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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.

Gift to LCCC will help business students

in Education/News
business students benefit from gift to LCCC

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – Longtime Cheyenne resident Lois Mottonen appreciated the value of education and the doors it could open.

Mottonen, who died in December 2017 at the age of 88, left an education legacy that will benefit generations of Laramie County Community College students and help them share in her appreciation.

A $2.4 million gift from Mottonen will provide new scholarships and education programs at the college.

An honors graduate from Rock Springs High School, Mottonen earned a tuition scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where she was the only woman in her class when she majored in accounting. She was also the second Wyoming woman granted a certified public accounting license.

The gift from Mottonen is really about her own story and Wyoming’s story, said LCCC President Joe Schaffer. Mottonen “pulled herself up by her bootstraps” on her own and overcame barriers, he said. “She should be an inspiration to students.”

Lois C. Mottonen Scholarship

LCCC will use $1 million of the gift to create the Lois C. Mottonen Scholarship, said Lisa Trimble, the college’s associate vice president of Institutional Advancement. Scholarships will provide up to $15,000 per student.

“Her gift will continue to open doors, provide opportunities and inspire others to make an impact,” Trimble said.

The endowed fund will provide scholarships for students who are 25 years old or older and who enroll full-time in identified programs that are part of the Rediscover LCCC.

Rediscover LCCC is a pilot scholarship program that will pay for students’ tuition and fees in high-demand degree and certificate programs for up to two years.

Scholarships will be for students who want to return to college to get a degree and who don’t qualify for most traditional scholarships, Trimble said. Endowed funds from the Mottonen scholarships will be available in the fall of 2020.

For business students, programs available in Rediscover LCCC include accounting, financial services concentration, business and finance, business management, business management supply chain concentration and entrepreneurship. These are designed for a student to complete and find a job or transfer to a university to obtain a bachelor’s degree and then enter a career.

Students who apply for the Mottonen scholarships:

  • Must be a Wyoming resident 25 or older, have lived in the state for three or more years and have a demonstrated financial need;
  • Cannot previously have earned an associate, bachelor or graduate degree, and;
  • Must choose one of the identified business programs and attend as a full-time student who maintains a B averages or above.

Center for Essential Student Experiences

Another $982,900 will be used by the college to develop a Center for Essential Student Experiences and establish the Lois C. Mottonen Student Experience Fund. The goal is to make students more marketable when they enter the workforce by giving them access to hands-on learning experiences such as internships or studying abroad, Trimble said. 

“Essential experiences are opportunities designed to provide LCCC students with real-life experiences prior to completing their degrees,” she said.

 This fund will be available in fall 2020.The college also will contribute $200,000 of Mottonen’s gift to Rediscover LCCC to help support students who take part in its business programs.

LCCC will use $300,000 of Mottonen’s gift to help develop and design a new innovative business program for students and provide scholarships to the first participants, Trimble said.

The gift will help jump start the college’s efforts to create an applied baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree of applied sciences in applied management, Schaffer said.

Endowed funds means that Mottonen’s legacy will extend into perpetuity, Schaffer added.  

“LCCC is lucky to have community members such as Ms. Mottonen, whose planned giving support will impact generations to come,” he said.

For more about how to apply for scholarships, call LCCC, 307-778-5222.

In brief: Private school zoning measure becomes law without Gordon’s signature

in Education/News

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure giving private schools the same exemption from county zoning laws as public schools has been allowed to become law without the signature of Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Friday announced he would allow SF 49 to become law despite his belief that the measure is flawed.

“I believe this bill is flawed and so I will not sign it; but as I have done with other bills, I will take this opportunity to recommend that the Legislature and local governments continue to work to find a better way to sort out the types of impasse that begat this legislation closer to home,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, surfaced after leaders of the Jackson Hole Classical Academy said they encountered regulatory problems in their attempts to build a new campus in Jackson.

The bill would allow private schools to be exempt from county zoning rules, but would require those schools to substantially meet the standards set for public schools, which are also exempt from county zoning laws.

Gordon, in a letter to Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, also noted that many argued private and public schools should be subject to the same rules.

“The change in statute contemplated in this bill erodes some degree of local control from all counties in Wyoming,” he wrote. “I still do not believe this bill offers the correct solution although I recognize the uniqueness of the situation which occasioned it.”

Gordon urged the Legislature to continue its work on the issue to reach a better solution to such disputes.

“The passage of this bill sets an unfortunate precedent and one that I believe could be corrected with some diligence, equanimity and foresight,” he wrote. “At my core, I believe that government is best closest to the people and when it governs least. This bill sits in the saddle between those two. I am committed to working with the county commissions, municipalities, the Legislature, and the people of Wyoming to find a better way to resolve these sorts of conflicts.”

The bill was among the last for Gordon to act on from the Legislature’s general session, which ended in late February.

