All posts by tgabrukiewicz

National Native American Heritage Month

Dear Superintendents,

November is National Native American Heritage Month. Native Americans enrich the history, diversity, culture, and future of our country, and of Wyoming.

In 2017 House Bill 76, Indian Education for All, passed the Wyoming Legislature and was signed into law. Soon after, work was underway to develop educational standards so that every student in Wyoming would have the opportunity to learn about the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes that have deep and ongoing roots in Wyoming. The standards are now complete and will be fully implemented across Wyoming next school year. In addition to standards Indian Education for All allows the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) to collaborate directly with tribal elders, leaders, educators, and others to develop a repository of instructional materials and resources. Education standards and the resource repository can be found here.  

Even before a law was enacted, many Wyoming educators were teaching their students about Native American history, culture, politics, and more. There are many ways to teach and learn during National Native American Heritage Month (or any month. Here are a few:

Basketball or Nothing (Netflix)

What Was Ours (Amazon Prime)

Miss Navajo (PBS documentary)

Native American Heritage Month – teacher resources

Direct Link to WDE Repository


In March 2017, then-Governor Matt Mead signed House Bill 76, Indian Education for All, into law.

On Veterans Day, November 11, we honored the men and women who served in the United States armed services. I recommend reading this inspiring story about Kendrick Lusk. He retired from the U.S. Army and began teaching high school. If you know a veteran or active service man or woman who might like to be a teacher, there are resources in Wyoming:

Troops to Teachers – Former Wyoming educator Bill Hardesty works directly with schools, higher ed, and veterans who want to become teachers.

University of Wyoming Veterans Services Center – Army veteran Marti Martinez works closely with veterans as they transition to campus and college life.



Slade Elementary Principal Heather Moro leads the Blue Ribbon Award assembly on Friday afternoon.

Slade Elementary and PODER Academy received awards for being National Blue Ribbon Schools. I had the opportunity to celebrate virtually with students and staff at Slade.

“[National] Blue Ribbon Schools show what’s possible when you focus on students and their achievement. Many of you show what’s possible when you’re forced to pivot and navigate uncharted circumstances — like during this COVID crisis — to keep learning going for all your students. We know that every child is unique. Different students in different places have different needs. We recognize different kinds of schools precisely because of this reality.”

— Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Memos to be released:

  • 2020-172:   Educator Input for Mathematics Performance Standards

Wyoming Ag In The Classroom

Today Charter Spectrum and Wyoming Ag In The Classroom celebrated their partnership. Charter Spectrum presented a $2,000 check to the organization, as well as Samsung tablets for teachers who implement the Wyoming Ag In the The Classroom curriculum.

The Wyoming Ag In the Classroom curriculum (for grades 2-5) was developed by Wyoming teachers. It is free and fully aligned to Wyoming science standards, and focuses on agriculture, energy, natural resources, and outdoor recreation. During the pandemic, the organization has built out the Wyoming Stewardship Project and developed a Family Learning Series.

Charter Spectrum has partnered with communities and entities in Wyoming and other states for several years to ensure students who receive free and reduced lunch have access to adequate internet access and devices.


Memos to be released:

  • 2020-168:   Revised Final 2020-21 ESSA Consolidated Grant Allocations
  • 2020-169:   National Youth Science Camp Applications
  • 2020-170:   2021 PAEMST Nominations Open
  • 2020-171:   Wyoming Advisory Panel for Students with Disabilities

Leaders, Educators Selected for 2020 Digital Learning Innovations Awards

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) has selected the winners for the 2020 K-12 Digital Learning Innovations Awards. These awards were created to honor leaders and educators to create cultures of innovation and forward-thinking through effective uses of digital, 21st century technologies to engage students while empowering them in owning their learning.

The Digital Learning Innovations Award is an acknowledgement of educators utilizing new and innovative ways to incorporate digital learning into their work. There are four categories to the award: Student Voices, Education Leader, District Leader, and State Leader.

“Now more than any other time in education, digital innovation is essential. These leaders undoubtedly pushed themselves as well as their students to bring excellence to digital education,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “I know firsthand that these awardees make a difference in students’ lives and will continue to push through difficult challenges to ensure high quality digital education is accessible to more students.”

Student Voices – Erika Quick and the Cody Broadcast Journalism Students

The Broadcast Journalism program at Cody High School has been student-led for 20 years. The students are the voice of the school, and they inform their student body on what is going on. Their stories often transcend past the student-body and into our community. As their advisor, Quick pushes them to ask the tough questions. She always warns the students that some stories may lead them into the unknown. It may challenge them to arrive in a place they did not expect. That is what journalism is, the pursuit of what’s true, even if it makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t fit within the walls of your normalcy. Through COVID-19, the students captured their experiences through a series of photos to try and convey how the pandemic has impacted them.

