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Transposition error makes it appear substitute teacher makes $216K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Microsoft contributes to computer science training

in Education/News/Technology
Microsoft contributes to computer science training

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Microsoft Corp. will provide more than $95,000 in grant money to the Wyoming Department of Education to provide computer science training for the state’s school districts.

The grant money is part of Microsoft’s TechSpark Initiative to offer computer science program implementation and training through the organization CSforAll — Computer Science for All.

CSforALL strives to make computer science a part of every student’s K-12 education.

The help from Microsoft is especially important now, given that the state Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that districts must offer computer science education to every K-12 student, said Laura Ballard, the Education Department’s supervisor for its student and teacher resource team. The goal must be reached by the 2022-23 school year.

“The timing is perfect,” she said. 

Training will involve several self-assessment and goal-setting activities.

“It will give districts the opportunity to think strategically about how to implement a high quality education in the districts,” Ballard said. 

Dennis Ellis, the manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark program in Wyoming, said in a news release that computer skills will be essential for students seeking jobs in the future.

“Making computer science education an opportunity within reach of every student ensures that Wyoming’s children can be future ready and will make our state attractive to public and private investments that can drive economic growth,” Ellis said.

Computer science education will be the first content area that educators and education officials in Wyoming will implement from the ground up, according to Ballard.

The task can be overwhelming to think about, she said Tuesday.

“When I was talking with some of our partners with Microsoft, they pointed me in the direction of CSforALL training,” she said. “It really is intended to help districts take a systems approach to create a plan to implement computer science.”

This training will help educators create a vision of computer science education and how it fits in their district’s vision for education, Ballard said.

Districts have to apply to attend the training, which will take place one of five locations around the state.

Locations and dates are:

·  Casper:  May 14-15; Oct. 15; and May 20, 2020.

·  Rock Springs: June 4-5; Nov. 14; and June 4, 2020

·  Cheyenne: June 11-12, 2019; Nov. 19, 2019; and June 11, 2020.

·  Worland: Aug. 5-6, 2019; Jan. 7, 2020; and Aug. 6, 2020.

·  Gillette: Sept. 24-25, 2019; Feb. 25, 2020; and Sept. 24, 2020.

School choice, virtual learning broaden options for Wyoming students

in Education/News

By Annaliese Wiederspahn, Cowboy State Daily

Imagine your seventh grader, headphones on, attending algebra class at your kitchen table. Or watching your fourth grader wrap up a Wyoming history lecture at a coffee shop.

For students at the Wyoming Virtual Academy, all they need to attend class is a computer and a reliable internet connection.

Public school parents, teachers, administrators and students from WYVA joined homeschoolers, private schoolers and school choice advocates for a “Capitol Day” gathering last Friday at the Union Pacific Depot in Cheyenne.

They gathered for breakfast, presentations and a tour of downtown Cheyenne with the goal of supporting school choice and advocating for keeping the variety of educational options available to Wyoming kids as broad as possible.

WYVA is a school without traditional classrooms, a playground, a cafeteria or a gymnasium. The entirely online, tuition-free, full-time public school is a program of Niobrara County School District No. 1 in Lusk, but students log-in to classes from all across Wyoming. Some even attend from beyond Wyoming’s borders.

Celebrating its tenth year in existence, WYVA serves Wyoming students from kindergarten through high school.

“We have ranchers. We have farmers. We have families that travel. We have military families that have done school with us from overseas but they get to continue to have some consistency all the way from (kindergarten) up to (12th grade),” said Jennifer Schultze, a WYVA music teacher. “I think there was that need in our state of giving kids options where they weren’t traveling in a vehicle for an hour or two from the ranch into town.”

The event was hosted by the Wyoming Chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options and attended by several state lawmakers including State Senator Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) and State Representative Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne).

Students, teachers, administrators and parents swapped personal homeschooling and virtual learning stories, while always returning to the same refrain: whatever reason for choosing a particular schooling environment, that choice must be left in the hands of parents. Or, as was emblazoned on the t-shirts handed out at the door: #TrustParents.

“We have these certified teachers who just love the kids and they are really, really great people,” said WYVA Principal Joe Heywood. “I won’t ever leave Wyoming Virtual Academy just because I don’t want to leave this great group of teachers. I found kind of a gold mine of good people.”

Parents and administrators at WYVA say the quality of the teachers and the flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar schools allow kids who might not otherwise make it to graduation day to flourish.

“As a high school teacher, I have watched kids graduate under really challenging circumstances where they may have not been able to before with a family member with cancer, maybe they have a truck driver as a father and they can travel with him,” Schultze said. “We’ve had lots of teen parents that have graduated with us successfully.”

Homeschool mom Amy Nelson says there are lots of different reasons why parents choose to school from home, but whatever the environment, it’s crucial that parents retain the choice of where and how their child is educated.

