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.

New Statewide Assessments

Dear Superintendents,

The Wyoming Department of Education will enter into contract negotiations for a new statewide assessment in grades 1-10 with the American Institutes for Research (AIR). We will also negotiate a new contract with ACT for the grade 11 assessment. These awards were made after the State Board approved recommendations for the assessments. This follows months of work by the WDE assessment team in conjunction with stakeholders from across the state. Thank you for your involvement in the process! Implementation of the new assessment is Spring 2018. Requirements for the new assessment were based on recommendations from the the Wyoming Assessment Task Force that convened in 2015. Here were several key recommendations from the task force that went into the RFP and will carry through contract negotiations and test implementation:

  • Comparability from state to state (also an ESSA requirement)
  • Reporting as a priority, not an afterthought
  • Minimal testing time
  • Cutting edge technology and design
  • Later test window

Additionally, I am committed to ensuring that Wyoming’s new assessment is helping cut a path for all statewide assessments under ESSA. Through negotiations and the development phase, the WDE assessment team and I will work to:

  • Align across grade levels and through higher education
  • Measure real world skills
  • Ensure accessibility for all students
  • Eventually incorporate internationally benchmarked items
  • Ensure customizability

Here is a link to information about AIR, the new assessment vendor. 

2015 Wyoming Assessment Task Force Report

Governor Matt Mead is surrounded by the State Superintendent and student officers of Career Technical Student Organizations during the proclamation signing for CTE Month.
FFA, DECA, FBLA students attend proclamation signing

Wyoming continues to celebrate CTE Month with a governor’s proclamation.

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Thank you! Thank you! In the words of my fifth grade son, “Kindess is much more fun to celebrate than love on Valentine’s Day.” Schools across the state participated in RAK week in creative ways. I can’t wait to see this movement grow!

A wall in Meadowlark Elementary school is covered with hearts in the shape of the numbers "307". Each of the hearts has a random act of kindness written on it.
Meadowlark Elementary 5th graders tracked their RAKs to 307 and beyond

Wyoming Legislature

Week six is done and legislators went home to enjoy a four day break. HB236 (Omnibus Bill) is gaining momentum on the Senate side and with constituents. There are aspects of HB236 that concern-namely, changes to the model. However, it is the bill that triggers a new tax revenue once savings are tapped to a certain level. Education programming bills have mostly fizzled with a few exceptions to be determined in the next week or so.

State Board of Education

New officers were selected at the State Board meeting earlier this week.  In March, three new board members will be appointed by Governor Mead.

  • Walt Wilcox, Chair
  • Sue Belish, Vice
  • Ken Rathbun, Treasurer

Memos to be released on Tuesday, February 21, 2017:

Jillian

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Dear Superintendents,

February 12-18 is Random Acts of Kindess Week. Thank you for forwarding the memo from several weeks ago–we are hearing about some amazing kindness events taking place in schools next week. In fact, we know of one school planning to “commit” 307 acts of kindess during the week by sending cards to veterans, taking cookies to senior citizens, and more. Earlier this week, Governor Mead signed the first ever proclamation that officially recognizes this unique statewide effort. This is really taking off! If you missed the memo or haven’t heard of any events taking place in your schools, there’s still time–here are a few resources:

Superintendent’s Memo: Random Acts of Kindness Week

National Site: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/
Wyoming Site: http://www.kindnesswyoming.org/

Kindness Wyoming

State Superintendent Jillian Balow stands with Governor Matt Mead, Wyoming Business Alliance Director Bill Schilling, and the Leadership Wyoming group following the proclamation signing for Random Acts of Kindness Week
Governor Mead signs the RAK proclamation with the Kindness Wyoming Team

CTE MONTH/SKILLSUSA WEEK

February is CTE month and we would love to share your CTE students in action on social media. If you know of a program that could be highlighted, please have them send their picture and description to tonya.gerharter@wyo.gov.

A culinary arts teacher addresses her students in the kitchen.
Mrs. Aldrich talks salad science with her students at Triumph HS after they cooked them. (I was sous chef.)
A student shows the progress on his robot to State Superintendent Jillian Balow, and other staff from the WDE and local school district.
SkillsUSA student shows us his search and rescue robot

WYOMING LEGISLATURE

Three weeks remain in the legislative session. Legislators continue to debate school finance in bills and resolutions ranging from new taxes to massive cuts to constitutional amendments. Decisions will begin to coalesce over the next couple of weeks. I remain resolute in my message that the legislature works this session to realize savings, make reductions outside of the funding model, and infuse the foundation account..

