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Gillette, Sheridan Colleges Will Save $2.8 Million By Scrapping Athletic Programs

in Education/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The elimination of most athletic programs at colleges in Sheridan and Gillette will save those colleges $2.8 million, according to officials.

Officials with the Northern Wyoming Community College District, which encompasses both Sheridan College and Gillette College, said in a news release the cuts were part of a needed $3.96 million reduction in spending.

All eight of Wyoming’s community colleges are looking at spending cuts as they prepare their budgets for the coming year. However, one college, Casper College, specifically rejected the idea of cutting athletic programs.

Northern Wyoming Community College District trustees declared a financial emergency on June 18 due to the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic as well as imminent cuts to ongoing funding from the state.

The colleges have discontinued their men’s and women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball programs to save $2.8 million. The rodeo teams from both schools will continue, although with significantly reduced budgets.

“This decision was far from easy and definitely not something we wanted to take away from our student-athletes. However, we simply cannot maintain a vision that includes full-time coaches, full-ride athletic scholarships coming from our general fund, and expensive recruitment and travel,” said Walter Tribley, the district’s president.

Tribley said in the release that the long-term goal is to eventually bring back additional athletic opportunities at the Division III level of the National Junior College Athletics Association. The teams for both colleges had been competing in Division I of the NJCAA.

In addition to athletics, cuts were made to the district’s administration, two academic programs and the campus police departments.

The programs, culinary arts and hospitality management, will be discontinued and the district won’t fill several open administrative and staff positions and will implement reorganizations that will equal the savings of seven full-time positions. These cuts to the programs and administration total $500,000.

Sixteen positions were also eliminated.

The campus police departments will transition to a more “traditional format,” resulting in a $260,000 cut. Travel will be limited to essential trips only, which will result in $400,000 in savings.

“The changes we will be making as a district that yield the greatest ongoing savings were selected not because they were failing in any way,” Tribley said. “They were selected because the annual cost of the programs versus the annual revenue generated by those programs make them unsustainable during this time of financial crisis.”

All scholarships will be honored and students enrolled in discontinued academic programs will have the chance to complete their degree requirements. All athletes will be released from their commitments to the community college district.

“Our number one priority is our students. While these decisions will impact some students directly, it is the best way forward for our District to minimize negative impacts to the majority of our students,” said Tribley. “We look forward to continuing to provide an affordable, transferable high-quality education for all.”

Casper College officials, contacted by Cowboy State Daily, said they had no plans to take such action.

“Casper College remains committed to continuing our strong tradition of collegiate sports and is looking forward to bringing back our student athletes in volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball and rodeo,” Chris Lorenzen, the college’s director of public relations, said in a statement. “In addition, we are very excited to kick off our inaugural season of men’s and women’s soccer.”

Lorenzen said the college continually monitors the cost of its athletic programs to make sure they can continue uninterrupted.

“Finally, we are aware of the financial costs of athletic programs and continually monitor expenses to ensure the financial benefits of enrolling student athletes as well as the student life and student experience benefits of our athletic programs remain sustainable,” his statement said.

Phone calls to the Northern Wyoming Community College Commission were not immediately returned.

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Wyoming Schools Receive $32.5M in Federal Funds

in Coronavirus/Education/News
Jillian Balow Education School Safety Senate File 64
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s schools will receive more than $32.5 million in coronavirus relief from the federal government, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has announced.

Balow announced last week that the funds are Wyoming’s share of $13.2 billion allocated to elementary and secondary schools across the country as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The money will give Wyoming school districts emergency funds to address the impacts of the coronavirus on schools across the state. 

“We are grateful for these timely funds,” Balow said in a news release. “Wyoming education should not go ‘back to normal.’ School districts and schools will utilize the … funds to make schools more nimble and safer in the face of a resurgence or future pandemic.”

School buildings across the state remain closed as students continue to take lessons from home. Several school districts have already decided not to open their buildings back up during this school year.

The federal money should be used to make up for any educational shortfalls that may have occurred while students spent the last several months of school at home, Balow said.

