Category archive

Education

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

in Education/News
Foreign donations to UW
2166

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

in Education/News
Spoonhunter
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)
2156

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.

Transposition error makes it appear substitute teacher makes $216K

in Education/Government spending/News/Transparency
Transposition error makes it appear substitute teacher makes $216K
1776

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

RIVERTON – In case you might’ve heard otherwise, please rest assured that a substitute teacher does not, in fact, hold the top-paying job in Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton. They’re not paying a custodian $120,000 a year, either.

But that certainly appeared to be the case if you were to visit the government spending accountability website OpenTheBooks.com Saturday morning. And it appears a transposing error is to blame.

Founded in 2011 and based out of a Chicago suburb, OpenTheBooks.com is a nonprofit dedicated to uncovering and disclosing the spending figures at every level of government, with an overall aim of providing the public accountability about where its money is spent. The nonprofit’s oversight reports on government spending have been featured by news outlets as diverse as C-SPAN, Good Morning AmericaFox News and The Wall Street Journal.

And according to FCSD 25 Personnel Manager Karen Wardner, the site does indeed show the correct figures for the employee wages paid in 2017, with Superintendent Terry L. Snyder topping the list at $212,685. But in the 2018 data, the top-earner listed is substitute teacher Terri L. Cole, with an annual wage of $216,894, with Snyder shown earning only $20,817 that same year.

“It’s definitely not accurate. I can assure you, we restrict the number of hours they (substitute teachers) work,” Wardner said in an interview Friday.

After viewing OpenTheBooks.com herself and observing the figures listed, Wardner said it appears the 2018 salary listing for Snyder was transposed with Cole’s name, possibly due to their similar first names and middle initial. 

“If you scroll down, it’s got her actual rate for 2017 at $6,665,” Wardner said.

The transposition appears to have thrown off much of the rest of OpenTheBooks’ 2018 salary list for the district. For example, Business Manager Lu Beecham – the district’s third-highest earner in 2017 at $120,000 – was switched out for a custodian in the 2018 list, so the custodian is shown making $120,450 while Beecham supposedly pulled down just $21,007.

Fortunately, Wardner said the error should be simple enough to fix once she’s able to determine whose names were transposed with whose. She said she planned to reach out to OpenTheBooks.com in the coming days to make sure the 2018 figures are updated to reflect reality. 

University of Wyoming’s Historic Cooper House Evades Demolition

in Education/News
Cooper House at the University of Wyoming
1529

An outside consultant’s recommendation to tear down the historic Cooper House on the University of Wyoming campus caused quite a kerfuffle around the state.

More than 100 people attended a hearing of the UW Housing Taskforce to oppose the demolition of the home that sits just catty-corner from Coe Library on UW’s campus.

The Cooper House was built nearly 100 years ago for the family of Frank Cooper, an English cattle baron who struck oil on his Wyoming mineral holdings. The house was purchased from the Cooper family in 1980 and currently houses the Department of American Studies.

The unique “Mission Revival” style of the house makes it an easily recognizable feature of campus with a terra cotta tile roof and mix of cream colored stucco and brick facade.

Triumph High School grads overcome adversity on the road to a diploma

in Education/News
1449

At Triumph High School, students overcome challenges outside the classroom in addition to the academic rigors of earning a high school diploma.

Their stories are remarkable and, not long ago, the likelihood of finding them in caps and gowns today was far from certain.

“There are a lot of complicated variables. I call it a constellation of variables that intersect and make schooling sometimes very difficult for our young people,” said Triumph High Principal Mike Helenbolt.

In a pre-graduation ceremony, 2019 graduate Chasely Moon thanked her son, in addition to teachers and advisors, for giving her the motivation to stay in school and earn her degree.

“I probably wouldn’t have put forth the effort to finish if I hadn’t realized how hard it was to make a living without a high school diploma,” Moon said.

Wyoming’s highest cost schools score lowest on ACT

in Education/News
Wyoming ACT test scores
1432

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Poverty, a widely diverse student population and cultural differences all contribute to the low college preparedness exam scores posted by Fremont County schools, according to educators.

But at the same time, the national ACT exam is just one of a number of indicators of student performance, said the superintendents of Riverton and Arapahoe school districts.

“We don’t spend a lot of time emphasizing the ACT tests,” said Roy Brown, the interim superintendent of Arapahoe schools. “We think it is a predictor of learning, but we really want to make sure our students are receiving, advancing and achieving based on where we received them. We’re really interested in growth.”

State figures show that Fremont County’s eight school districts had the lowest composite ACT scores statewide in 2018 and the highest average per-student public education operating costs. The information came from a statistical report compiled by state economist Wenlin Liu.