FEDERAL EDUCATION

The U.S. Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as the new U.S. Secretary of Education. The next day, the U.S. House of Representatives rolled back the regulations for ESSA Accountability. Here are my thoughts on both:

Secretary DeVos-

Grassroots and political opposition preceded DeVos’s appointment and the process received a great deal of media attention and national conversation. It’s important to remember that education governance, especially with the passage of ESSA, is almost entirely in the hands of states and local school districts. President Trump, during his campaign, expressed support for state and local authority over education. This philosophy certainly aligns with my beliefs. I look forward to working with Secretary DeVos and serving as a resource as she learns her way. I will always advocate for all students with Wyoming students in front.

ESSA Accountability-

Congress invoked the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and rolled back promulgated regulations for higher education and ESSA accountability. Higher Ed regs will have an impact on community colleges and UW–that’s for a later update. The rollback on the accountability regs will not significantly impact Wyoming’s work to complete our ESSA plan. Congressional intent in ESSA and flexibility for states is clear and we will continue to move forward at a swift pace toward full implementation of the law. You might recall that I weighed in on proposed accountability rules last summer. All concerns I expressed on behalf of Wyoming were addressed in the final rules. For example, the proposed rules required that states identify schools for improvement using this year’s data. In other words schools would be accountable for growth using indicators that are not yet identified. In the final regs, this, and other concerns, were allayed. In all, not having regulations does not pose much of a challenge for Wyoming–we will keep working together on our state plan and do what is in the best interest of students.

Memos to be released on Monday, February 13:

Jillian

Leading for Equity

Dear Superintendents,

As the nation coalesces around “equity” in education, we are realizing our responsibilities and opportunities to provide an equitable education for all students in Wyoming. This week marked the release of a report, Leading for Equity, that is worth noting. I had an opportunity to attend the release event for report and shared a few comments specific to equity work in Wyoming. In summary:

  • Wyoming’s education funding structure, in essence, is our equity structure and we leverage it well. We fund education more adequately and EQUITABLY than any state in the nation. This means that no matter if a student is from a town of five or five thousand, they have access to a great education. And, no matter if a family’s income is $5000 or $500,000, children receive a great education. This compelling fact is sometimes left on the table as we talk about education finance and budgets. It’s imperative that we all understand that careful investments, not just dollars, make our Wyoming education among the best. I remain resolute in my message that our students are at risk if the legislature makes cuts to the funding model without more input from you and other education partners.
  • We have an unsurpassed technology infrastructure via the Wyoming Unified Network. One way to continue to ensure equity in education is to better leverage the network for online learning. Governor Mead and the legislature have also noted this as a priority. At the WDE, we prioritized virtual learning in our strategic plan. We also convened a virtual learning task force to analyze the state structure and make recommendations for increasing access to quality virtual education. I visited several schools in the state that incorporate virtual education into a brick and mortar setting and I look forward to keeping this “equity action” on the front burner going forward.

While you and I may not reference “equity” as a driver for doing the right things for kids, it’s worth a peek at the report to see what actions your school district is committed to already and which ones are worthy for discussion. Here’s a link to an article in EdWeek about the report and the work.

EDWeek's Alyson Klein, Ohio State Legislator, 2015 Teacher of the Year, and two State Superintendents talk equity and education during a panel discussion at a press event in Washington, D.C.
EDWeek’s Alyson Klein, Ohio State Legislator, 2015 Teacher of the Year, and two State Superintendents talk equity and education this week.

Today marks the middle of the 2017 Wyoming legislative session. Track bills and watch Monday’sHouse Education Committee (school funding) meeting at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/session/SessionHome.aspx 

Memo to be released on Monday, February 6:

Jillian

School Finance “Omnibus” Bill

Dear Superintendents,

A number of bills that attempt to deal with school finance have been introduced or await introduction. Some are piecemeal bills, others attempt to comprehensively address school funding now and in the future. My hope, articulated in a memo to the legislature, was that this legislature would stay away from an overhaul to the school funding model during the session. In short, we have made wise investments in education over the last two decades and we ARE getting our “bang for the buck” in student achievement and equity. A different story is often being told by others right now. With inevitable reductions to education funding, this is a critical time for superintendents, educators, parents, the employer community, and citizens to weigh in on ensuring that education remains our state’s funding priority.

