Category Archives: Superintendent’s Weekly Update

State Superintendent Jillian Balow sends an update to school district superintendents at the end of every week so they can see the memos which will be sent out the following week and highlight statewide education work.

Two Years of Updates

Dear Superintendents,

I have been writing weekly updates for about two years now. The endeavor began in response to your request for regular communication from me. From the beginning, I’ll confess, I intended to delegate the task. However, personally writing the update has become a reflection for me and I regularly hear from you about how the brief update and preview of memos is appreciated. Here are a few items I try to provide:

  • talking points when reports and data are released
  • upcoming activities or events
  • federal updates
  • major events that I attend with a short reflection or connection to the work we do
  • updates on initiatives like CTE, coding, standards work, the new assessment
  • upcoming professional development opportunities

I remain resolute in having an exclusive audience from Friday until Monday. Superintendents are the only group that receives the update and weekly memos before a public release on Monday. This gives you an opportunity to preview the memos before they are blasted to specific audiences on Monday morning.

I’m always open to hearing how the updates could be more helpful to you. Previously, I’ve stopped writing during the summer months. For this summer I intend to send frequent updates because we are moving forward with important work that will drive how you open your schools in the fall.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT and OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

Over the past two and a half years, we have worked hard to ensure that all WDE-sponsored professional development is high quality, relevant to your needs, low cost or free, and aligned to our statewide and multi-tiered systems of support. Please check our website and social media frequently. We will utilize social media to a greater degree and as a main source of information for stakeholders. Please share the links to join the WDE social media stream:

Facebook

Twitter

WDE Website

Fourth grade students don poodle skirts and white t-shirts for a performance. Two couples swing dance while their classmates sing on the stage in the school gym during a schoolwide assembly.
Evansville Elementary celebrated their recognition as one of two distinguished Title I schools in Wyoming
Fremont #25 Superintendent Terry Snyder and Fremont #38 Superintendent Kenneth Crowson stand with WDE Chief Policy Officer Lisa Weigel before the state board meeting in Arapahoe.
Chief Policy Officer Lisa Wiegel with Fremont County Superintendents at the State Board Meeting

Memos to be released on Monday, May 22:

Jillian

Shoshone Business Council Meeting

Dear Superintendents,

Several members of the WDE staff and I had the opportunity to spend time in Fremont County this week. The main purpose was to talk with the Shoshone Business Council about ESSA. We also held listening sessions, participated in a tri-district discussion about the implementation of the Indian Education for All bill, met with Fremont #1 leaders, and spoke about education with community groups.

ESSA requires deliberate and formal consultation with tribal governments and we were able to “mark that box.” More importantly, the discussion was part of an ongoing dialogue about Native American learners and schools. At the forefront of our conversations was school improvement.

ESSA gives states the latitude to tailor school and district improvement strategies more so than under NCLB. The SIG program no longer exists, and instead there is a 7% state set-aside under Title I for school improvement activities (which is an increase from the 4% required by NCLB and is intended to offset the elimination of SIG). ESSA is prescriptive about identifying schools for the most comprehensive and targeted interventions and support but specific evidence-based strategies are left up to states. As we move closer to implementing our ESSA state plan, we will work together to build out specific needs, evaluation, and incentives for school improvement.

Superintendent Balow with the five members of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council.
Eastern Shoshone Business Council
Graduates walk past a line of professors and dignitaries during their commencement ceremony at the Casper Events Center.
UW-Casper 2017 Commencement on May 11

Memos to be released on Monday, May 15:

Jillian

Federal Funding of Education

Dear Superintendents,

There was notable news from Washington, DC this week regarding federal funding of education. Congress approved a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill which prevents a government shutdown and funds the government at updated levels through the end of September 2017.  President Trump is expected to sign the bill.

 The Department of Education will receive $68.2 billion in FY 2017. Here is a summary:

