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LCCC Eliminating 30+ Positions, Reorganizing Programs Due To Budget Shortfall

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne is going through a major reorganization and reduction process, eliminating more than 30 positions and eyeing certain programs for changes.

Thirty-three positions will be eliminated by the end of the year at the community college, 9% of its 383-person workforce, LCCC president Dr. Joe Schaffer told Cowboy State Daily. Seventeen of those positions are currently filled.

This comes just four years after the college eliminated 16 positions, again to deal with budget shortfalls.

“I just can’t predict whether or not there will be a rebound in the coal, oil or gas industries, so we have to approach this situation as if it’s permanent and long-term,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer presented a list of recommendations regarding multiple position cuts and structural reorganizations to programs at the college to LCCC’s board of trustees earlier this week.

The president and a number of other LCCC officials have been working on these recommendations since July, as the college is facing a 10% cut from its state appropriations. LCCC needed to make about $3.5 million in cuts, although officials are expecting the college will see a $4.1 million deficit.

In addition to cutting 33 positions, Schaffer recommended other cuts such as closing the LCCC outreach facility in Pine Bluffs, reducing all departments’ operating budgets, reducing athletics expenditures and eliminating short and long-term disability benefits, among others.

Schaffer said that while the coronavirus had an impact to the college’s budget, the cuts were something that had been coming for a while, due to enrollment being down and the community college receiving fewer appropriated funds from Laramie County and the Wyoming Legislature.

The college receives funding from three sources: Laramie County, the Legislature and tuition. Schaffer said he believes tuition rates have already been increasing far too frequently, causing him to worry that community colleges in Wyoming could soon become unaffordable.

“These are painful processes and while I realize them because of a financial corner we’ve been backed into, I hope it becomes a wakeup call, albeit a painful one,” Schaffer said. “This will allow everyone to think about what kind of future we want and look at proactive changes that can be made.”

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Wyoming Dept. Of Education Receives Nearly $100K Microsoft Grant For Computer Science Training

in Education/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In some non-coronavirus related news for Wyoming, the state’s Department of Education announced it received a grant from Microsoft for nearly $100,000.

The WDE received $93,245 in grants from Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative and the Digital Skills for Youth program, which will support computer science teacher training as a part of Boot Up Wyoming, a statewide program launched in 2018 to implement computer science in the state’s K-12 schools.

“Microsoft has been a key partner in Boot Up Wyoming since day one,” said Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “Funds from this Digital Skills for Youth grant keep us on-track to deliver the highest-quality Computer Science education to all Wyoming students.” 

A portion of the grant will enable the WDE’s Boot Up Wyoming initiative to provide a second round of strategic training on how computer science can be implemented in school districts, called Strategic CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool (SCRIPT) training.

CSforALL is an organization dedicated to making computer science part of every K-12 student’s education. The training provides districts with strategic planning tools to think through what is needed to provide equitable, high-quality computer science education available to all students in their districts. 

In its first year, SCRIPT provided training for 24 school districts working to adopt computer science classes, said Laurel Ballard, the supervisor of the WDE’s student and teacher resources team.

She added with the grant, the WDE will be able to make training available to more districts while continuing the training in the first 24 districts.

“I will take as many (new districts) as want to do it,” she said.

The biggest benefit of the program is that it has allowed school districts to compare notes on their challenges and successes as they implement computer science classes.

“It gives them the chance to come together,” she said. “They come together and learn together.”

The grant will also be used to provide resources for the Wyoming chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a group of professional computer science teachers that has emerged as a valuable training resource for the state’s teachers, the WDE said.

In addition, the grant will provide the WDE with support for developing high-quality computer science micro-credentials for secondary teachers and students.

“Wyoming was one of the first states to implement computer science education in grades K-12 – now almost every state offers it,” Balow said. “This funding helps us remain pioneers by enabling the WDE to continue to provide professional development to educators focused around Computer Science education.”

Much discussion has been had regarding the computer science implementations over the last couple years. By law, these standards have to be implemented by the 2022-23 school year.

Some districts like Laramie County School District No. 1, Platte County School District No. 2 and Sheridan County School District No. 1 are already working to implement standards, but other schools will need more time to learn them and incorporate them into the curriculum. 

Last year, state Attorney General Bridget Hill addressed the Wyoming State Board of Education to provide some recommendations about how the standards could be better written before their implementation into statewide school mandates.

