, including a senior from Laramie High School, Laramie County School District No. 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown and Fremont County School District No. 6 Superintendent Diana Clapp. 

“After I took biology my freshman year, I decided that I wanted to go into genetics,” said Catherine Ballard, the Laramie High School student. “When I was looking at classes I would need to take in high school to prepare me for college, computer science was one of them, which piqued my interest. Computer science is applicable in so many ways and while I know some teachers are hesitant to dive into computer science since they haven’t been trained in it, I urge the board to pass rigorous standards for the workforce these students will one day enter.”

Clapp and Brown, while saying they knew these standards were important, felt they needed time to digest the attorney general’s opinion. Brown stated that LCSD1 has embraced moving forward with the standards, but also admitted that there might be hurdles to overcome, since they are so new. In the end, the board unanimously passed the standards with a couple of amendments to the language. First, the board clarified that “enhanced” benchmarks would be available to all students, but they wouldn’t be mandatory for all. 

The second amendment was to remove the performance level descriptors (PLD) from the standards for kindergarten through fifth grade, but still making the PLDs available to educators in a guidance document. 

AG’s opinion on computer standards is in

in Education/News/Technology
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Board of Education has received an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of proposed computer science standards for the state’s schools, a board member said Friday.

Sue Belish, testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, said the board will review the opinion from Attorney General Bridget Hill during its meeting next week.

Hill’s office was asked in June to answer several questions about the constitutionality of the standards developed in response to legislation approved almost two years ago.

Belish said without Hill’s opinion, the Board of Education was unable to proceed with the standards. She declined to specify what constitutional questions Hill’s opinion addressed.

Belish’s appearance came in response to a request from Education Committee members in June for an update on the standards.

The standards have been rewritten numerous times, since concern has been expressed from elementary school teachers and the attorney general’s office about various issues. 

The issues included worries about teachers learning computer science requirements in a time crunch.

Attorneys also expressed concern about whether the standards would meet constitutional requirements for public instruction to be uniform, since some schools in the state would only be able to teach to minimum requirements and others would be able to offer expanded programs.

Belish noted it takes a number of months for the content review committee (made up of individuals including teachers and computer scientists) to go through the process of evaluating the standards.

Due to the mixed testimonies the Board of Education received about the then-current standards during its meeting in March, its members asked the content committee to rewrite them, Belish said. 

The committee came back in April with revised standards and benchmarks. 

Belish felt public comment was more positive during that meeting, but since the committee only had one month to rewrite the standards, members only focused on the requirements for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“At that meeting, the board formally approved starting the rule promulgation process,” she said. “It went to the governor, the secretary of state and out for 45-day comment.”

The Department of Education has collected those comments, so the board will consider them at its meeting on Friday, Nov. 22. 

Belish said that during its last three meetings, the board has had computer science standards on its agenda, but without an opinion from the attorney general, there was nothing that could be done. 

However, she told the committee that the board received Hill’s opinion on Tuesday, which will be considered at its meeting next week. 

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, questioned what the constitutional issues were, but Belish invoked attorney-client privilege to not answer. 

She said the board would talk about the attorney general’s opinion next week and be transparent about its consideration. 

Board of Education Chairman Walt Wilcox told the committee that the board plans to implement the standards by 2023, about a year after the originally slated date.

Representatives from the state Department of Education, meanwhile, said the state’s students have seen increased access to computer science education without the standards.

“I want to point out that this data shows since from 2016-17 school year, there really has been increased student access to computer science,” said Kari Eakins, the department’s chief policy officer. “A lot of districts are making substantial progress toward the implementation. We currently have 907 secondary students enrolled in a computer science course, but only 196 of them are female.” 

She added in her presentation that secondary school teachers will have to obtain certification to teach computer science, but elementary school teachers will not.

Members of the public testifying during the hearing, such as state Rep. Sara Burlingame, thanked the Education Committee for working to get the standards in place.

However, several also noted that the standards should be in place as soon as possible so young students can begin learning computer skills.