  • Title I—$15.5 billion, a $550 million increase above the prior fiscal year (including $450 million from the consolidation of the School Improvement Grants program into Title I).
  • Title II, Part A—which the Trump Administration had proposed to cut by $1.2 billion in FY 17, will be funded at $2.1 billion, a $294 million decrease.
  • Title IV, Part A—Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, will receive $400 million, a $122 million increase over the combined prior year funding levels for the programs consolidated in ESSA to create this program. Under ESSA sates may award these funds by formula or competitively to school districts or consortia of districts, with a priority for highest need.
  • Title IV, Part B—21st Century Community Learning Centers, will receive $1.2 billion, an increase of $25 million above FY 16. President Trump’s FY18 budget proposed to eliminate this program.
  • The Child Care and Development Block Grant will receive a $95 million increase, while Head Start will receive an $85 million increase.
  • Special education—$12 billion, up 1%, which maintains the federal share of the extra costs of educating children with disabilities at approximately 16% of per pupil expenditures.
  • Impact Aid—$1.3 billion, up $23 million
  • Charter schools – $342 million, up $9 million
  • Indian Education – $165 million, up $21 million
  • Education for Homeless Children and Youth – $77 million, up $7 million
  • TRIO programs – up $50 million, proposed elimination by President Trump’s FY18 budget.

ENDOW

Recently, Governor Mead named an executive council for the ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) Initiative. Please see this correspondence to the governor regarding council membership. In the coming months, a number of steering committees will be developed. To you, I reiterate the importance of education leaders’ participation on these steering committees. The relationship between our economy and our education system is undeniable and deep. It would be unfortunate to not have education represented in this important work.

ACYPL

Malaysian members of the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) are immersing in local, state, and federal politics. It was a privilege to discuss Wyoming’s education system with them.

Memos to be released on Monday, May 8:

  Jillian

Wyoming’s Draft ESSA Plan

Dear Superintendents,

The biggest news of the week is that a draft of the ESSA State Plan was released for review and public comment. We are beginning to receive feedback already. My hope is that every school district and advocacy group will set up a process and time to review, discuss, and provide input on the plan. We will continue to seek meaningful consultation and input through community meetings, listening sessions, external work groups coordinated by WDE, and stakeholder conferences. Still, this is not a substitute for reviews and comments sparked by your leadership at the district and school level. Wyoming’s draft ESSA plan can be found here. 

Also of note is a vote by the State Board of Education one week ago to move forward with statewide accountability work (in fulfillment of HEA61) using the same foundation for post secondary readiness, goals, and support as articulated in the ESSA plan. This means we are moving toward a single, coherent accountability system versus two as was the case under No Child Left Behind.

Sixteen students stand smiling on a stage in suits and gowns with their National Honor Society medals around their necks during their induction ceremony.
St. Stephens students are inducted into the first ever NHS class

I traveled to Washington, DC, this week and met with Secretary DeVos. Generally, our discussion centered around Title funding and budget cuts, school choice, and ESSA. We started a positive and productive dialogue about education policy, vision, and initiatives. The small group of state superintendents took an opportunity to reiterate how diverse our states are and how important flexibility and state authority is under ESSA. I proudly represented Wyoming and rural education in the meeting and emphasized our strengths and challenges.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the U.S. Department of Education

There are a number of memos this week that are worthy of your review before they are publicly released on Monday. One is a survey about accreditation. We are asking each district to submit one survey by May 22. The work should be led by you or your designee. Results will help us to determine the best path forward in light of mandatory budget cuts to the agency.

Finally, our summer conference and training schedule is mostly set. Be sure to look our website for annual and new professional development opportunities.

Memos to be released on Monday, May 1, 2017:

Jillian

WASA Conference

Dear Superintendents,

It was a privilege to spend time with you at the WASA Conference. Congratulations to retiring superintendents and award recipients! And, thank you for the warm welcome and conversation–my update this week will be brief.

NatlDayPrayer

Prayers from children across the state are presented to Governor Mead on Wyoming’s National Day of Prayer

AcBowl

WDE and SBE go head-to-head in a mock Academic Bowl presented by WDE Deaf/Hard of Hearing staff and students

 

I travel to DC next week to meet with Secretary DeVos with other CCSSO directors. In particular, we will be discussing the President’s budget proposal, ESSA plan submission, and state-specific perspectives/challenges.

The first round of ESSA plans were submitted by states. Below are several links to information about the submissions:

Memos to be released on April 23, 2017:

Jillian

Northern Arapaho Business Council Meeting

Dear Superintendents,

It was a privilege to conduct a formal government to government conversation with the Northern Arapaho Business Council this week. The conversation was in fulfillment of the requirement for meaningful consultation with tribes on the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) State Plan. Beyond the requirement, however, the visit was a wonderful opportunity to talk about education opportunities and challenges for Native American learners. We also discussed the Indian Education for All legislation that passed in the Wyoming Legislature this year. Later this month, I will meet with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council to begin the same dialogue.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow and WDE tribal liaison Rob Black meet with three members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council
Members of the Arapaho Business Council

I also had an opportunity to attend Wyoming’s National History Day competition this week. Congratulations to all of the students, teachers, and schools who participated! One of the award presenters from the Wyoming Bar Association asked me if teachers are paid extra to work with students on their projects. It was another chance to tell about the great work and tremendous dedication of teachers across our state. Thank you for creating opportunities for students to keep Wyoming strong.