Fremont County’s composite ACT score was 17.9, compared with Wyoming’s score of 19.5, and Teton County’s 21.7 score. The highest score possible is 36. ACT is a college admission exam that tests knowledge about English, math, reading and science.

The statistical report also pointed out that in Fremont County, the cost of public education for 2018 averaged about $22,300 per student, while the state average was about $17,700 per student.

Terry Snyder, the superintendent for Riverton schools, said the high per-student costs could be explained by the fact Fremont County is the state’s largest (geographically) and contains eight school districts — six of them in communities with low populations.

Snyder and Brown agreed that their districts will continue to work with students and teachers to improve achievement. But both regard the ACT exam as just one indicator of student performance and will not base improvement goals on it alone.

“It (the ACT) is a college prep test and it relies on a broad case of knowledge and information,” Snyder said. “We don’t use that as an excuse, but it is a reality with a test like ACT.” He puts more weight with the National Assessment for Educational Progress and the state’s WY-TOPP student performance test.

The poverty level of a district can affect ACT results, according to Snyder. Research done by the ACT system concluded that students from wealthier parents scored higher than poor students.

The poverty level in Fremont County in 2017 was 13.7 percent, higher than the state average of 11.3 percent and the national average of 12.3 percent, according to the American Community Survey. Snyder said he’s not surprised by the correlation between poverty level and test scores.

“But once we get the scores, we go to work to improve that,” he said. “Whether the students come from wealth or poverty, we have to work with every kid to maximize their learning.”

ACT research also shows that hispanic, black and Native American students score lower on average than white and Asian students who take the ACT. Fremont County has a significant minority population, Snyder said. The county is home to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where members of the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone nations live.

Arapaho High Charter School has a high percentage of non-white students, Brown said.

The charter high school has 23 students in grades 9 through 12 this year. The district gets instructional help from the Wyoming Department of Education, Brown said.

“We are planning to work with them (the department) more intensively” in the next training session.

Michelle Panos, communications director for the state education agency, said the department offers several supports for schools that don’t meet expectations in various areas, whether it’s in Fremont County or any school district in Wyoming.

Resources include providing teacher training workshops and lessons in how to work with materials that are culturally and contextually sensitive, she said in an emailed response to questions.

Panos said an ACT score is not the only indicator school districts use to measure student success. WY-TOPP scores and NAEP scores are examples of others, she said.

“These are only snapshots of student performance,” she said. “Along with these, district level assessments use multiple measures that look at student performance over multiple periods in time.”

Making the curriculum relevant to Native American students is an important goal, according to Brown. Staff members at Arapaho High Charter School teach the Northern Arapaho language and two other districts in the county teach the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone languages.  

“We really believe it helps students become better rounded and primed for opportunities to learn,” Brown said.

“It may not directly affect ACT scores now, but once students are in an environment where they feel safe,” the academic instruction will be better received, he said.

Teaching the language has helped get students more engaged with school.  

“We have students who haven’t always enjoyed coming, but once they are in these activities, they feel validated and many hate to miss school now,” Brown said.

Alfred Redman is a Northern Arapaho Tribal Education director and also is affiliated with Sky People Higher Education, an organization that helps provide scholarships to Native American students who want to attend college.

Redman, 82, taught social studies for 23 years at the Wyoming Indian High in Ethete. He wants to make education relevant to students and continues to stay involved. Redman wants to change the curriculum to better fit the needs of Native American students.He wants to get parents and educators in Fremont County schools to meet so they can identify areas to improve.

“I’m having a hell of a time getting people to come together,” he said. “I’m trying to find out from the people what they think.”

More than 1,500 students in Cheyenne for “Agriculture in the Classroom” event

in Agriculture/Education/News/wildlife
1398

More than 1,500 grade school students from around Wyoming gathered in Cheyenne on Friday to learn more about the state’s agriculture industry.

The students were in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom program’s 25th annual “Bookmark and Beyond” celebration, where student showed off their designs for agriculture-themed bookmarks and learned about different aspects of the industry.

Among the activities for students was a hands-on session with a mapping system that allows users to locate a pasture and count and track the cows in it.

Ala Telck, president of Sheridan’s AgTerra Technologies, said his company donated the money for the software used at the celebration because of the growing importance of technology in agriculture.

“Technology is not going to go away, it’s only going to become more important,” he said. “We want to help our youth embrace and become very good at this technology.”

Many of the students attending the event live on farms and ranches in Wyoming and Doug Miyamoto, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, said such a background instills those children with a sense of responsibility.