“If we lose those critical years, we’re the ones who pay,” Burlingame said. “Our students pay, but our economy, our workforce that doesn’t have those skills, we’re the poorer for it. I hope there’s a level of excitement that the state of Wyoming decided to invest in this. We’ll work out these bumps together. This is a neat thing we’re doing here.” 

Computer science education still not in many Wyoming classrooms — nearly 18 months after bill signed

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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Learning computer code, using it to create programs and understanding how information is broken down and delivered by networks are just some of the dozens of computer science lessons that could be taught in Wyoming public schools. 

However, the speed of creating statewide computer science and computational thinking standards isn’t exactly gigahertz per second. 

Nearly 18 months have passed since then-Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill creating the standards. Since then, they have been written and rewritten. But for the past five months, the Wyoming State Board of Education has been in a holding pattern, waiting for Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to opine about whether they could pass a constitutional challenge.

There’s no word yet from Hill, who didn’t return a message about why a formal opinion from her office is taking so long, or what that opinion will be. 

On Friday, Wyoming education officials are to testify before the Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne, about their progress. The committee sponsored the 2018 bill that created the standards

“We’d like to know what the delay is,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, a committee chairman. “We’d like to know what was in the (request) to the attorney general and what the attorney general’s decision is because it could affect all standards in Wyoming.”

After the bill was signed, a committee of computer scientists, teachers and others looked at computer science education standards in other states – such as Oklahoma – and at recommendations by professional associations. They used those to create Wyoming’s proposed standards. 

In January, the state school board sent the standards out for public comment. Elementary school teachers had concerns about learning the various new requirements when they have to teach other subjects as well. The committee returned to the drawing board between March and April.

The committee released another draft of the standards – some would be mandatory, some would support the mandatory standards but would not be mandatory, and some would be “enhanced,” which would also be optional.

Two Wyoming Attorney General office lawyers who advise the board were concerned that they were unconstitutional, since some school districts would be able to offer all the standards and others would only be able to offer the mandatory ones. The Wyoming Constitution requires public instruction to be “uniform.”

In June, the state board wrote a letter to Hill, asking her to study the issue and write a formal opinion.  

“We believe that will help us — not just with computer science but with other requirements,” said Sue Belish, state board vice chair.

Lawmakers and education officials need Hill’s guidance because creating mandatory and supplementary standards could affect education in other subjects besides computer science. 

Another likely delay

But even if Hill could clear up the board’s questions in short order, it may still take a while for computer science education to arrive in some Wyoming classrooms, said Astrid Northrup, an engineering professor at Northwest College in Powell.

Northrup, who is married to Rep. Northrup, was involved with efforts at the University of Wyoming to look at computer science teaching standards even before the effort was under way with the state board. 

Some school districts, especially those already teaching computer science, will be ready to adapt to the standards. Others will have to catch up, she said. The Wyoming Professional Standards Teaching Board has computer science teaching criteria. It may be unrealistic, however, for elementary school teachers, she said. 

“I think we have to lock that down,” she said. “I think that piece needs to be locked down in a realistic manner.”

Charter schools achieve big scores with small classes

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A focused curriculum, targeted tutoring and behavioral adjustments all contribute to the above-average statewide education testing scores posted by two Wyoming charter schools, according to their officials.

Of the four charter schools listed in the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (TOPP), two scored far above the state proficiency rate in all categories for the 2018-2019 school year.

The TOPP test is a state-mandated measure of proficiency for public school grades three through 10 in the areas of math, English and science.

Snowy Range Academy, of Laramie, and PODER Academy, of Cheyenne, topped the charts with some of the highest scores and participation rates in the state.

“(TOPP testing) is really like the Super Bowl for us at the end of the year,” PODER Chief Operations Officer Nick Avila said.  “It’s a team effort, and it reflects on the school.”

While some of his educators disagree with tests as a measure of student learning, Avila said everyone at PODER recognizes the importance of TOPP testing and works toward helping their students succeed.

“It’s not really how smart you are, but how well you can take tests,” Avila explained. “We tackle the methodology of good test taking head on.”

It all begins with attitude.