“Traditional school doesn’t work for everybody,” said Nelson. “For me it was just, this is what I want to do. This is the time I don’t get back with my kids. They are thriving and they are enjoying it. So as long as that’s happening we will continue to make the choice to school at home.”

Computer standards to get another look in Riverton meeting

in Education/News
Wyoming computer science standards in K-12 education

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Eric Trowbridge understands the importance of a computer science education.

As chief executive officer of The Array School of Design & Technology, a private school in Cheyenne, he oversees a computer training program that includes teaching web development and coding for students 17 years and older. 

“It’s not a question of how important it is to the future; it is the future,” Trowbridge said of computer technology. “Every bit of the future for Wyoming is going to require computer science skills. If you do not know 20 to 25 years from now how to talk to computers, how to write code, you will not have a job.  Plain and simple.”

A big step toward this future will occur at 8 a.m. April 25, when the State Board of Education considers Wyoming’s draft K-12 computer science standards during its meeting in Riverton, he said. 

“Adopting the standards will put Wyoming at the top of all states for developing such a K-12 program in computer science,” Trowbridge said. 

Wyoming is believed to be the first state to have such standards. Standards were developed after the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2018 to require all public schools to offer a computer science education to K-12 students by the 2022-23 school year. They must be ready for implementation.

The Legislature’s action is a “leapfrog moment,” Trowbridge said. “Wyoming has been so far behind in (computer education); to jump ahead is a pioneering (move) that no one else has done before. We’re no longer the caboose.”

The Wyoming Department of Education organized a Standards Review Committee about a year ago in response to the legislation. The committee, made up of educators statewide, developed content and performance standards, which outline what to teach in each grade.

When the Education Department presented proposed standards to the Wyoming State Board of Education for approval at a meeting on March 21, the day ended with the standards left in limbo. While many who attended supported the standards, many others, notably other educators, took exception to the proposal and said the standards were too complex and would overwhelm overburdened teachers.

Others questioned the cost of implementation, estimated at $12.3 million, given the fact no extra funding was made available to put the standards in place.

The state board then rejected two proposals, one to approve the standards as submitted and another to send them back to the education agency for more work. Instead, the board directed the Standards Review Committee to keep working before the board’s April 25 meeting.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” Trowbridge said, adding that the move would water down the standards.  “We literally are putting it in a trash bag and throwing it out the window.”

But Walt Wilcox, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board’s action should not be seen as opposition to the standards, but instead as allowing more time to study ways to put them in place.

“No one is opposed to it (computer science standards), not the board or educators,” he said. “They are opposed to not having plans (in place) to do it.”

A lot of concern comes from elementary teachers who have not been taught how to teach the subject, Wilcox said. He pointed out the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are just now putting in place an introductory certification track for teachers in computer science and programming.

“Some teachers are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared wondering how (the standards) will get taught,” he said.

Others against adoption said they worried about what other subjects they would need to scuttle to provide time for the new standards.

The review committee has met once since the March 21 meeting, said Kari Eakins, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Chief Policy Officer.

During that meeting in Lander, “the review committee met consensus and felt like they were able to meet concerns,” she said.  

There will be another public comment period before April 25, she said. If the state board approves the standards, they will go to Gov. Mark Gordon for a 90-day review and for his decision.

“We’re doing something that Wyoming has never done before – adding a content area to the common core of knowledge,” Eakins said. “We are in a little bit of uncharted territory.”

Right now, as far as having enough time to implement the standards, the process is in “safe territory,” she said.

Wyoming State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, supports the standards.

“The standards really reflect what we’re trying to get after,” she said.

Ellis, a member of the Joint Education Committee that sponsored the 2018 legislation, said she was surprised and a little concerned about the outcome of the March 21 meeting and added legislators need to be kept informed about the process.

Wyoming’s students could lead the computer science field if the standards are adopted and if graduates can find places to work, Trowbridge said. 

He noted Array, formed in 2016, has placed 80 percent of its 33 graduates in computer-related jobs in Wyoming within 180 days of graduation. Their starting salaries are about $48,000 a year.  But it hasn’t been easy because tech presence is not that strong in the state, Trowbridge said. 

“If we don’t pass (the standards), we will never be able to recruit tech companies to create the jobs,” Trowbridge said.

Rachel’s Challenge leaves lasting impact on students

in Education/News

By Cowboy State Daily

Last month, Cowboy State Daily visited Cheyenne East High School as Rachel’s Challenge was presented in a series of assemblies and workshops to East High School students.

Rachel’s Challenge, created by the family of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, is based on the “Code of Ethics” the Columbine High School student wrote a month before her death in the Columbine school shooting of 1999.

We went back to East to check in and see if the Rachel’s Challenge message of kindness, inclusion, and dreaming big had a lasting impact on students.

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