I’ll draw your attention to the memo this week about the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. The Institute would like to pay for fifteen Wyoming educators to attend (all costs covered) this American history training. There are seven slots still available.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow poses with Wheatland Middle School students and their teacher at the University of Wyoming for History Day,
Wheatland Middle School History Day Winners with Mrs. Birt
NAME THE NEW ASSESSMENT SYSTEM CONTEST

WDE is pleased to announce a competition to name the new statewide assessment system that will replace PAWS and be administered next school year. All Wyoming students are invited to submit their name suggestions by following the link below. Entries may be submitted by individual students or classes of students through May 12th. The competition is limited to one submission per email address.

The winning name will be announced by May 26th.  The school district of the winning name will receive a box of books and goods, and the student or classroom will also receive a prize.

Contest Submission Link

School Improvement under ESSA

We are inching closer to completion of the ESSA State Plan. The first draft is slated to go out for public comment in the coming weeks. While quite a lot of discussion in Wyoming has been centered on accountability, assessment, and standards, there are other essential components of ESSA. I’ll shine a light on school improvement in advance of the release of the draft plan.

We remain committed to providing opportunities and improving outcomes for each and every student in each and every school. Continuous improvement is cultivated in every school and community. There is a special urgency to drive dramatic improvement for students in our lowest-performing schools and those with the most significant achievement gaps.

Under NCLB, the approach to school improvement was “top-down” with waivers, AYP, and constraints that did not work particularly well. In the draft plan, we have incorporated ESSA criteria into the existing school improvement and support framework.

ESSA Identification criteria for school improvement:

Comprehensive Support

  • Lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools on state accountability index
  • High schools with graduation rates less than 67 percent
  • Schools with underperforming subgroups that do not improve after a state-determined number of years

Targeted Support

  • Schools with consistently underperforming subgroups, as defined by the state

Of course, there is a strong connection between schools and the communities and, thus, ESSA requires schools to engage community and education partners in the development of improvement plans with the ultimate goal of equitable access to high-quality instruction for all students.

Additionally, ESSA requires the state to carry out the following key activities:

  1. Flexibility with and Distribution of Title I school improvement funds: Continues to be a major leverage point for states.
  2. Approval and monitoring of improvement plans: The hard work of school improvement is going to happen at the district and school levels.
  3. Coordination: Strategies for supporting the lowest-performing schools and the use of Title I school improvement funds must be aligned with the other initiatives that support these same students and schools.
  4. Differentiated assistance: States must identify how they intend to deliver support to identified schools and districts, including how comprehensive support differs from targeted support.

Memos to be released on Monday, April 17:

Jillian

First Recalibration Meeting

Dear Superintendents,

Thank you for joining us for the legislative debrief on April 6. Here is a link to the recorded meeting: Technical Assistance Call-Education Legislation

We spent a few minutes on interim legislative topics and I wanted to share those as a follow-up: Education Interim Topics (starts on Page 5)

State Investments and Loans

As State Superintendent, I sit on a number of boards and commissions with the other statewide elected officials. One group is the State Loans and Investments Board (SLIB). The SLIB met this week and loaned/granted money for a number of projects meant to spur economic diversity. Here is a link to a press release: http://www.wyomingbusiness.org/news/state-board-approves-five-business-/10512

We also made key decisions on asset allocations for various state funds, including the Common School Permanent Land Fund, the Hathaway Scholarship Endowment Fund, and the Higher Education Endowment Fund. In June we will continue to refine our work as a board with a focus on investment rule changes.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow, Secretary of State Ed Murray, Governor Matt Mead, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, and State Treasurer Mark Gordon sit at the dias during the State Loan and Investment Board meeting.
State Loan and Investment Board with statewide elected officials

Recalibration Meeting

There was an orgainizational meeting for the legislative recalibration of school funding. Members agreed to move forward with an RFP for services related to the work. The role of WDE in the recalibration work is to provide information and data to the committee and have staff attend meetings.