“There’s a few things we do to achieve success with our students: No. 1 is we focus on behavior from the start,” Avila said. “We try to get the kids to engage, to listen, to increase attention span.”

Getting kids to sit still and study may be the obvious approach to improving classroom learning, but PODER doesn’t stop at the classroom.

“The other main component is the parents,” Avila said. “Typically when you have a struggling student, it’s usually something coming from the home.”

As problems are identified with each student, parents are called in to help discover the best solutions. This can mean a parent has to change their work-week plans or even take time off, which ruffles some feathers, but Avila said they are reminded that attending PODER is a choice.

“Our school is not going to work for every student — that’s just a reality,” he said. “But having options out there is really important.”

After aggregating all the state’s TOPP scores, the state’s average proficiency levels are between 40 percent to 60 percent, with about 7,000 students tested.

PODER’s average TOPP score was 77 percent and its lowest was 67 percent for fourth grade English, well above the state’s 49 percent in the same category. PODER’s highest score was 92 percent for fifth grade math, compared to the state’s 55 percent.  

PODER was founded in 2012 and originally offered course instruction for kindergarten through ninth grade. In 2016, the academy responded to parent requests for additional schooling by adding a secondary academy, which serves students through 12th grade. Approximately 300 students attend the school with a near equal split between the elementary and secondary courses.

About 40 miles east on Interstate 80, the Snowy Range Academy, founded in 2001, has about 235 students enrolled and instructs grades kindergarten through eighth. 

Snowy Range Principal John Cowper said the school’s focus on teaching without the social events he said are present in many public curriculums helped Snowy Range top the TOPP tests.

“We do not spend a lot of time with activities in our school that are not academically oriented,” Cowper explained. “Halloween parties, Valentine’s parties, Christmas parties — they don’t exist. We believe in all that, and we celebrate it outside of school. But, school is not the time to take away from instruction in order to do that.”

Awarded a Blue Ribbon for High Performance by the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, Snowy Range has been recognized for its output of high achievers and celebrates that success, Cowper said, but now, the school is changing its focus.

“This last year we were shooting for growth in our students,” he said. “We did see slight growth, but not what we were shooting for, so we will try harder next year.”

Snowy Range defines growth as the difference between individual students’ test scores year to year.

“From the educator end, we have to really make sure we are identifying those students who are low performers and triangulating their performances,” Cowper said. “Then, we create individual plans for those students.”

Plans can include learning interventions during the school day, after-school tutoring and schooling during winter and summer breaks.

When it comes time for TOPP testing, Cowper said he hands out mints to all the students and gives the school a big pep talk. But at the end of the day, the test is not treated as the be-all, end-all indicator of student success. 

“We recognize these test scores are a one-day snapshot in a child’s life,” Cowper said. “It may be their best day or it may not. So, it’s hard to put a lot of emphasis on the test results.”

Snowy Range’s average TOPP score was 83 percent, with its lowest score being 71 percent in fourth grade English. And its highest was 90 percent, which it achieved in third grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math and eighth grade English.

Both Snowy Range and Poder reported 100 percent participation in the TOPP testing, higher than many public schools in their areas with larger student populations.

“Unless we have an exemption from the state, we must find a time to test that child,” Cowper said. “We don’t stop until we have every child on the list tested.”

With fewer students than other public schools in their communities, the charter schools also had smaller test pools. Snowy Range’s smallest test pool was six to nine students for seventh grade English. It’s largest pool was 20 to 29 students for many of its elementary level categories. 

PODER’s smallest pool was also six to nine for all categories tested on the tenth grade level, and its largest was 30 to 39 for the third grade categories.

Looking forward, Avila said PODER’s model is working, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.

“We set our target high, and we achieved that,” he said. “But every year is different for us. If we start seeing our scores slide over time, we’ll reevaluate our approach to the teaching model.”

UW’s biggest foreign donor is not in the oil-rich Middle East, but one closer to home

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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

When looking for high-dollar gifts, the University of Wyoming found friends in the Great White North. 