Education Leader – Krista Sweckard, Johnson #1 

Sweckard is a prime example of an innovative teacher in all she does in her classes from the elementary school to the high school. She is always striving and searching for effective approaches to help her students learn through engaging lessons and units. Sweckard has a unique position in her district. She teaches computer science and technology classes at the high school half time and spends the afternoon at an elementary school teaching classes with elementary teachers using lessons she develops to assist teachers to integrate technology in their lessons. In the elementary school, she learns about the units or lessons they are teaching and then develops lessons she models and teaches with the classroom teacher to the students. In her high school classes she integrates hands-on activities and designs her lessons beyond the format of most classes. Sweckard is the most dedicated and innovative teacher committed to changing the classroom to prepare and empower her students and colleagues for the future.

District Leader – Dr. Joe Heywood, WYVA

Heywood is the Head of School and K-8 Principal of the Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) for the past three years. During this time, he recognized the need to improve the Social-Emotional component for students online and how valuable it is for student’s to feel connected, especially in a virtual setting. To do this he has created a library of virtual field trips for students and has instituted the first online Junior National Honors Society and Student Council for grades 7-8. He created a series of virtual field trips that can be accessed by students online to bring different parts of Wyoming to them, at home. He has also used videos to create welcome messages to help build a sense of connection. There is usually an educational component as well to these videos and are geared for all students K-12.

State Leader 1 – SSG David Pulsipher, Wyoming Army National Guard

Pulsipher faced COVID-19 head-on by helping to teach several classes for Wyoming High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) Program through Western Wyoming Community College by assisting students that had endured an unprecedented end to their in person classes. Pulsipher Instructed classes via Zoom on Career Development and Life Skills courses. The classes reached students in Rock Springs, Big Piney, Bridger Valley, Pinedale, Kemmerer, Green River, and Star Valley. Education is one of the most revered freedoms of every society. Pulsipher’s ability to overcome and adapt in such a short period as well as assist with one of the most critical aspects of the American way of life is a testament to his professionalism and commitment to the betterment of human potential.

State Leader 2 –  SFC Jeffrey Blascyk, Wyoming Army National Guard

Blascyk took digital learning to a new level by creating a resiliency video series for the Sheridan SCOPE program. In Tongue River, he conducted a virtual workout series with an accountability piece to encourage students to work out and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Blascyk also conducted a goal setting video series for multiple English classes in Sheridan High School, in conjunction with their reading of the Alchemist to promote realistic goal setting. He did two videos, one on military equipment and the uniform for those who took the ASVAB.  Blascyk also had a bunch of education centered videos posted on Facebook for the students in the areas of physical fitness, how to apply social distancing, additional military equipment videos and benefits videos.

– END –

Media Contact:
Linda Finnerty, Communications Director

New Resources from USED

November 2, 2020

Dear Superintendents,

I want begin by thanking special education leaders in Wyoming: directors, teachers, paraeducators, and the team at WDE. This week at the School Finance Recalibration committee, WDE Director of Special Education Margee Robertson, and Chief Academic Officer Shelley Hamel, were asked to present on short notice. Not only did they make an excellent presentation but educators from across the state provided public testimony supporting Wyoming’s investment and programming. Both the committee and the third-party consultants spoke highly of the work and outcomes in Wyoming special education. I can’t think of a more important area to shine brightly!


WDE presents at the School Finance Recalibration committee meeting.


NEW Resources from the United States Department of Education (USED)


School District Response to COVID-19 (national report)

A new report on school district responses to the COVID-19 pandemic was released this week by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Here is the report link.

Key findings from this new research:

  • About two in five schools began the year offering an option for full-time in-person instruction, about a third were fully remote, and the remaining 25 percent offered a hybrid model or in person for select grades.
  • Overall, COVID-19 case rates were weakly related to reopening models, and higher percentages of schools returned in person in small, low-minority, low-poverty, and high-achieving districts.
  • Eleven percent of all schools shifted from remote-only instruction to more in-person instruction by October 1, and most of these schools were in red states.
  • Districts’ remote instruction offerings were, indeed, a large improvement from the “emergency learning” remote instruction in the spring, as measured by multiple indicators.


Ambassador Fellowship Program

Apply now for the USED 2021-22 School Ambassador Fellowship Program. The program enables outstanding teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other school-based professionals interacting with students on a daily basis to bring their expertise to the national level.


NOVEMBER IS NATIONAL VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILIES MONTH. Every community in Wyoming has veterans and many have active duty members. Please encourage teachers to invite U.S. military veterans into their classrooms (in-person or virtually) around Veterans Day (November 11). Veterans can share their experiences and teach students lessons about the history and significance of the holiday, helping students reflect upon the importance of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. 


I had lunch with these airmen (and others) at a recent Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce event.

Memos to be released today:

  • 2020-165:   2020-21 WAEA Exception Form
  • 2020-166:   Webinar on English Learners and Title III Funding
  • 2020-167:   CARES Act Grant Application Deadline

WDE Receives $93,245 Microsoft Grant For Computer Science Initiatives

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) has received $93,245 from Microsoft Corporation’s TechSpark initiative and the Digital Skills for Youth program. The award will support Computer Science teacher training as part of Boot Up Wyoming, a statewide initiative launched in 2018 to implement Computer Science in Wyoming K-12 schools.