“Those kids start working at a very early age and there’s a lot expected and demanded of them and I think they understand that,” he said. “A lot of the kids that come from agricultural backgrounds know what their expectations are and they perform to that level.”

Matt Micheli, an Agriculture in the Classroom board member who grew up on a ranch near Fort Bridger, agreed.

“I think it creates a real work ethic, but also an understanding of responsibility, that when something’s entrusted to you, that you have to follow through,” he said.

The winning bookmark design unveiled during the event came from Dawson George of Cody, whose illustration showed cows, pheasants and oil wells.

Wyoming’s Tomorrow rises from ashes to focus state’s higher education initiatives

in Education/News
Wyoming’s Tomorrow rises from ashes to focus state’s higher education initiatives
1364

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Despite dying twice in the Legislature’s general session earlier this year, a task force designed to look into ways to make two years of higher education as close to free as possible is moving forward.

The “Wyoming’s Tomorrow” task force was proposed in legislation that was killed in the Senate and was vetoed as a footnote to the state’s supplemental budget by Gov. Mark Gordon. But it is active once again thanks to the Legislature’s Management Council, which identified its goals as something to be worked on in the interim between legislative sessions.

The task force is charged with studying a scholarship program that could provide funding for the first two years of post-secondary education, a job outlined by House Bill 310, which the Senate rejected 8-21.

Inspired by Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and grant program launched to boost Tennessee’s number of degree-holders, Wyoming’s Tomorrow could help to coordinate the state’s efforts to get more students into higher education, said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie.

“It is a task force established by Management Council to take a look at higher education in Wyoming with a couple specific directions,” said Connolly, a co-sponsor of HB 310 and member of the task force. “One (directive) is to look at Tennessee Promise and think about the applicability of a similar program in Wyoming. The second goal is look at the needs of Wyomingites in relation to the projected economic diversification laid out by ENDOW.”

More degree holders

In 2018, ENDOW — Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — set a goal of increasing the number of Wyoming’s degree holders to 67 percent of residents between ages 25 and 64. Currently, only 26 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, ENDOW reported.

“We’re very low in terms of college graduates,” Connolly said. “We want an educated citizenry for so many reasons, but (a low degree-holder rate) is an impediment for diversifying the economy.”

Across the aisle, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said he co-sponsored HB 310 and is serving on the task force because Wyoming needs a focused direction for its higher-education initiatives.

“I don’t know (if Wyoming’s Tomorrow) is the best option,” Harshman said. “We’re trying to bring all this together in a bigger vision.”

Harshman said he believes the task force had a lot of support in Legislature, but it might have failed as a bill and a footnote because of timing.

“I introduced the bill and put it on the house side of the budget at the same time,” he explained. “The bill passed through the House with big margins.”

A house bill takes longer to reacher the Senate than a budget, so by the time the senators were voting on HB 310, they’d already approved its task force as a budget footnote, Harshman said.

“I think in the end, a lot of people thought, ‘It’s already in the budget, we can let it go,’” he said. “But then this governor decides we’re not going to put task forces and studies in the budget.”

Gordon vetoed the task force budget footnote along with 13 other budget items in February. Gordon did not respond to requests for comments on this story, but in February, he argued that the task force should have been created in a separate piece of legislation, not “piggybacked” on the supplemental budget.

As a bill, the task force received unanimous support from the Joint Appropriations Committee and majority support from the Joint Education Committee.

Education Committee member Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, voted against the bill in the committee and on the Senate floor.

“I didn’t object to the concept, necessarily,” Ellis says in an email. “Rather than creating a task force, though, I thought the Joint Education Committee could look at it as an interim topic.”

Resurrected

Wyoming’s Tomorrow was resurrected by the Management Council under the guidance of Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, Connolly said.Rothfuss was unavailable for comment.

Connolly said the process of bringing defeated bills back through the Management Council was commonplace and described it as “sausage making.”

With $16,000 budgeted for the task force’s use, Harshman said he envisioned the research effort lasting two years.

“It’s hard to say what the best outcome could be, maybe you meet and nobody wants to move forward,” Harshman said. “But we’ve got millions of dollars in workforce development, Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs, state aid to community colleges, and then, there’s the Hathaway Scholarship. Is it all working together?”

The task force could find a way to focus the state’s workforce and education programs on a single direction.

Connolly said a general lack of direction for the Hathaway Scholarship was a source of frustration for herself and University of Wyoming faculty.

However, with Wyoming’s Tomorrow, Connolly said legislators could discover an agreeable path forward for higher education in Wyoming. 

“What appealed to me about the task force is the recognition we are moving ahead in several directions without any coordinated discussion,” she said. 

The task force’s first meeting has not been set, but Harshman said it will get under way this summer.

Go to Top