Students, school board members and the district superintendent cut the ribbon to open Meadowlark Elementary School inside their gym.
Ribbon cutting at Meadowlark Elementary School in Cheyenne

There are no memos this week

Jillian

Suicide Prevention Symposium

Dear Superintendents,

In 2016 Governor Mead hosted a symposiusm on suicide prevention that was well attended by citizens and providers from across the state. The Governor’s Second Annual Symposium on Suicide Prevention will be held on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at Little America Hotel in Cheyenne.  He has asked me to extend an invitation to you and all educators across the state.  Here are links with information.

geobee
Wyoming Geography Bee contestants hone thier skill on a giant map of Wyoming

Memos to be released on Monday, April 3:

Jillian

National Legislative Conference

Dear Superintendents,

This week was the annual legislative conference for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The conference is an unsurpassed opportunity to network with colleagues from other states, work for a day with state board counterparts attending the NASBE conference, and to receive updates from the USDE and others. Here are a few takeaways:

  • The “skinny budget” proposed by the Trump Administration has $9 billion in cuts to education.
  • The proposed budget outlines $9 billion in cuts including the elimination of several programs.
  • Congress determines the budget and the President’s plan is a first step. We will all monitor this closely, including Wyoming’s federal delegation, over the next months. There is no need to plan for cuts in the “skinny budget” at this time.
  • The USDE is not yet staffed at the deputy level, including in K-12 education.
  • States submitting their ESSA plans in April are nearing the finish line and their plans are out for comment. The states that are submitting plans this summer are going about the same pace as Wyoming.
Members of the State Board and WDE staff stand on the stage of the auditorium at Wheatland high school as music teacher Mr. Bradley explains the upgrades made to the lighting system through a grant administered by the WDE.
The State Board tours Wheatland High School and learns how they used an Education Trust Fund grant

ESSA–Wyoming Accountability Survey

Aggregated results are summarized in the linked report that was shared with the State Board this week.

Accountability Survey Summary Report

There were 550 surveys with superintendents representing 105 respondents. Superintendents were the second largest constituency, next to teachers. Survey results will help WDE in the development of the State ESSA plan.

Important Memos This Week

I encourage you to preview this week’s memos. There are memos about the implementation of legislation, the Wyoming Trust Fund grant, and a STEM survey for high school representatives.  I’d like to highlight two pieces of information:

  1. Last year the Wyoming Trust Fund grants were not fully expended. We are hoping to grant 100%+ grants this year.  Please let us know if we should conduct a technical assistance webinar to share how the grants can be used or to assist with the application process. In the photo above, Wheatland High School teacher, Evan Bradley, shared how they used the grant to upgrade lighting and music technology in the auditorium.
  2. We are working to set a meeting with the various state education partners, including WASA, to debrief about legislation passed this session. We will cover all education bills that were passed, discuss implementation, impacts, and challenges.

Memos to be released Monday, March 27:

Jillian

Skinny Budget and Wyoming Investments

Dear Superintendents,

There are a number of pertinent memos this week. The WDE staff has worked diligently to interpret new state legislation and provide initial guidance for districts. Please know that our staff is available to answer questions, problem solve with you, and to work through challenges throughout implementation. In the coming weeks, we will hold a legislative session debrief, via webinar, to discuss legislative changes.

U.S. Department of Education Update

On March 16, the Trump Administration released a preliminary budget proposal, referred to as the “skinny” budget. We are still evaluating potential implications for Wyoming education. Philosophically, I support efforts to trim bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Education but oppose efforts to cut back on money we currently receive for the operation of federal programs that benefit our students. Congress is ultimately responsible for writing and passing the budget and appropriations bills. Below is a memo summarizing the President’s proposal:

Memo from the Council of Chief State School Officers on the FY2018 Skinny Budget

Secretary DeVos has worked congenially with the state superintendents. I look forward to working with all entities, including Congress, to help ensure that a final budget allows us to continue to serve all students equitably and make policy decisions that are best for our state and communities.

Wyoming Investments

For 2.5 days this week the State Loans and Investment Board (SLIB), comprised of the governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state, and myself, met to discuss investment policy changes for the state. The work session was prompted, in part, by the passage of Amendment A that allows Wyoming to better diversify its portfolio. I share this because the Common School Fund, Higher Education Endowment, and the Hathaway Scholarship Fund were all part of the discussion. Education was well represented by WDE staff and advocates for trust lands. Once policy changes are out for public comment, I will send the link to superintendents and business managers. In the meantime, please feel free to contact Jed Cicarelli, in my office, or me if you have questions or comments about this topic.

Memos to be released Monday, May 20:

Jillian