(Disclaimer: The Jackson Hole Classical Academy was founded by Steve and Polly Friess. Steve Friess is the son of former Republican gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess. Foster Friess is an investor in the Cowboy State Daily.)

Public sector tries new approach to solutions for private industries

in Economic development/Education/News
Wyoming Next Gen partnership workforce

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few kids see the construction trades as a potential career choice these days, but a new partnership between Wyoming’s public and private sectors is working to change that.

“The Next Gen Sector Partnership is an opportunity to bring industries’ priorities to the center stage,” said Hayley McKee, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokesperson.  “It’s an opportunity for these teams to work together in an aligned approach rather than a siloed approach.”

Initiated in spring 2018, the partnership was designed to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector following their lead. 

“In the end, it’s about creating good jobs,” McKee said. “And connecting people with good jobs.”

In Laramie County, Next Gen has already experienced a measure of success, she said.

Larry Fodor, a project manager for the Cheyenne-based Mechanical Systems Inc., said he is working with the partnership to highlight the benefits of in the trades.

“We hope to improve the image and perception of the construction industry,” Fodor said. “The construction industry, in general, is not the dirty, unsafe industry it used to be.” 

Fodor and Next Gen have worked with Laramie County School District No. 1 to coordinate a bus tour for school counselors and staff, visiting several construction businesses around Cheyenne, he said. The initiative can help school district staff and students learn about a variety of construction-based career opportunities, providing details on wages, benefits packages and training options.

“It’s allowed us to show a side-by-side comparison of what a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns right out of college vs. a journeyman, who’s spent a similar amount of time learning his trade while getting paid,” Fodor explained. “We’ve seen a strong response to the Next Gen approach.”

After working construction in Laramie County for more than a decade, he said the partnership is a refreshing approach to recurring challenges.

“Next Gen as a whole is a new way of looking at solving old problems,” Fodor said. “These problems have been talked about for years without any meaningful way of getting together and moving toward a goal.”

McKee said Next Gen allows entities such as the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Education and Workforce Services to use data to identify challenges in regions across Wyoming, then approach industry leaders in those regions with an invitation to help develop a solution.

“In Laramie county, they selected trades as their area to focus on,” she explained. “But in other regions, they have looked at finance, healthcare and hospitality to name just a few.”

Still in its infancy, Next Gen could help develop struggling economic sectors, stabilizing Wyoming’s boom-bust cycle while reducing the number of young professionals leaving the state in search of jobs, McKee said.

“It’s not necessarily just challenges, but often the partnership is working to build opportunities as well,” she said. “These initiatives are just starting, and they have selected focus areas, but later on down the line, there are other industries that are prime for partnership.”

Governor signs public records, animal cruelty bill

in Criminal justice/Education/Energy/News/Transparency
Wyoming Legislature bills signed by Governor Gordon

By Cowboy State Daily

Bills creating a felony crime of animal abuse and setting a deadline for the production of public records were among a group signed into law on Friday by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 235, one of the last bills to be approved by the Legislature in the closing hours of its general session, makes it a felony for a person to commit aggravated cruelty to animals resulting in the death or euthanasia of an animal or to abuse an animal with an intent to kill it.

The law takes effect July 1. Currently, a person convicted of animal abuse can only be found guilty of a misdemeanor. A felony conviction carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

The public records law, SF 57, sets a 30-day deadline for the release of public documents. It also authorizes the hiring of an ombudsman to help mediate disputes over the release of public documents.

Under existing law, there was no time limit for government agencies to release public documents.

Other bills signed into law Friday included:

  • SF 159, designed to encourage utilities to sell old coal-fired electric plants rather than retire them;
  • HB 103, requiring doctors who perform abortions to report those procedures to the state Office of Vital Records and requiring the the data be compiled into a public report;
  • SF 122, creating the “Wyoming Works Program,” which will provide grants for students attending technical programs at community colleges, and 
  • HB 99, creating a state “Public Lands Day.”

Gordon has until late March to sign bills into law, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

UW ‘Cowboy’ campaign wins national, regional awards

in Education/News
Courtesy: University of Wyoming

By Cowboy State Daily

LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming’s “The World Needs More Cowboys” recruiting campaign has won two national awards and one regional award.

The campaign’s video was named “Best of Show” in the Educational Advertising Awards competition, sponsored by Higher Education Marketing Report, the university reported in a news release. The video also won a silver award from the association for “integrated marketing campaign.”

The UW’s video was picked as the best from more than 2,200 entries from more than 1,000 colleges, universities and secondary schools from around the country.

The video was also named “Best of Show” in the “Addy” awards, the American Advertising Federation’s regional competition held in Colorado. the video also won a “Gold Addy” in the category of integrated, branded content  campaign.

“It’s wonderful to see that our marketing campaign and its anthem video are being recognized as outstanding not only among higher education institutions, but also across all types of advertising,” said UW President Laurie Nichols. 