“There are three types of state standards: content, performance and graduation,” Hill wrote in her recommendation. “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.” 

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. 

“Wyoming’s vision is that every student has the opportunity to be met where they are — at their skill-level, in their school — and be inspired to learn how technology works and how to build solutions to society’s challenges. We strongly support that vision,” Dennis Ellis, manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark Wyoming, said in a statement on Thursday.

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Eastern Wyoming College Moving To Online Classes Due To COVID Spike

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

Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington is moving to online and hybrid delivery of its classes for the rest of the fall semester due to a spike of student coronavirus cases on campus.

According to an announcement from the college, student exposure risk and the number of students ordered to quarantine have also increased in recent weeks, as has the number of coronavirus cases across the state.

Many of EWC’s classes will now be offered via Zoom.

The Douglas campus of EWC will not be affected by these changes, at least as of right now.

“We are not closing the campus down. We are trying to limit the number of students on campus and in the residence halls for safety reasons,” said EWC Director of College Relations Tami Afdahl. “The safety of our students, our employees and our community is our primary concern.”

On Monday, the college reported that at least three students tested positive for coronavirus. The majority of the students exposed to the confirmed cases live in the college’s residence halls.

Students in hands-on programs such as welding, cosmetology, and others will continue to receive their education through modified in-person delivery of their courses.

Residence hall students in hands-on programs such as welding, cosmetology, barbering, veterinary technology, nursing, CNA, and others will receive priority placement in the residence halls as referenced in the college’s reopening plan.

However, other students in residence halls are being advised to plan to leave the halls by Sunday.

EWC in Torrington will remain open for business with no changes to current operations or employee schedules, however. The EWC Fitness Center will remain open with limited capacity and mask use required.

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Alexis Barney Named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher Of The Year

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Alexis Barney, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Evansville Elementary School in Natrona County School District #1, was named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher of the Year Tuesday, during the Wyoming Education Summit.

“Congratulations to Alexis on being named Wyoming’s 2021 Teacher of the Year,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said. “I find that her passion and charisma are contagious – and I’m excited for her to share that with others over the next year.

“Alexis has the heart, mindset, and drive of an excellent teacher. In this role, she will continue to inspire many as she learns to advocate for excellent teaching and learning,” Balow said.

Barney grew up in Saratoga and graduated from the from the University of Wyoming at Casper with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education in 2016. 

She graduated from Capella University with a master’s degree in Educational Psychology in 2016.

At Evansville Elementary, Barney is the English Language Arts goal team leader and also serves on the school leadership team. She also is the School Transformation team leader and the Lego Robotics coach and Reading Club coordinator.

Barney said her philosophy is grounded in empowering students to be kind and courageous, and creating life-long learners who are inquisitive and excited about the world around them, finding success no matter their circumstances.

“Our attitude is going to be infectious.” Barney said. “I want to empower people to see things in a different light, helping them to find resources, and really turn those ‘can’ts’ into ‘cans.’ ”

She has frequently presented reading strategies with her co-chair at teaching conferences around the state, as well as in Colorado.

“Alexis is without a doubt one of the finest educators I have worked with in my nearly three decades in education,” Wayne Tuttle, Principal of Evansville Elementary school, said. 

“Students thrive in Alexis’ class because of her high expectations, innovative engagement strategies, and relevant learning. When a principal looks for an educator to be an anchor of their school for decades to come, they are searching for someone of Alexis’ quality,” he said.

The Wyoming Teacher of the Year comes with the significant responsibility of representing the teaching profession in Wyoming. 

The Wyoming Teacher of the Year acts as liaison among the teaching community, Wyoming Legislature, Wyoming Department of Education, districts and communities. 

In addition, the Teacher of the Year is an education ambassador to businesses, parents, service organizations, and media, as well an education leader involved in teacher forums and education reform.

“Wyoming has a strong sense of resilience and grit, as a community and as a whole,” Barney said. “And I think Wyoming teachers demonstrate that so well. I want to represent that grit and resilience and bolster that community. We need everyone involved – and to do that, we have to come together as a community. I think I can bring energy and excitement to our teachers.” 

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Documentary To Showcase Wyoming Students On Road Trip; Applicants Needed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The makers of a documentary about a road trip across Wyoming are looking for some Wyoming students to make the trip.

