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Jillian Balow

Balow Resigns As Wyoming Superintendent Of Public Instruction

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is resigning from her elected position to take over the top education job in Virginia, she announced Thursday.

Balow, first elected to the superintendent’s office in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, announced she would resign from the position to take over as Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. It was not immediately clear when she would take over in Virginia.

Kari Eakins, the department’s chief policy director, will serve as interim superintendent when Balow leaves the office, Balow said.

“I am honored, and deeply humbled, to announce that Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has asked me to serve as Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. With a focused drive to lead on the front lines of educational transformation in this country, I have accepted,” Balow said Thursday. “Serving as State Superintendent for the last seven years has been the greatest honor and challenge of my life.”

Balow said that Gov.-elect Youngkin made educational transformation the centerpiece of his campaign and that Virginia was on the “cutting edge” of the battle of the future of K-12 public schools.

Youngkin will be sworn in as governor on Saturday. He was elected in November, beating Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Prior to his time in politics, Youngkin worked for the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

“The work we will do to restore parents’ voices in education, push for innovation and student success, enhance school choice, and to eliminate political ideology from the classroom will set a new tone in Virginia and the nation,” Balow said. “We have made great progress on these very items during my tenure in Wyoming.”

Balow said that during her time as state superintendent, she made parents’ voices a priority by including them in policy making decisions. She also pointed to the “historic” computer science education requirements, which is “greatly enriching and modernizing the curriculum delivered to our students.”

She said that she has been an advocate for school choice, noting she has placed her own children in private school at times.

“I supported groundbreaking legislation during the 2021 session of the Wyoming legislature to substantially increase the opportunity for charter schools to form in our state,” Balow said. “And when it comes to politics in the classroom, I’ve made my position crystal clear that partisan politics and radical theories should not be forced upon our children.”

Balow began her teaching career in Hulett and has built a 25-year career in education and politics, serving as a national literary consultant, an executive in state government, a policy advisor in the governor’s office and state superintendent of public instruction.

“I have served in leadership positions of national education organizations and led through COVID-19 with the highest percentage of students learning in-person in the nation,” she concluded. “I am ready and more motivated than ever to engage at this critical time in our nation’s history serving alongside Governor-elect Youngkin as he leads Virginia through this historic opportunity to reset and restore public education with parents and students as the priority.”

Balow was elected to her first term in office in 2014, defeating Democrat Mike Ceballos with 61% of the vote. She was unopposed in her bid for re-election in 2018.

Balow is the second superintendent in recent memory to leave office before her term expired. Trent Blankenship, who was elected as superintendent in 2002, announced in 2005 he would leave his position to take the job of superintendent for schools in Barrow, Alaska.

After returning to Wyoming, he ran for the superintendent’s position in 2010, challenging former Superintendent Cindy Hill for the Republican nomination for the post. He won 14.6% of the vote, finishing third behind Hill and Jim McBride.

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Wyoming Officials Thank Balow For Her Service To State

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Education Association thanked Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow on Thursday for her service to the state’s education system in the wake of her resignation from the position she held for seven years.

Balow announced Thursday that she would be leaving Wyoming to take a similar position with the state of Virginia, having accepted an offer from Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin.

According to Gov. Mark Gordon, Balow’s last day as superintendent will be Sunday. Kari Eakins, chief policy officer for the state Education Department, will take over as interim superintendent.

“I have enjoyed working alongside Superintendent Balow for the past seven years in my roles as treasurer and governor, making her the second-longest currently serving statewide elected officer,” Gordon said. “We will miss her experience and expertise. She has worked to improve our state’s education system, and I thank her for her efforts. Her service to the state has been exemplary, and I wish her well in her new role.”

Gordon has informed the Wyoming Republican Party central committee of Balow’s resignation. The committee will have 15 days to submit the names of three candidates to fill the position to Gordon for his consideration. Gordon will then have five days to appoint a new superintendent.

That person will serve for the remainder of Balow’s term, which will end in January 2023. Balow was first elected to the position in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018.

WEA president Grady Hutcherson told Cowboy State Daily said the organization was appreciative of Balow’s service.

“WEA shares Superintendent Balow’s passion for prioritizing career and technical education opportunities and supporting rural students and families,” Hutcherson said. “Superintendent Balow’s background as an educator, and her commitment to supporting students in becoming good citizens of our state, have been an asset to Wyoming. WEA looks forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with the Wyoming Department of Education under the leadership of Interim State Superintendent Kari Eakins. Together we will continue to advance educational opportunities for Wyoming students and innovate and advocate on behalf of our students, education employees, and public schools.” 