“We should spend these dollars to fill education gaps created by COVID-19 school closures and strengthen our education system,” she said.

Balow: April 6 Is Deadline for Continuing Wyoming Education Plan

in Coronavirus/Education/News
Jillian Balow Education School Safety Senate File 64
3655

Wyoming’s schools will have until April 6 to develop a plan for the continued education of their students in the face of a new state order extending the closure of schools for two weeks, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Balow, in a news release Friday, said each school district must have its “Adapted Learning Plan” approved by the state Department of Education by April 6 to continue receiving state funds.

Gov. Mark Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, on Friday announced the state would extend until April 17 the orders closing the state’s schools. The orders had originally been set to end on April 3.

The state’s school districts have been working on plans to offer remote education to students online since the school closures began in mid-March. Balow praised the efforts by the districts to provide for their students.

“School doors may be closed to students, but Wyoming education is open for business,” Balow said. “The desire by teachers to connect with their students and provide learning opportunities has been inspiring. Teaching and learning while practicing social distancing is a new concept for many. Teachers, parents, and students all need support in order for it to be successful.” 

Cheyenne Schools Create Contingency Plans In Case Closures Extend Beyond April 3

in Coronavirus/Education/News
3538

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne schools are preparing a contingency plan in case the coronavirus pandemic causes schools to be closed beyond April 3.

“While this remote learning plan could proceed through the end of the year, we will consider it a bonus if we can get our students back in schools sooner,” Boyd Brown, superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 1 said in a news release on the district’s Facebook page. “Know that the district’s administration, teachers and staff members miss having contact with our students.”

This week, teachers will reach to families using the Remind app. Students will be invited to refresh their learning, beginning with lessons they were working on prior to the school closures.

Pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students will focus on English/Language Arts and math. Teachers will weave other disciplines into lessons when possible.

Prioritized standards will be streamlined for students in seventh through 12 grades. Electives will be taught in a “creative” manner.

If the closure remains in effect, students will begin remote learning April 6. At that time, new material will be taught.

Remote learning will occcur in a variety communication methods. This will include learning packets, online instruction, phone calls, mailings and more. Paper copy packets will be provided to families without access to certain technology. District officials are working with administrators at the Transportation Department to develop a method of delivering and receiving the work from students and parents.

Beginning April 6, students will be engaged in lessons for each scheduled class. All lessons will include a learning target, an instructional component, student practice and a demonstration of learning. Resource teachers and case managers will ensure IEP students receive all assigned work and will work with parents for accommodations.

“Without a doubt, this is a very challenging experience for all,” Brown said. “Together, we can work to keep our community safe while allowing our students to progress academically. We are going to get through this together.”

The Salary Of Every Educator In Wyoming Is Now Available Online

in Education/News
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The salaries of every educator in Wyoming are now available online.

Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com, announced the news on Friday.

Andrzejewski said the process to get the salaries posted was a three-year effort which included the efforts of Wyoming State Senator Tom James who filed a public records request last year.

The takeaway?

There are more than 16,000 full-time employees in Wyoming and the costs – including benefits – are estimated to total more than $1 billion.

Who is getting paid what in your district?  The Open the Books website has a search tool that will allow users five free trials before requiring users to register.

Some highlights from the report:

“Highest paying districts: The districts paying the most six-figure compensation packages include Laramie #1 (60), Natrona #1 (44), Campbell #1 based in Gillette (37), Teton #1 (21), and Sweetwater #2 based in Green River (13). In Fremont #25, although their superintendent earns a generous salary, only seven other employees made six-figures.”

“Top paid: Terry Snyder, Superintendent of Fremont #25 (Riverton), ranked as the highest paid educator after his disclosed compensation increased last year from $157,218 to $216,304. Rounding out the top five most highly paid: Steven Hopkins, Superintendent of Natrona #1 in Casper ($208,291); Craig Dougherty, Superintendent of Sheridan #2 ($207,600); Gillian Chapman, Superintendent of Teton #1 in Jackson ($203,898); and Boyd Brown, Superintendent of Laramie #1 in Cheyenne ($196,000).”