Over the past 10 years, Canadians have given UW $6.2 million in donations. No other foreign citizen or entity has given as much, although the Canadian donations are a splash in the bucket for the state’s only public university — which had annual expenditures approaching $500 million last year.

 The Cowboy State Daily requested from university officials information on all foreign donations made between 2008 and 2018 that were over $250,000. An attorney for the UW provided this list: 

  • Encana Corp. – Canada – April 18, 2008: $1.4 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – June 2, 2010: $400,000
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – June 20, 2010: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – April 9, 2010: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada –March 20, 2009: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada –April 27, 2009: $400,000
  • Randall K. Eresman (CEO of Encana since 2006) – Canada – April 24, 2011 – $1 million

The Canadian contributions don’t raise eyebrows among people who have looked at foreign donations to American universities.

Other foreign donations, including those made by the governments of Saudi Arabia and China, have raised questions about the influence and motives of undemocratic regimes on American education. Calgary-based Encana is an oil and gas company that owned assets in the Jonah Field in Sublette County until selling them in 2014. 

As STEM and engineering students walk around campus, they’ll see the Encana Integrated Simulation Data Center and Encana Auditorium at the Energy Innovation Center. Although the company no longer manages any Wyoming projects, it is involved in energy production in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

 Eresman, Encana’s CEO, is a 1984 UW petroleum engineering alumnus. He and his wife Shelly pledged the money to create the Eresman Family Engineering Endowment to help students from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology transfer to UW to pursue petroleum engineering degrees. Eresman went to NAIT and received a diploma in Earth Resources Technology before enrolling at UW. 

Jonathan Meer, a Texas A&M University professor whose research looks into charitable giving and the economics of education, said the connection between UW and Encana and Eresman seem natural since the company was doing business in Wyoming. 

“It probably helps with recruiting,” he said. “If you see the name of the company and some signs around the place, you might be more inclined to be willing to work there.”

Corporations donate money for a variety of reasons – such as for good will and to enhance their reputation, Meer said.

Jon Riskind, an assistant vice president of public affairs at the American Council on Education, noted that UW has been transparent about the foreign donations. 

“This all seems pretty routine, in terms of a university looking for support for a new or expanded program/field of study/facility from both private and public sources of funding, whether on a global or national or state basis,” he said. 

CWC bachelor’s degree expected to create opportunities for tribal members

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Tarissa Spoonhunter is a Central Wyoming College instructor on the Wind River Reservation who also heads up the college’s American Indian Studies Program. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

A four-year bachelor’s degree program at Central Wyoming College is close to becoming reality, thanks in part to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes.

Courses in the college’s new bachelor’s of applied science program are expected be available next fall to all of its students, assuming the program wins accreditation approval of the Chicago-based and peer-reviewed Higher Learning Commission.

The new bachelor’s program in organizational management and leadership would be part of CWC’s partnership – called CWC-Wind River — with the Wind River Reservation tribes to offer college courses in Ethete and Ft. Washakie, as well as on the college’s Riverton and Lander campuses.

CWC and the tribes signed agreements this year to enable students to earn first-year CWC credits toward degrees while attending classes on the reservation, with the courses offered in a face-to-face environment at tribal facilities.

This fall semester, CWC is offering reservation-based courses on intercultural communication, American Indians in contemporary society, Indians of the Wind River and federal Indian law, among other introductory courses.

Tribal support of CWC-Wind River hinges on the college’s site-based effort to bring at last 30 credit-hours of classes of its current associate’s degree program to reservation-based classrooms.

“I’m so excited for these joint ventures and the partnerships with the tribes.  Offering first-year college classes on the reservation will help many tribal members advance their lives and have additional employment opportunities,” said CWC President Brad Tyndall.

 “This is a unique partnership. We are respecting the sovereignty of both tribes. We are making sure they have a big voice, and we are sharing costs, revenues and the design and delivery of courses on the reservation,” Tyndall said.

Tarissa Spoonhunter has worked as a college instructor on the Wind River Reservation since 2004. An enrolled Northern Arapaho member who also holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Spoonhunter remembers CWC’s initial efforts toward offering a reservation-based bachelor’s degree program about 15 years ago.