“Microsoft has been a key partner in Boot Up Wyoming since day one,” said Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow. “Funds from this Digital Skills for Youth grant keep us on-track to deliver the highest-quality Computer Science education to all Wyoming students.”

A portion of the grant will enable the WDE’s Boot Up Wyoming initiative to provide a second cohort of the Strategic CSforALL Resource & Implementation Planning Tool (SCRIPT) training for school districts. CSforALL is an organization dedicated to making Computer Science part of every K-12 student’s education. The SCRIPT training provides districts with strategic planning tools to think through what is needed to provide equitable, high-quality Computer Science education available to all students in their districts.

The Wyoming chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has emerged as a premiere professional learning network and a valuable resource for Computer Science educators across Wyoming. This grant provides resources to support this network and encourage teachers to learn together. The CSTA hosts monthly online Professional Learning Network meetings.

In addition, the grant will provide the WDE with support for developing high-quality Computer Science micro-credentials for secondary teachers and students.

“Wyoming was one of the first states to implement Computer Science education in grades K-12 – now almost every state offers it,” Balow said. “This funding helps us remain pioneers by enabling the WDE to continue to provide professional development to educators focused around Computer Science education.”

“Wyoming’s vision is that every student has the opportunity to be met where they are — at their skill-level, in their school — and be inspired to learn how technology works and how to build solutions to society’s challenges. We strongly support that vision.” said Dennis Ellis, manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark Wyoming, an initiative to partner with rural and smaller metropolitan communities to spark new economic opportunities and job creation.

– END –

Media Contact:
Linda Finnerty, Communications Director

Prioritizing the Safety and Wellbeing of Students

Dear Superintendents,

It’s hard to believe we are crossing the first quarter threshold of the school year. Thank you for your careful course corrections and for prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and community. As I visit with each of you individually the theme is that the school year is very challenging but that students and learning make it feel more normal than not. Thank you for your leadership!

While my travel is very limited and we take extra precautions when I meet face to face with people, I visited Gillette’s urban farm, Equality State Farms, this week. The owners, Matt and Marlena Walker, have partnered with Campbell County School District to ensure the locally sourced produce is on students’ lunch trays – One more reason to love Wyoming! While you can’t tell from the photo below, we were standing in the open doorway of a loading dock and it was cold!


I toured Equality State Farms this week with owner Matt Walker and Campbell County Food Service Director Bryan Young. Some of the local produce goes to students in Gillette’s schools. Photo Credit: Veteran Move Media

Memos to be released:

  • 2020-162:   Malcolm Wallop Civic Engagement Program
  • 2020-163:   DonorsChoose Offers Classroom Project Funding Opportunities
  • 2020-164:   2020 National ESEA Distinguished Schools Application

Level Up, NAEP and In-Person Instruction

Dear Superintendents,

Over the past several weeks, WDE’s Robin Grandpre, Linda Finnerty, and I hosted regional zoom kick-off meetings for Level Up Cohort 2 participants Wyoming’s “best of the best” teachers and their principals offered insight, enthusiasm, and inspiration for the year ahead. We hope to meet face-to-face in early 2021. Visit this link for more about Level Up.

NAEP Testing for 2020-2021:

The NAEP will be administered this school year in its traditional format but have a smaller testing population and not include national-only assessments for eighth-grade U.S. history and civics and the age 17 long-term trend. This article in Education Dive summarizes the assessment plan and rationale.


On October 5, President Trump signed an executive order to address the negative impact of prolonged shutdowns on mental and behavioral health and increase suicide prevention efforts (fact sheet).  Through the order, the President is establishing a Cabinet-level working group to assess the mental health needs of the most vulnerable, including children.

 There are no memos this week.

Observations In Education

Dear Superintendents,

Happy October. This is a busy month of observations in education. Notably, October is National Principals MonthLearning Disabilities Awareness MonthNational Disability Employment Awareness Month, and National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.

Sponsors of the Wyoming Next Generation Sector Partnership Academy announced two upcoming virtual trainings:

  • October 12 – Next Gen 101
  • October 13 – Academy Training

The 101 training, in particular, is appropriate for superintendents and other educators who want to learn more about how education fits into statewide strategies that help industries and communities move forward.

The trainings and projects are sponsored by the Wyoming Workforce Development Council and Workforce Services, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Community College Commission, and Wyoming Department of Education.

The trainings are free. RSVP by October 5 at:


Happy Principals Month – featuring one of my favorites, John Balow, serving lunch to students.

Memos to be released:

  • 2020-155:   Secondary Workplace Discovery Grant
  • 2020-156:   Educator Input on Draft 2020 Math Performance Level Descriptors
  • 2020-157:   Public Comment on Proposed Ch. 10 Rules and Standards