Here’s the full story

Cheyenne Students Ask Josh Allen to Come Back for Read Across America Week

in Education/News
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Students at Prairie Wind Elementary School in Cheyenne are asking Buffalo Bills quarterback — and former University of Wyoming standout — Josh Allen to return to the Cowboy State in March.

The students asked Allen via video to join them for Read Across America Week which begins on March 2.

“If you are able to come, you will have a chance to meet your number one fans and the coolest kids around,” said one student in the video. 

Another student, donning a Buffalo Bills hat, asked the gymnasium full of students who they all loved. 

“Josh Allen!” the students yelled followed by an eruption of screams and cheers.

 Principal Lisa Weigel told Buffalo TV station WKBW that the students chose Allen because he’s a great role model.

“Our kids really know how to work hard, they have an all in attitude and it’s something [Josh Allen] approaches in everything he does so we couldn’t think of a better role model,” Weigel said. “Come back to where everything started for you, come back and share with students the incredible things you’ve accomplished due to your hard work.” 

Northwest College Adds Video Gaming (eSports) as Competitive Sport

in Education/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

When thinking of competitive college activities, sports usually comes to mind.

But Northwest College is looking to increase its enrollment by offering a new sanctioned competitive program — video gaming.

According to a report by Goldman Sachs, Esports — or competitive video gaming — is more popular now than major league baseball. Entire stadiums are being constructed to lure fans and gamers to the booming billion-dollar industry.

Brian Erickson,  athletic director for Northwest College, said the college is banking on the popularity of Esports to boost enrollment numbers. 

“What do college kids do these days? They’re not throwing a frisbee, they’re not throwing the football anymore,” he said. “What are they doing on their time off? Well, they’re in their room and they’re gaming. So let’s get them out of their rooms, let’s get them in this facility gaming with each other, to give them a different interaction.”

Erickson said he was able to apply for a grant through Northwest’s college foundation to begin funding the activity, which he said won’t be very expensive compared to other sports.

“It will really only cost about $10,000 a year to run the whole thing,” he said, “and we’re already out there trying to get sponsors.”

He said Northwest is the first Wyoming school to offer e-sports as a sanctioned activity.

Once established, NWC players will be competing in Powell against teams from all over the country. For example, if they play against a team from Florida, NWC competitors would be playing from Powell and Florida players would be playing from their campus.

Erickson said a group formed for college e-gaming, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, has 178 teams as members, with competitors playing 15 different games.

When NWC’s program is up and running, its students will play regional and national teams. 

“League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite are the ones we’ll probably start with,” Erickson said.

Erickson said the program is just getting off the ground, starting with a “club” for the existing players this spring. The college will then recruit for a full Esports program for the fall semester. 

“We’ve got to do a really good job of marketing, that Northwest College has an Esports team,” he said. 

Erickson explained that the NACE has recruiting websites where potential students can log in and upload their profiles. He said there could be international students interested in attending Northwest College to game.

Before they begin, though, there are logistics to be tackled.

“We’re moving forward with the facility right now,” he said, spreading his arms inside a large empty room in one of the classroom buildings on the NWC campus. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the Internet connection that can run these games, then get the computers.”

Erickson said the school is looking to recruit 30 to 40 new students going into next year. If the recruiting drive is successful, he said it would halt the downward trend in enrollment the college has seen over the last few years. 

He added NWC hopes to have scholarship money available for potential students in the next three or four years. 

“One of our missions for the college is to retain and recruit,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our students here, and get our enrollment numbers back up.”

Plan to Reduce Money for Student Transportation to Buses Rejected

in Education/News
2787

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

A plan that could have potentially halved the reimbursement to parents who drive their children to and from distant bus stops has been rejected by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE).

The WDE, in a policy memo, said it would continue to reimburse parents for all four legs of a trip to take their children to bus stops before school and pick them up after.