“It’s always been about creating opportunities for people who can’t leave the reservation or the area, and how can we empower people with tools to make good decisions on behalf of the tribes,” said Spoonhunter.

“I’ve never met a person who regrets or who is disappointed after earning a college degree,” added Spoonhunter, who leads CWC’s American Indian Studies Program. “I’m starting to see people see the value of education. Education brings opportunities. When you don’t have education, you get stuck in situations.”

Spoonhunter said the proposed bachelor’s degree in applied science is being designed to include job skills for people “to work anywhere on or off the reservation.”

“Graduates will have a skill set to get a job in today’s world,” she said. “This ‘applied’ degree will focus on issues that apply to life here, such as natural resource management, business and leadership.

“This degree will be key for people working in tribal programs, casinos and in business,” Spoonhunter continued. “It will provide tools to make good decisions, especially as it relates to nation building, and anyone who has a business relationship with the reservation.”

Spoonhunter grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning, Montana, and she recalled the benefits of bachelor’s degree programs being offered at Blackfeet Community College in Browning.

“Accommodating reservation people has paid off there,” she said. “More teachers have been trained and for the first time in history, the school superintendent and all seven school principals are Native American. And it all started with educational agreements to bring programs to the people.”

The proposed bachelor’s of applied science degree program is “very much a workforce degree,” according to Mark Nordeen, dean of Arts and Sciences at CWC and the college’s lead contact in the CWC-Wind River.

“This proposed degree would provide the next level of skills and leadership that our students with associate degrees need to take a bigger role in their careers in our communities,” he said.

CWC’s bachelor’s degree would include two areas of emphasis, tribal leadership and business/entrepreneurship. 

“For us, it’s quite simple. We have hundreds of people in our community with associate degrees, and they want to advance in their careers and their lives,” Tyndall said.

Tyndall and Nordeen said about half of CWC’s students are enrolled in career and technical education (formerly called vocational) degree or certificate programs.

“Many of these students and graduates need organizational management and leadership training to step up and out of their current situations, and this flexible degree program would apply to students just out of high school, students with a degree from a community college, and people out there working in the world with, maybe, an associate’s degree in applied science,” Tyndall said.

College enrollment numbers support CWC’s effort toward offering the college’s site-based bachelor’s program for reservation and county residents.

In 2018-19, the last complete academic year at CWC, 2,618 students were enrolled in credit courses, said Louisa Hunkerstorm, CWC Director of Institutional Effectiveness.  Of those, 250 students, or 9.5 percent, were American Indian.

CWC’s American Indian enrollment numbers are undoubtedly higher than 9.5 percent, because race and ethnicity disclosures are optional. But CWC’s 250 American Indian students in 2018-19 represent nearly half of the 553 reported American Indian enrollments at Wyoming community colleges.

CWC’s accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission to assess its readiness for the proposed bachelor’s program is scheduled for either December or January, Tyndall said.

This comes after the college gained approval over the last year from CWC faculty and trustees, the Wyoming Legislature and the Wyoming Community College Commission.

“This really is an economic development proposition,” said Tyndall. “About 70 percent of our high school graduates are moving out of the state. With this degree, a graduate could start his/her own company, or could bring value-added leadership to a business or government. Graduates would be equipped to thrive, and not just survive, in our communities.”

Nordeen said degree programs offered on the reservation will fulfill goals of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, including “better educated people and broader educational backgrounds.”

“Seventy percent of CWC students are part-time, site-bound people, and the reservation is largely a site-bound community,” Tyndall said. “This new degree is not meant to hurt the University of Wyoming. Instead, it’s addressing the 70 percent of our community that is site-bound. As a community college, we want to build capacity in the community.”

Spoonhunter said the idea of an expanded knowledge base is vital in offering CWC degree programs, including the proposed bachelor’s program, on the Wind River Reservation.