Balow began her teaching career in Hulett and has built a 25-year career in education and politics, serving as a national literary consultant, an executive in state government, a policy advisor in the governor’s office and state superintendent of public instruction.

Balow is the second superintendent in recent memory to leave office before her term expired. Trent Blankenship, who was elected as superintendent in 2002, announced in 2005 he would leave his position to take the job of superintendent for schools in Barrow, Alaska.

After returning to Wyoming, he ran for the superintendent’s position in 2010, challenging former Superintendent Cindy Hill for the Republican nomination for the post. He won 14.6% of the vote, finishing third behind Hill and Jim McBride.

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Wyoming’s Elected Officials React to Death Of Wyoming Marine in Afghanistan

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Many of Wyoming’s elected officials spoke out on Friday upon hearing the news that one of the Marines killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan was from Wyoming.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow was the first to issue a statement expressing condolences for Rylee McCollum, a 2019 graduate of Jackson High School.

“Saying that I am grateful for Rylee’s service to our country does not begin to encapsulate the grief and sadness I feel today as a mother and as an American,” Balow said in a release.

“My heart and prayers are with Rylee’s family, friends, and the entire Jackson community,” she said.

“We will find many ways to honor Rylee for this ultimate and untimely sacrifice in the coming months and years – but for now, my arms are wrapped around Rylee’s loved ones from afar and I pray they find some comfort.”

McCollum, who also graduated from Summit Innovations School, was married and his wife was expecting a child in three weeks.

McCollum’s sister, Roice, told the Casper Star Tribune that being a Marine was a lifelong ambition for him.

“He wanted to be a Marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots,” Roice McCollum said. “He was determined to be in infantry… Rylee wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country. He’s a tough, kind, loving kid who made an impact on everyone he met. His joke and wit brought so much joy.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon ordered flags lowered to honor McCollum.

“I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan,” Gordon said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of U.S. Marine Rylee McCollum of Bondurant. Jennie and I, along with all of Wyoming and the entire nation, thank Rylee for his service.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso tweeted: “Wyoming’s own Rylee McCollum made the ultimate sacrifice protecting Americans and civilians in Afghanistan. Bobbi and I join everyone in Wyoming in mourning this devastating loss. Rylee was a true American hero. Rylee’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

More than 100 people were killed at the Kabul airport when two bombs exploded outside of the facility. Thirteen of those individuals, including McCollum, were U.S. servicemen.

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Balow Slams Biden’s Energy Moratorium on Fox

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow on Monday harshly criticized President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands as a threat to Wyoming’s schools.

Speaking with host Fox News Dana Perino, Balow compared Biden’s actions to restrict oil and gas production to those taken by former President Barack Obama (whose administration Biden served as vice president) during his time in office.

“This is a different kind of lockdown that we’re talking about,” Balow said. “This is a lockdown of an industry that our students in Wyoming really depend on. Day seven of President Biden’s presidency, we would see a near shutdown of the industry that we rely on for public education.”

Oil and natural gas production provide about $740 million in funding for Wyoming’s public schools, Balow said.

Biden issued an executive order last week halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Balow called the executive order “arbitrary” and said Biden was targeting a few states in the Mountain West that have both a wealth of federal land and resources.

“This is significant,” she said. “What we know in Wyoming is that this could be, by modest estimates, about $150 million a year in lost revenue within just a couple of years.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso retweeted the clip of Balow’s appearance on Monday, agreeing that the moratorium would have a significant impact on Wyoming’s schools.

“This morning, WY State Superintendent @jillian4supt discussed on @FoxNews how @POTUS’ energy lockdown is detrimental to WY schools. Revenues from WY oil & gas contribute about $740 million to WY public education. This will have a significant negative impact on kids in our state,” he said.

Other orders signed by Biden in his first days in office included one for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.

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Balow: Learning In Wyoming Schools Will Look Different This Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow expects school life in Wyoming’s 23 districts to be a completely new experience once classes resume later this month.

This will be due to not only the coronavirus pandemic, but also each district’s individualized response to the new state health guidelines.

Balow said as much during an interview on KGAB radio Monday morning with Cheyenne radio host Glenn Woods.

The Wyoming Department of Education has adopted only a few new rules aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus, such as requiring social distancing and the use of face masks, but it is making multiple suggestions to the various school districts regarding reopening plans, Balow said.

Districts will be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to school bus routes, cafeterias and other activities, she said. They can also decide how they will deliver classes and whether or not there will be a mix of online and in-person courses as health orders are updated.

