Leading is the opposite of following (although every good leader began as a good follower!). But to lead the nation in education means we must lead (not follow) in some very foundational educational areas (high literacy expectations, quality of teaching, test scores, character formation, countering unhealthy cultural currents, etc.). And this is obviously already happening in so many ways across the state (teachers and schools switching to more effective literacy curriculum, some of the best teachers and classroom teaching anywhere, top-tiered NAEP scores, most in-person class time during Covid-19, etc.)
But from a strictly leadership standpoint, the most significant way we can lead the nation in education will be through our school leaders, and of course (it again goes without saying), as the local educational leaders or our local education systems, our district superintendents are the key. As the leaders of our school leaders, it is the statewide school leadership force at the ground level that will produce (if it is to happen) one of the finest state-wide education systems in our country. To be the best, we must be led by the best.
This is a worthy ambition, good for us, good for our country. And after visiting so many of our districts in this state, it is clear we have the personnel to do it. We just need to keep taking the necessary and appropriate steps in that direction, beginning with a School Leadership Training Regimen (more to come on that in the future). In the meantime, let’s keep raising the bar and pursuing excellence. Our parents and students deserve the best, so we must deliver.
Vision & Focus
Three guiding principles for this present WDE administration, in terms of fulfilling the above objective, will be to (1) reinforce the purpose of education, (2) recognize parents as the owners of our schools, and (3) resist the cultural pressures to conform to societal norms and trendings on so many levels.
Regarding the first principle, the purpose of education for our students is “to learn to think” through each of the academic disciplines, with all that that means. For our schools, it means fulfilling our roles as an extension of and support to our Wyoming families, as well as an incubator for and bridge to our Wyoming communities, with all that that involves.
Regarding the second principle, it means that we work for the parents, which means we are accountable to the parents, which means we must listen closely and carefully to the parents – even (at times) the toxic, hostile ones (no easy task, I know).[As a side note, please know I am doing everything I can as I travel and speak across the state and spread the message that parents are the owners of our schools, to challenge parents who are frustrated and who become unduly confrontational, that they need to be kind and appropriate when asking questions or expressing their concerns to school authorities, not mean-spirited or nasty. I also remind them that they, as parents, have a huge responsibility in this process and need to step up and take responsibility for their child’s education, not blame everything on the schools or think the schools can do everything.]
Regarding the third principle, William Bennett would always say, “When the culture pushes hard against you and your family (in our case, against our schools), we must push back just as hard.” So don’t hesitate and don’t apologize if you need to set strong (or stronger) school-wide boundaries on those cell phones! Protecting our kids from the dark hole of the social media scene is certainly part of our responsibility to push back, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.
The Primary Priority
As the team continues to work with the Wyoming Teacher Apprentice (WTA) pilot districts, we thought it might be helpful to begin sharing some of the content being created for the FAQs about the initiative. Over the next several weeks, we will pose and answer a question that has come directly out of the discussions with school districts. Here we go…
Question: Is the WTA for all content or teaching areas, or just those that are hard to fill?
Answer: The Wyoming Teacher Apprenticeship Initiative is focused on supporting districts with developing credentialed teachers to fill positions that will be needed in the future. Any content area or teaching position could be considered for application through the apprenticeship. A comprehensive needs assessment is critical to determine a district’s employment needs extending out one to five years. The program will take one to three years to address the current teacher shortage issues due to the time required for participants to complete the apprenticeship. Districts must also prioritize what areas will be supported by the sustained, long-term effort of building a robust pipeline of teacher candidates.
The following are key considerations when developing a needs assessment for the district:
- Are any schools/subject areas/grade levels experiencing historically higher turnover rates?
- Are individuals currently teaching outside of their certification area? Are there any schools/subject areas/grade levels where this is more prevalent?
- Are individuals currently teaching with emergency credentials? Are there any schools/subject areas/grade levels where this is more prevalent?
- What is the experience level in years of service of the teaching corps? Are there any schools/subject areas/grade levels with more or less experienced teachers?
- Are there any schools/subject areas/grade levels where there is an anticipated need for recruitment based on the trend in the tenure level of current teachers?
- How does the teacher demographic profile compare to that of the students they teach? Where are there gaps?
- How are highly effective teachers distributed across schools/subject areas/grade levels? Are there areas where they are more concentrated versus others? Are highly effective teachers available to mentor apprentices in apprenticeship focus areas?
Deputy Superintendent Chad Auer has been engaging stakeholders across the state on the issue of school safety and security. At this point, he has visited with superintendents, parents, teachers, the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement, principals, legislators, school board members and students. As this is an ongoing discussion, he will be talking with even more stakeholders in the coming months. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some emerging themes with you.
First, Wyoming school districts have been working diligently to ensure that schools are safe and secure. Local leaders are collaborating with law enforcement, first responders and other community entities. Districts have developed and implemented safety plans, conducted ongoing training and have invested in a wide range of systems designed to solidify safety. Additionally, school resource officers are a critical, yet under-funded, element of school safety and security.
Second, Wyoming recognizes that school safety and security is a community responsibility. To that end, districts are working within their communities to expand the dialogue to include healthcare providers, mental health supports and many others. Third, there is no doubt that providing adequate mental health support to students and staff is critical to school safety and security. Finally, there is a need for enhanced communication among agencies at the local and state level in terms of community safety and security.
Deputy Auer continues to keep me updated on this important effort and will be drafting an action plan to address specific needs across the state. Per Deputy Auer, “The bottom line is that school safety and security in Wyoming is very strong, but we are going to make it even stronger!”
In The Spotlight
Leaders from Black Butte High School in Rock Springs and Kaohsiung Nanzih Senior High School in Taiwan celebrated their partnership this week. WDE Chief of Policy Wanda Maloney, and Deputy Superintendent Chad Auer joined Black Butte High School Principal Bryant Blake and Spanish teacher Christopher Clifton in a virtual meeting with their counterparts in Taiwan. The schools are connecting teachers and students via virtual meetings, in a cross cultural project aimed at building bridges and giving students the opportunity to work together on various educational projects. The group hopes to coordinate face-to-face site visits to each other’s schools in the future.
“This is a great example of why I believe Wyoming school leaders are the best in business,” Auer said. “Principal Blake and Mr. Clifton have forged a pathway for their students to work with others around the world. They are leveraging technology in a meaningful way. I am a firm believer that innovation and creativity are critical to preparing students for the future. Black Butte serves as yet another example of courageous educational leadership in Wyoming”
”Opportunities such as a sistership school with another country provide students and educators with a diverse perspective to experience another culture through classroom connections,” Maloney said.
Creating global thinkers and opening the barriers of geography for collaboration is invaluable to our Wyoming students and leaders. Principal Blake and Mr. Clifton, for your innovative work you are ‘In the Spotlight’ this week.
Mark Your Calendars
Join the Wyoming MTSS Center on September 21 at Little America in Cheyenne for an in-person training on effective MTSS progress monitoring. Registration is open now. For more information about Wyoming MTSS, visit the WDE’s MTSS page here.