“Degree programs are a tool to help tribal leadership, and to help the reservation,” said Spoonhunter, who believes education-based relationships could lead “to more ‘we’ conversations to help all Fremont County communities thrive in the future.”

“A lot more ‘we’ conversations than ‘we versus them’ conversations would benefit all of us,” Spoonhunter said. “Understanding the complicated relationship between the tribes and federal government is not only relevant to the reservation, but to everyone.”

Four Wyoming school districts approve policies allowing teachers to arm themselves

in Education/News
Arming teachers
2067

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Of the 48 school districts in Wyoming, four have adopted policies allowing staff to carry firearms on school district property, and a fifth district is considering the option.

Following the state’s adoption of a bill in 2017 giving school districts the authority to arm teachers, school districts in Evanston, Ten Sleep, Lander and Cody approved firearms policies, said Brian Farmer, Wyoming School Board Association’s executive director. Campbell County School District No. 1 in Gillette is considering policy options for allowing teachers to carry firearms, but Farmer said tracking which school boards are examining the idea is challenging.

“It’s difficult to say who’s considering, because nobody maintains a list of who’s having discussions or has had one,” he explained.

The Wyoming Department of Education does not keep a tally on which school districts approve firearms policies and declined requests for an interview on the topic, referring instead to a blanket statement in its School Safety and Security manual.

“We all know that keeping our students safe is our No. 1 responsibility as education leaders, but securing a safe environment looks different in each school and district,” Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow says in the manual. “While the Department of Education does not have rule-making authority related to this law, we felt it would be beneficial to work with interested stakeholders to answer any questions the new law presents.” 

Farmer said his association worked with the department to create a manual for guidance on the topic, but the association’s official preferred method of increasing security is using school resource officers.

“We’ve offered a uniform (firearms) policy that districts can use as guidance as part of our policy service,” he said. 

Through the service, school boards can receive basic policy framework, written within the confines of state statute, then tailor the policy to the district’s needs.

“All of this only leads to the point where staff may carry — it doesn’t put guns in the hands of every staff member,” Farmer said. “The decision for a local district to adopt the staff authorization for the use of firearms really does require a conversation with the community.”

Community is a broad term and does not apply solely to the parents of students, he added. 

“If you look at the statute, community isn’t just one entity,” Farmer said. “It includes law enforcement, school staff, parents and the community at large.”

Even after the polling the community and creating a policy, problems can arise.In the case of Evanston’s Uinta County School District No. 1, local residents sued the district in 2018 over its policy creation process and sued it again in August, questioning whether the policy itself violates the Wyoming Constitution.

“In Evanston, the board, and therefore, the school district, is dedicated to the implementation of the policy,” Farmer said. “The district has essentially said, ‘If we need to go back and fix more, we will.’”

The lawsuits could stall other school districts considering firearms policies.

“It’s very difficult to say whether or not it does have an impact,” Farmer said. “But, we have heard some (school board members) wanted to wait to see how the lawsuit played out.”

For Campbell County, adopting a firearms policy is just one of the options on the table, said Alex Ayers, superintendent of Campbell County School District No. 1.

“The only decision (the Campbell County School District No. 1 school board) made is they would like to see a policy,” Ayers explained. “They’ve talked about four options, and the first is do nothing.”

The other options include adding up to four more school resource officers, adopting a policy permitting teachers to arm themselves or combining the two.

“Safety and security is the primary concern,” Ayers said. “I wouldn’t say there is higher risk (for school shootings) in Gillette, but I do think we have an obligation in the interest of safety to have conversations … about additional measures.”

In 2018, a 14-year-old student brought two handguns to school in Gillette and threatened another student and staff, which might factor into the school board’s final decision, but Ayers said the policy conversation started before the incident.

“We certainly know it’s not probable that we could have an event such as an active shooter,” he said. “But it is possible, and those transparent, open conversations about options are normal.”

Peterson: A cautionary tale from 27 years of public service

in Column/Education/Government spending
Peterson public service
2000

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018.  In this column, he shares his thoughts on his 27 years of public service.