“The Wyoming Department of Education will reimburse transportation claims for up to two round-trips per day,” WDE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor wrote in the memo to school superintendents, principals and transportation directors. “This interpretation (of Wyoming state law) will take effect immediately for all claims submitted on Nov. 18, 2019, and thereafter.”

The policy provides reimbursement for parents, who in effect, act as the school bus for their children, providing transportation for students that school districts would otherwise be providing if schools could access remote rural areas.

Shanor confirmed the policy interpretation change in an interview with the Cowboy State Daily this week. 

“We decided to interpret it more favorably for the parents,” he said. “The whole goal is to provide the best transportation options for students. If a parent is making that round trip twice daily, it seems more prudent to allow for full reimbursement for parents to get their students where they need to be to get to school.”

Wyoming State Statute 21-4-401 states that school districts “shall provide transportation for isolated students when it is in the best interests of these students to provide transportation to existing schools, instead of establishing a new school for them.”

During the 2017-18 school year, WDE reimbursed Wyoming school districts $480,111 – $449,151 for mileage reimbursement and $30,960 for maintenance costs – for following the state’s policy isolation/maintenance payments to rural parents.

School districts with the highest student isolation/maintenance state reimbursements in the 2017-18 school year included Crook County No. 1 (Sundance/Hulett/Moorcroft), $92,699; Converse County No. 1 (Douglas), $48,543;  Natrona No. 1 (Casper), $46,968; Albany No. 1 (Laramie), $42,363, and Teton No. 1 (Jackson), $32,611.

A policy change occurred last summer when the Education Department formed a committee to review its rules. The change effectively reduced reimbursements to parents from two daily round trips to the bus stop to one round trip per day.

When the change occurred, Shanor said the justification was based on students themselves making just one trip per day — school and back home.

With that interpretation, mileage traveled by parents after dropping children off or before picking them up was not being reimbursed.

However, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee agreed last fall that the law, in their view, was intended to provide for reimbursement for two round trips each day, and the committee requested that the WDE review the law and address the rules for isolation/maintenance reimbursements.

Shanor said WDE concurred with the legislative committee after reviewing state law and its policy, and since Nov. 18, parents making two round trips a day are being reimbursed.

“These parents are helping with the education of their children, especially in these rural areas,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Decision on computer science standards expected by Feb. 14

in Education/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It’s going to likely be an eventful Valentine’s Day for anyone who’s been following Wyoming’s computer science standards saga. 

That is the deadline for Gov. Mark Gordon to make his decision on whether to approve the standards submitted by the state Board of Education.

Currently, the standards are in the middle of a 75-day review period where Gordon, the Legislative Service Office, the Legislature’s Joint Management Council and the Attorney General’s office will look over the standards, possibly make small amendments or recommendations before they are finally signed into effect. 

If the various offices determine there are too many issues with the standards, the promulgation process must begin again. Either way, Feb. 14 is the final day in the review period. 

Laurie Hernandez, Standards and Assessment director for the state Department of Education, noted that Attorney General Bridget Hill recently completed her assessment of the standards, allowing them to move forward in the final step of the promulgation process. 

“There were a couple of minor things noted that I needed to adjust, but that was all from the AG review,” Hernandez said. 

Small adjustments to the language are common, but if a major issue is found in the standards, it could mean sending them back to the early steps of the promulgation process, meaning it would have to go through weeks of more reviews and public comment. 

“Restarting the process would come with some type of change that wouldn’t be considered natural outgrowth,” Hernandez said. “When the LSO and AG offices review the standards, they’re looking at whether or not the letter of the law is being met or if there is anything egregious being covered.”

The last major changes to the standards were made in November, when the State Board of Education reviewed an opinion from Hill about them. She noted to the board that some of the terminology in the standards was confusing and certain words weren’t used consistently.

The board made two amendments, clarifying that “enhanced” benchmarks for computer science education would be available to, but not mandatory for, all students. The other amendment removed performance level descriptors (PLD) from the standards for kindergarten through fifth grade. The PLDs will still be available to teachers in a guidance document, though. 