“We might end up seeing an increased number of bus routes and spacing out when the buses can leave because they need to be cleaned,” Balow said during the interview. “As for cafeterias, students may end up eating in classrooms, or there might be staggered lunch schedules. It’s just going to depend on the school, because a district like here in Laramie County is going to look different from a rural one.”

Balow also expects a bit of a catch-up period for students, both academically and socially. However, she’s grateful that students who might come from a background of maltreatment will return to a safe environment at school.

“Some kids took to an alternative learning environment really well and others didn’t, for various reasons,” she said. “But then we had some students who were hard to reach, and those were the ones who kept us up at night. So we could definitely be dealing with some academic gaps and ones caused by severe trauma.”

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Balow: Individual School Districts Will Decide Whether Or Not To Open Schools This Fall

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The decision on whether schools across Wyoming will open this fall will be left up to local school districts, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said Wednesday.

Balow, speaking during a news conference with Gov. Mark Gordon, said the Department of Education has prepared a “guidance document” to help local school districts decide whether to open their doors for the fall semester.

The “Smart Start” document will provide districts with the information they need as they decide to open schools completely, provide a mix of in-school and remote education or leave schools closed and continue online education, Balow said.

“The bulk of the decision-making is in the hands of your communities,” she said. “Health officials, school boards, educators, parents and even students will make important decisions in the coming weeks.”

The document lays out benchmarks to be met and procedures to be followed for each of the options. For instance, before a school can be opened, plans will have to be developed for managing student arrival at the building, parents will need to screen their children daily for coronavirus symptoms and both students and staff will be asked to stay home if they feel ill.

Schools opening will also be advised to seat students in such a way as to limit close contact and encourage hand washing by anyone entering a school building.

Balow said the state’s school districts learned a great deal about educating students online during the pandemic and the department plans to use those lessons in determining how best to teach students going forward.

“My goal is to make sure students continue to have access to the same high quality education experience they always have in Wyoming and to empower communities to make the very best decisions,” she said.

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Wyoming principal recognized as top educator in the nation

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By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The principal of a Cheyenne junior high school on Monday was recognized as one of the top educators in the nation with a Milken Educator Award.

Brian Cox, principal of Johnson Junior High School, is Wyoming’s only teacher to win one of the Milken awards and is one of only 40 teachers nationally to win the prize and accompanying $25,000 cash payment.

Cox, who oversees a staff of about 100 at Johnson, was recognized for his commitment to putting students first, urging them to focus on leadership skills in addition to academics. He is known for challenging his students to realize that their goals for the future often depend on academic success.

Cox was given the award during an assembly at Johnson on Monday. Although he was told what the assembly about, he was not informed he was to be the recipient of the prize until it was given to him.

State and Cheyenne educators joined legislators and representatives of Wyoming’s congressional delegation as the presentation was made by Greg Gallagher, a senior program director for the Milken Educator Award, and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

“A savvy and committed principal like Brian Cox can have a profound effect on so many lives,” Gallagher said. “Through personal commitment to individual students, dedicated community outreach and staff development initiatives, Principal Cox is creating a better future for all.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit Johnson Junior High and watch Brian interact with teachers and students in such an engaging and positive manner,” Balow said. “Brian’s enthusiasm is infectious, and he’s a champion for students. 

Wyoming’s top elected officials to take oaths of office

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Wyoming’s top officials will be sworn into office on Monday as three new officers and two returning officials take their oaths of office.

Gov. Mark Gordon, Treasurer Curt Meier and Auditor Kristie Racines, all elected to their posts in 2018, will be sworn into their new offices during ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. at Cheyenne’s Civic Center at 520 W. 20th St. 

Also being sworn in will be second-term Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, who was elected to his first full term in 2018 after taking over the office in March following the resignation of Ed Murray.

The inauguration of the five Republicans is open to the public at no charge, however, tickets are required for admission as seating is limited. The formal inauguration will be part of a day filled with events marking the event.Activities begin at 8:30 a.m. Monday with a prayer service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 1908 Central Ave. in Cheyenne. Seating for the event will be limited.

Following the inauguration will be a public reception for the elected officials at 11:30 a.m. at the Wyoming State Museum at 2103 Central Ave.

The day will end with an inauguration gala at 7:30 p.m. at Little America Hotel at 2800 West Lincolnway. The event will be open to the public at a cost of $125 per person.

Gordon becomes Wyoming’s 33rd governor after serving for six years as the state’s treasurer.

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