Roadtrip Nation, an online educational documentary series and company, will send Wyoming students out in a green RV to “talk to their heroes, job crushes and anyone who’s generally doing awesome stuff.”

Their experiences will be filmed and turned into a documentary to “inspire people to pursue their interests.”

Topics explored during the Wyoming road trip and documentary will include health care, manufacturing, outdoor recreation, technology and more.

Applications are due by Oct. 4 and the road trip won’t kick off until April, but the schedule might shift due to the coronavirus pandemic. Applicants must be 18-24, but can be in high school, a recent high school graduate or a post-secondary student.

The documentaries are aired on the Roadtrip Nation website and the Wyoming one will likely debut sometime next fall.

Other college road trips have included students from Georgia, California and Texas.

All travel expenses, plus a daily food stipend, are provided by Roadtrip Nation.

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Two LCCC Students Test Positive For COVID

in Coronavirus/Education/News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Five Laramie County Community College students are in quarantine after two of the students tested positive for coronavirus, the college announced Friday.

LCCC, which started its fall semester on Aug 24, said two students living at the college’s residence hall tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

One student is quarantining in an isolation room at the residence hall and the second is staying at home, the college said in a news release.

Three other students who were in prolonged contact with the two who have tested positive have also been quarantined.

LCCC officials said the college would test all residence hall students and staff for coronavirus Friday and Monday.

News of the positive testing comes on the heels of a decision by University of Wyoming officials to halt the university’s phased-in return to in-person classes until Wednesday. The decision was made because five students tested positive for the virus in one day, the threshold set by university trustees for allowing in-person classes to continue.

Cases have also been reported at Northwest College in Powell and Casper College.

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Wyoming Ranked State With Best Community College System

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is ranked as the state with the best community college system in the nation in a recent study.

Personal finance site WalletHub ranked Wyoming as having the best community college system and ranked Casper College and the Northern Wyoming Community College District (which consists of Sheridan and Gillette colleges) in the top 10 of the best community colleges in the country.

The latter came in at number five, while the former was ranked number 10.

The worst-ranking states included Mississippi (40) and Ohio (41). Ten states, including Utah and Florida, didn’t have enough information to be included in the ranking.

For the state-by-state analysis, WalletHub calculated a weighted average of the scores earned by the community colleges in each state and the number of students enrolled in each school.

For the schools analysis, WalletHub evaluated them based on three factors: cost and financing, education outcomes and career outcomes.

In the schools comparison, Central Wyoming College also ranked high due to its low student default rate.

Of Wyoming’s seven community colleges, Northern Wyoming Community College District ranked highest, while Eastern Wyoming College ranked lowest.

“Free college means more people overall will likely seek out advanced training/learning that will benefit them in the labor market,” Arizona State University professor Molly Ott told WalletHub. “But also, other advantages arise from eliminating tuition, even among those who would’ve gone to college regardless.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday. The story originally identified Northern Wyoming Community College System as “Northwest Wyoming Community College System.”

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Wyoming School Districts Have Option For Surveillance Coronavirus Testing

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s school districts will have the option to have their teachers surveillance tested, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said Wednesday.

During a news conference alongside Gov. Mark Gordon and state public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, Balow discussed updates regarding the reopening of schools later this month.

Gordon announced that school districts that choose to do so can conduct “surveillance testing,” a technique in which random teachers and staff will be tested for coronavirus on a rotating basis. Balow noted the details of the testing have not yet been finalized and more information will be coming soon.

She said the department released information about testing to the districts so everyone could begin planning ahead, but added she couldn’t share more.

Harrist said during a previous news conference that she expected coronavirus cases to pop up in schools as they reopen, although she clarified Wednesday that she doesn’t necessarily expect an outbreak.

All of the state’s school districts have submitted reopening plans to the WDE and more than half have been approved. Balow hoped the rest would be completed by the end of the week.

All of the district have three-tier plans for reopening, and most are slated to open their doors to students for some type of in-person instruction later this month.

Balow reminded that students, staff and faculty will have be distanced or wear masks in instances when they can’t be more than 6 feet apart.

She also thanked the Wyoming High School Activities Association for the work it has done to ensure student athletes’ safety with sports restarting week.

“We’re in a good place, but certainly there will be course corrections,” she said.

Balow noted many school districts in the state are offering some type of hybrid virtual learning options, in the case of parents and families who don’t feel comfortable sending students to in-person classes.