The standards under review are based on those created by the Computer Science Teachers Association. The standards set by the organization are intended to develop a clear understanding of the principles and practices of computer science.

Gordon’s communications director Michael Pearlman said he expects the governor to review the standards later in the 75-day period, as Gordon is deliberative and wants to ensure he’s considering everything.

“Obviously, we don’t want to take too long, because we’re all cognizant of how long this process has been,” Pearlman said. 

Lachelle Brant, an education policy advisor to Gordon, said she couldn’t speak about what was in the final version of the standards since the LSO is still reviewing them. But she said she hoped to get the standards approved by the governor quickly to give districts enough time for implementation. 

By law, the standards have to be in place by the beginning of 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. 

“Some of these districts knew the Legislature passed a law and that these standards would be an expectation down the road, so they’ve worked to be ahead of the game,” Brant said. “I think some larger districts are concerned because these standards were passed and there was no additional funding for training. The Department of Education is working to fill that financial gap by applying for grants, so that’s helping.” 

Hernandez noted that the standards team has created a three-year implementation process plan calling for the Department of Education to provide professional development for educators across the state on the standards. 

The review committee that helped write the standards earlier in the year found ways that educators could cross-reference other curriculum with computer science in an effort to make the integration process easier.

“These courses ranged from language arts and social studies to electives like (physical education) and fine performing arts,” Hernandez said. “The committee knew that with a brand new set of standards, there would be some angst by adding computer science to these educators’ plates. The intent was to provide resources to help implement these as easily as possible.”

Cameras in classroom would increase school accountability

in Column/Education/Ray Peterson
2583

By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY 

Accountability from our schools has been an ongoing concern for years as the Legislature has struggled to understand how much the state spends for the results received. I remember a bill I sponsored years ago in an attempt to address this issue. 

The measure was nicknamed the “camera bill,” but its actual title was “Improving Teacher Evaluations.” It passed introduction, only to fail in the Senate Education Committee by one vote. Simply put, it was a concept for a pilot program to put cameras in the classroom to use for evaluations and provide security for both teachers and students. 

I thought it was an ideal time to implement the concept as we were building schools at a fast pace. The pilot program was to involve four schools, each of a different size, around our state. The program would continue for one year and a report on its effectiveness would be given to the Legislature.

The nexus of this concept came when I asked a few retired teachers how they were evaluated over the many years they had taught. Their answers were varied and inconsistent, which led me to believe that teacher evaluations across our state were somewhat of a “hit and miss” process. Stories of teachers suing school districts for wrongful termination or superintendents being reluctant to fire teachers with guaranteed contract status because of the personal hits they took led me to take a serious look at the evaluation process or how we might improve the process to address these concerns.

Think of it! The student and teacher would never know if the principal or instructional facilitator were watching! This alone would have a positive affect for both the student and the instructor. 

I only wish that every citizen from our state could have seen my presentation of this bill to the Senate Education Committee. Many certainly would have been entertained while listening to the point/counter-point between the Wyoming Education Association representatives and myself. It was classic. Perhaps this is where I made myself an enemy to these folks. 

Anyway, this idea was meant to be an additional tool an administrator could use to evaluate teachers. No disruption of the classroom with personal visits, no tip-off to give the teacher a chance to prepare. And the best part? Now a recording could be reviewed by the teacher, principal, the instructional facilitator and one of the parents of a student. 

Wait, a parent? How dare we suggest such a thing! Hold on, let me explain. The parent was to attend the viewing and submit a simplified evaluation form. Did the teacher seem prepared? Did he or she seem to maintain class discipline? Simple and basic questions. Then the parent representative would be asked to leave. Then the three people remaining in the room would get down to business while making recommendations and assignments for improvements as needed. The instructional facilitator would be assigned to work with the teacher in certain areas and all three would be required to sign off on the evaluation report. A work plan for improvement would be made, assignments given and a follow-up visit would be set to re-evaluate for these areas to be worked on. Think of the effect this would have on wrongful termination lawsuits. Or more importantly, how the schools could address the strengths or shortcomings of a teacher or administrator!