Public Service

I hesitated to write this article but decided to share my story of public service for only one reason, to better inform our citizens.  This certainly is not done with any self-promoting agenda, as I do not have any future plans to run for any public office.  My 27 years of public service has come to an end.  But I think my story could be used to improve our understanding of the challenges of public service.  Perhaps this article may even convince someone to run for office or volunteer their time or just get involved.

I was first elected to the Cowley town council in 1986.  I served six years and enjoyed the opportunity to learn about town government while offering my input into community projects and working with others.  It was exciting and fulfilling to see a project through, from concept to planning to completion.  

While working on community projects, I was introduced to county concerns.  I had ideas for the county and saw needs that I thought I could help with.  I was elected to the Big Horn County Commission in 1992, where I served eight years dealing with budgets, a new jail, a new dispatch system, improved roads and public land issues.  

State Involvement

I was appointed to the Senate in 2005, where I was appointed to the Appropriations Committee and served for six years.  

After my years on the Appropriations Committee, I was given the assignment to chair the Senate Revenue Committee.  As the Senate president put it, “You’ve seen how we spend the money, now you need to know where it comes from.”   This taught me another valuable lesson in that I realized our Legislature was an institution that trains its own leaders to promote continuity and knowledge to ensure that the best decisions are made on the state’s behalf by our elected representatives.  

I will also mention that the pressure is unreal.  There are no simple votes on the floor of the Senate.  My wife would always notice when I returned home after a session that I had lost both weight and a little more hair.  

My Last Year       

As I gained experience and seniority in the state Senate, more responsibilities were assigned to me.  I was serving on the Management Council, a number of select committees, the Labor and Health Committee and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee.  

Added to this mix was the fact that our revenue projections were down and we were contending with a $1 billion shortfall, which meant that we had lost 25 percent of our projected biennial revenue.  Assignments were made to look for ways we could increase our revenue in Wyoming, which fell squarely on the Revenue Committee.  We were told to bring every revenue generating idea to the Legislature for consideration during the upcoming session.  

We also knew that our expenditures would need to be reduced.  We could not tax our way out of this downturn without looking at reductions to our budget as well.  The assignments were made to form a recalibration committee to look into possible ways we could reduce the education funding model.  I was assigned to that committee.  My summer was spent on  taxation issues and budget cuts to education. 

I remember admonishing our committee to have the courage to bring these tax bills to the floor for consideration, even if it meant that some of us would pay the price politically. I would imagine that most on the committee voted against the proposed revenue bills during the session, but we had done our job in bringing options to the floor.  

Because we had cash reserves, we elected to use them to cover the shortages, which meant no taxing proposal passed that session, but the studies were completed and the information was current for the Legislature to consider, so the Revenue Committee had completed its assignments.

The Recalibration Committee had even a tougher time in meeting deadlines, hiring consultants, gathering information and then making recommendations to the full Legislature during the upcoming session.  

You can imagine the popularity of this committee.  As an example, the business I worked for was boycotted by some schools around the state because of my perceived stance against education. I really didn’t know I had an anti-education stance, but there were a lot of people who thought I and a few others were public enemies to education.  

Articles in the papers that portrayed the Senate wanting to gut education seemed to be the flavor of the day.  But we had a budget to balance and the year before, we had cut the Health Department by almost $100 million, 10 percent of its biennial budget.  Now our attentions were turned to the largest state budget, K-12 education.  

Like the Revenue Committee, the Recalibration Committee completed its job and made recommendations for reductions based on the findings of our contracted consultants.  The committee members were not in total agreement and disagreed on where cuts should be made.  But one thing everyone understood was that cuts to the K-12 funding model were going to be made, it was just a matter of how much.

My Last Session

I was asked to sponsor the bill proposing reductions to the K-12 funding formula. I agreed to sponsor the bill knowing the subject and having spent the summer listening to the consultants and the recommendations.  I also thought that I could use this bill to ensure that my concerns with funding for our smaller schools would be protected.  

I had shared with other senators, over the years, that I felt that the funding model was flawed in favor of the larger schools.  Although this bill would not be a popular bill to sponsor, it would put me in the chair to control the outcome.  My first amendment was to slash $100 million from the proposed funding reduction of $140 million.