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Gordon: UW Students Could Receive CARES Funds Due To COVID Impact

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming students could receive up to $3,250 in federal coronavirus relief funds to help pay their school expenses in the fall semester, Gov. Mark Gordon announced in a news release Friday.

Gordon has approved $20 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funding to launch a new program for university students affected by the coronavirus. The CARES Wyoming College Grant Program will help stimulate the state’s economy by supporting Wyoming’s workforce through increased student retention and completion at UW, the state’s only public, four-year research university, the release said.

“In this challenging time, it could not be more important that we invest in Wyoming’s future by investing in our college students,” Gordon said in the release. “Students who pause their college education often never return to campus. This is an opportunity to help ensure Wyoming students are able to continue pursuing their educational goals.”

To participate in the program, UW students must be U.S. citizens and have been impacted financially by the coronavirus.

Full-time undergraduate and graduate level students, including both resident and non-resident students, will receive up to $3,250 for the fall semester.

For part-time students, the funding will be prorated according to the number of enrolled hours and all funding will be distributed some time this fall.

All current and new UW students are eligible. The deadline for new students to apply for admission to UW and secure additional funding for the fall semester is Aug. 21.

Students who are already enrolled and qualify for the CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding must apply for these funds on or before Dec. 1.

The university is setting up an online interactive tool for students to determine whether they are eligible to receive funding. Beginning Monday, Aug. 10, full details and application information will be available at www.uwyo.edu/cares.

UW’s fall semester begins Aug. 24, with a mixture of in-person and online courses.

“This plan will help sustain and even grow Wyoming’s talented workforce, critical to the economic future we need after the current financial difficulties,” UW President Ed Seidel said in the release. “Fortunately, we know the character of our Cowboys. Their grit and resilience and determination mean they have what it takes to get back on track, individually and as a university.

“Postsecondary certificate and degree attainment is one of the most critical factors that will assist in the robust and timely economic recovery of Wyoming after the COVID-19 health emergency is over or adequately mitigated,” Seidel added.

While UW has an existing program that awards federal, state and private financial aid to its students, this new round of funding will be awarded in a different manner.

CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding will be distributed as “last-dollar-in” financial aid, after Hathaway merit or need-based aid, Pell grant funds or any other scholarships or grants.

The awards will help cover expenses other than tuition and fees, such as housing and meals, as the pandemic has eroded housing and food security of UW students, the release said. Recipients must commit to comply with UW’s policies to limit the spread of the virus.

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Harrist: People Who Think Wyoming School Health Orders Are “Insidious” Make Me Sad

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist is saddened by people who think that current public health orders, especially those in places for K-12 students, are “something insidious,” she said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Harrist said as schools begin to reopen, it is important that people follow the three recommendations that the state has issued to prevent the spread of the illness: Staying at home when sick, practicing social distancing and using facemasks when social distancing is not possible.

“These three simple tools are the foundation of our public health orders and school plans,” Harrist said. “It does make me sad to know some of these recommendations, some people see them as insidious or more than just using the best tools we have to let children go to class.”

During the talk alongside Gov. Mark Gordon, Harris provided various coronavirus-related updates, such as the fact that the Wyoming Department of Health’s laboratories can now process up to 750 tests or more per day with a “consistent” turnaround time.

Recent wastewater tests in nine communities across the state have also shown signs of the coronavirus. Harrist said the health department would continue looking into this data, hoping it could provide evidence of virus prevalence in certain communities.

But since August has creeped in, Harrist acknowledged that many Wyomingites have been curious about schools resuming for in-person classes and what guidelines their district may install.

“Schools are very important to our communities for many reasons,” she said. “As a pediatrician, I know being in schools…is healthy and helpful for most children. But we need to make sure our children and teachers are safe.”

The entire state can help prevent the spread of the virus and allow children to attend school in person by following the state’s recommendations, Harrist told the viewers.

She expects there will be cases of the coronavirus popping up in schools once classes resume, but following the aforementioned recommendations would keep the numbers lower and more manageable.

If students or school staff do test positive for the virus, health officials will contact the person or their parents and place them in isolation. Officials will also decide who’s been in close contact with the infected person and if they should be isolated.

Schools will be identified, contacted and will work through a plan with their local public health officials.

“We want these decisions to be focused on what’s best for our children, their families, our teachers and our communities,” Harrist said.

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