So why the parent involvement? In order for this to work, we must first, insure that the evaluations are happening. The parents group representative attends the monthly school board meeting to report on how many evaluations parents have participated in that month. Now everyone is on the hook! Not just our teachers and students but everyone from parents to administrators. No personnel problems or employee confidences are threatened. Just a quick report on whether the evaluations are happening to the school board and superintendent. 

Make no mistake, evaluations are the hardest part of school administration, but also the most critical. New school buildings and curriculum have less to do with a student’s education than a teacher’s desire and ability to teach. I would encourage parents around our state to ask their school administrators how teacher evaluations are performed in their own school districts. How often they are performed? How is the follow up performed? Who is involved in carrying out the improvement plans for an under-performing teacher? What you may find out could surprise you. It is as varied as you could imagine, from no evaluations to some. 

When I asked for myself, I was surprised to find out that the teacher was asked by the principal if the principal could attend a class sometime in the future. The time was set by the teacher and I’m sure the preparation began. I’m sure everything went to plan and the evaluation was deemed a success. I thought to myself, ‘How many things were wrong with this type of an evaluation?’ From reporting the evaluation to the effectiveness of the actual evaluation. Where was the hook or accountability for any of the players that we deem critical to our child’s education?

Second, we would reduce the wasteful wrongful termination lawsuits. Not only would we have documentation of the evaluations signed by all parties, but also from the instructional facilitator. This person is the best qualified teacher in each district, assigned the task of assisting other teachers become better instructors. The principal and the instructional facilitator would both work at improving the quality of teaching in our schools. This would also reduce concerns of personal attacks, inconsistent evaluations, new administration, personality conflicts and surprise terminations. Proper and consistent evaluations should remove all of these concerns.

Third, this proposal would involve and make more players accountable than just our teachers. Parents need to be more involved. How could a principal use the recording of a parent’s child struggling in one of their classes? How could parents reporting to the school board each month help improve the performance of our principals in conducting regular evaluations? If I were serving on a school board and the parents reported to us that they had been invited to only one evaluation that semester in a school with more than 20 teachers, I would think that we have a problem in evaluating our teachers consistently and properly.

Finally, this program would focus the efforts of not only our teachers and students but also our instructional facilitators, principals, parents, school board members and superintendents on educational excellence. If we really believe that education is the most important thing we do in this state, then I would ask the question, what is wrong with this concept? These are public institutions of learning and we have the technology to improve our efforts, so why not implement a pilot program to see what the effects might be? 

As a closing thought, having cameras in most parts of a school would only add to the security of our students and faculty. Bullying would be handled properly with video evidence being used to show all parties involved. 

Throwing additional money at a problem does not always solve the problem. Sometimes more effort is required. Maybe some courageous legislator can blow the dust off of my old bill and introduce it again. But beware of those that want nothing to do with accountability in our schools because they will come out in droves in opposition to this effort. More money is what they want.

I remain convinced that if implemented, this one improvement could do more for the quality of education in this state than anything else we could possibly do. More so than additional money or higher salaries, new buildings, more activities or even improved curriculum. This one effort to improve evaluations in our schools would hit the bullseye for boosting the quality of education in Wyoming. It would certainly eliminate the wrongful termination lawsuits. It would blow a hole through the guaranteed contract status of teachers and would provide the proper incentive to continually improve education efforts in schools. 

I’ve always believed that if evaluations were done correctly, we would have better teachers, happier teachers, accomplished teachers and better test scores for our students. Is it any wonder why our friends at the WEA were opposed to this concept? It did not fit with their desire for higher wages, guaranteed positions with less accountability. Perhaps it’s time for a new organization that puts our students first. W4E. Wyoming For Education. I would hope that such an organization would not fear innovation, technology, accountability, and responsibility.

Now who is serious about educating our children?

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018. He lives in Cowley.

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