Wyoming’s alternate school-week schedules are not one-size-fits all

in Education/News
Wyoming classroom education

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

In a rural state, four-day school weeks can be both beneficial and challenging for parents and students alike.

Wyoming school districts have experimented with alternate schedules for the last decade and possibly longer, said Julie Magee, director of the Wyoming Department of Education’s Division of Accountability. 

In most cases, the alternate schedules are requested by school districts to benefit students active in after-school activities such as sports, Magee said, adding the schedules could reduce education costs in some cases. 

Not all Wyoming’s school districts, however, believe the benefit is worth the risk of negatively affecting underprivileged students, some of whom experience food insecurity when school is not in session. Richard Patterson, interim superintendent for Goshen County School District No. 1, said his school board recently voted against moving to a four-day school week.  

“They’ve been looking at this for about two years,” Patterson explained. “What drove it initially was to make sure teachers had more time in the classroom.”

Students in activities often missed class on Fridays as they traveled across the state to participate in events. Longer days Monday through Thursday could prevent those students from missing valuable class time.

When the suggestion was opened to public comment, however, residents and staff voiced several concerns, Patterson said.

“Child care was a big issue, there’s a shortage of childcare universally, but certainly, we deal with it in Torrington,” he explained. “The other concern I heard is with some of these kids, the home environment may not be as stable or as nurturing as we would like, so the school provides a place of structure and nutritious, balanced meals five days a week.”

While GCSD No. 1 does have slightly longer school days Monday through Thursday and a half-day on alternating Fridays, Magee said the Department of Education does not classify the schedule as alternate, because the department clocks half days the same as whole days.

Sixteen of Wyoming’s school districts currently have an alternate schedule in place, including Crook County School District No. 1, according to Department of Education documents.

With three communities and five schools in the district, CCSD No. 1 Superintendent Mark Broderson said the alternate schedule received overwhelming support from staff, parents and students.

“It’s one of those topics that comes up every year, and we’ve tried an alternate calendar in the past,” Broderson said. “There was a lot of days (during the five-day week schedule) we didn’t feel we were getting the most bang for our buck.”

The school district distributed a survey on which at least one question directly addressed a shorter week, he said. Staff, students and parents were polled, and nearly all the survey results were pro-change.

“The staff and faculty responses came back 115 yeses and 7 nos,” Broderson said. “The other surveys were pretty much the same.”

Before suggesting the schedule to the CCSD No. 1 Board of Trustees, the superintendent said he delved into research. 

“There’s only two schools in recent history who’ve gone to a four-day week, then back to a five,” Broderson said. “Neither one of them was based on academic reasons.”

The data he discovered did not provide evidence shorter weeks improved test scores consistently, he said, but attendance improved across the board.

“For some schools, there was a honeymoon period where test scores improved, but most of those leveled out after five years or so,” Broderson said.

Additionally, the school district sent faculty to nearby school districts with alternate schedules to study how best to implement the change. The CCSD No. 1 Board approved the schedule change in Spring 2018.

“Now, we can get all the teachers in the same room talking the same language on the same day,” Broderson said.

To compensate for the lost day, CCSD No. 1 increased the school day Monday through Thursday by about 40 minutes. One Friday a month is also dedicated to intervention and enrichment, allowing students an opportunity to spend time with teachers one-on-one if they are struggling.

“(Intervention and enrichment) days are about making sure kids can get help if they need,” Broderson explained, “and providing kids with things they like to do, because we feel having a healthy culture is also important.”

Wyoming’s school districts will likely continue to experiment with alternate schedules in the foreseeable future, working out what works best for them on a case-to-case basis, Magee said.

“I think the trends show we’ll probably see the same number of (alternate schedule) requests, but it’s hard to say,” she said. “I don’t have any data pointing to an influx or a decrease in requests we might receive in the next few years.”

Wyoming’s 65th Legislature: General Session Review

in Agriculture/Criminal justice/Education/Health care/News/Taxes

It’s all over for this year. Check out our bitesized rundown of what passed and what failed in the 65th Wyoming Legislature’s General Session. Stay tuned this weekend for more analysis on the session highs and lows with our Robert Geha.

Thanks for watching and be sure to follow Cowboy State Daily for our expanded statewide coverage of Wyoming news coming to your feed in the days ahead.

Community college bachelor’s degree bill will help industry: Chamber official

in Business/Education/News

By Cowboy State Daily

One of the last bills to pass during the Legislature’s general session should help the state’s businesses find the better educated workers they need, according to the head of Cheyenne’s Chamber of Commerce.

Dale Steenbergen, chief executive officer of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said SF 111 will help answer the demand among the state’s industries for an educated workforce.

“Something that our industries have been screaming for that they need, they need better educated employees,” he said. “We talk about the workforce and the lack of education for workforce here all the time and this can be a real game changer for us.”

The bill was among the last approved by Wyoming’s House on Wednesday as the Legislature wrapped up its general session. It would allow the state’s community colleges to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees in applied sciences.

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