The news media continued to refer to the bill as cutting $140 million from our schools up to the day it died in the house.  Although the reporting was not accurate, the bill was now in a form and an amount that I felt our schools could deal with.  The reductions were in areas that would not affect the classroom or salaries or even the quality of our schools in the least.  These reductions were recommended by consultants and would be phased in over three years, just as our school administrators had requested.  

Three small schools stood out as taking larger hits to their budgets than all the other school districts.  Where all other schools were presented with reductions of 2 percent to 2.5 percent over three years, these three smaller schools faced 10 percent to 12 percent reductions. I now had evidence that some of our smaller schools were taking a bigger hit than our larger schools.  

To correct this, my last amendment to the bill was to provide a ceiling that would protect these smaller schools from unfair reductions in comparison to the other schools. I remember sitting down at my computer to check my emails after the  amendment passed on the floor of the Senate. They were pouring in from all over the state telling me how bad a person I was to cut education, but one caught my eye as it was from a superintendent back home telling me that he had sent out a letter to all of his teachers informing them I had broken my promise to the smaller schools and was gutting their district’s money. I, of course, was not happy about the accusations and made every attempt to respond and explain what I was trying to do with this bill, but I’m sure my explanation fell on deaf ears.  

The bill passed the Senate with a proposed $40 million reduction plan over three years and with my amendment.  

The House, meanwhile, had its own reduction bill, which was set cuts at $15 million.  The Senate file was quickly killed in the House Education Committee.  The Senate took the House version and deleted most of the House wording and inserted the Senate file wording and the reduction amount of $40 million. This is what led to the Conference Committee where the House and Senate agreed on a $37 million reduction plan to the K-12 funding formula — $3 million short of my original Senate file but with my amendments intact.  The House was hailed by the media as the saviors of education that session.

I was unseated in the August primary.

My Take on Things  

After the session was over, the Senate president asked If I was going to be all right back home as I was up for re-election.  I told him that I should be okay as I would get back and explain my intentions and work on the bill to the educators back home.  What I was not counting on was that the educators did not want to listen to an explanation and did not attend any of my meetings where I offered a report of the session and the bill that I had worked on.  

Our favorite lobbying group, the Wyoming Education Association, had invested time and money to see that I was unseated.  I don’t really know what it was telling the voters in Senate District 19, but I know it wasn’t the fact that I voted for teacher salary increases each time they were introduced over the previous six years, or that I fought to reinvest general fund money into the teachers’ pension fund after we lost a good portion of it in 2008, or that I voted to increase spending on additional new school construction. 

What the WEA saw in me was a threat.  I had knowledge and education of the budget and the education funding formula as well as the seniority to present and push through legislation that would have threatened their plans for continued increases.  I was asked to be the next Majority Floor Leader in the next session which would have made me president of the Senate in 2021.  I would have also served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 2019-20.  The WEA was going to have none of that.  

Conclusion

Now back to my reason for sharing my story.  I’ve asked myself many times what I might have done differently to ensure my own re-election.  I could have kept my distance from those issues by not accepting those difficult assignments.  But considering all the training and cost of my public service education over the years, I would think that running away from those issues would have been self-serving rather than doing what I was elected and trained to do.  

I remain concerned about what happened and could happen to another public servant.  To allow the media and a union to dictate what we think of a candidate is foolish and dangerous.  The overwhelming problem did not go away with my replacement.

The end result of the 2 percent or $37 million reduction over three years to our K-12 education funding?  Each of the four school districts in Senate District 19 gave raises shortly after the budget session was over.  New school construction and building maintenance continues.  The K-12 education budget continues to grow each year and the WEA continues to be one of, if not the, strongest employee unions in our state.  

We need to be better than this, Wyoming.  Media with an agenda other than fair reporting is dangerous.  Unions that control elections are dangerous.  We should protect openness, transparency, honesty and integrity to our political process.  And certainly, the more knowledge we have, the better we are all served.

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