On Monday, January 30, at 6:00pm, the House Education Committee will hold its meeting at the East High School Auditorium. The sole bill for disucssion is HB236, the School Finance “Omnibus” bill. Here are several links of interest:

HB236–http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0236.pdf

SF114–Education Reform–http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/SF0114.pdf

Public Comment Link for HB236–http://legisweb.state.wy.us/PostComments/Disclaimer.aspx?CommID=H04

Agenda for House Education Meeting on January 30–http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Calendar/hcom0130.pdf

There are a number of bills still in “play” related to school accountability and programming including the accountability bill that aligns Wyoming’s system with ESSA, leader evaluations, Indian Education for All, Civics Education, CPR in high schools, virtual education–state infrastructure, and more. You can follow the progress of bills at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/LSOWEB/Session/BillsInfo.aspx

Memos to be released on Monday, January 30, 2017:

Jillian

Graduation Rates

Dear Superintendents,

Graduation rates were released on Tuesday. As you follow up with your local media and school boards, here were a few of my talking points, FYI:

  • The Class of 2016 posted an “on-time” graduation rate of 80.0%.
  • This marks four years of steady growth, from 77.5% in 2012-13. State accountability system is making schools take a hard look at what they are doing and improve.
  • All schools “not meeting expectations” posted gains in their grad rate – progress is being made!
  • Students in classically marginalized populations saw gains as well. Graduation rates increased in 2015-16 for American Indian students, Hispanic students, English Learners, homeless students, students with Individualized Education Programs, and students that are eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
  • We will continue to aim for the goal of every student graduating from high school and being successful in their next steps in life. Hopeful strengthening of accountability system and statewide systems of support will help progress to continue.

RAK

Attached is a memo about Random Acts of Kindness Week February 12-18. Wyoming’s children and adults engage in RAK every day of the year and we want to bring that to the spotlight in schools. Governor Mead will sign a proclamation for the first time in our state and we would like to highlight your community’s RAKs in our social media. I hope you will help in spreading the word about RAK Week by ensuring teachers and guidance counselors receive the attached memo.

Legislative Session

There are a large volume of education bills this session and education finance challenges continue to loom. To date, no major decisions have been made about school funding. I continue to urge legislators to avoid changes to the model.

Superintendent Balow stands with the principal and two staff members from Southside Elementary School while they hold their plaque at the Superintendent's Policy Summit.
Southside Elementary in Washakie 1 is recognized for school performance

Memos to be released on Monday, January 23:

Jillian

S5S Highlights

Dear Superintendents,

Good morning and thank you for attending S5S 2017–it was wonderful to see many of you in Cheyenne!  To those who were unable to make it due to calendar conflicts or weather–we missed you! Here are a few highlights:

  • We heard from members of legislative leadership including House Speaker Harshman, Senate Majority Floor Leader Perkins, and House Education Chairman Northrup shared thoughts with the group
  • UW President Laurie Nichols outlined her first eight months in office including realizing a $40 million plus budget reduction and partnering with K12 education
  • Recognized persistently high performing schools (accountability) and Blue Ribbon schools
  • Celebrated the 2017 Wyoming Teacher of the Year, Ryan Fuhrman
  • National ESSA and education update from the Education Commission of the States
  • Breakout sessions with local and national experts
  • We hosted a well-attended legislative reception where educators and partners interacted with legislators.  We had excellent conversations that are certain to be continued.
  • Particpants toured the Judicial Learning Center and attended the Senate Education Committee.
House Speaker Steve Harshman shakes hands with State Superintendent Jillian Balow as he arrives at the podium to speak at the policy summit.
House Speaker Steve Harshman addresses educators at S5S

The 2017 Wyoming Legislature is in full swing.  As you have undoubtedly read and heard, education finance is the legislative priority for this session.  To reiterate, I favor action by the legislature this session to realize savings, cuts outside of the model as well as a one-time revenue infusion into education.  Additionally, I support convening a “super” committee during the interim to work on long-term changes to the funding model.  In essence, it’s vital that changes to the funding model be made in close partnership with stakeholders and with adequate time for input/feedback.

There are a number of important education bills in the queue–unrelated to finance–on topics including the Hathaway Scholarship Program, computer science education, civics, Indian education, online education, and more.  You can view, filter, and track progress of bills at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/session/SessionHome.aspx 

Memos to be released on Tuesday, January 17, 2017:

*There are several memos this week about upcoming trainings.  Know that we are working to combine trainings and training dates to maximize efficiencies and savings for the State and the district.  At the same time we are ramping up the quality of the trainings we provide.  We ask that you and your district staff consider taking advantage of in-state trainings before looking beyond our borders.

Jillian

The Start of the New Year

Dear Superintendents,

Cheers to 2017! I hope you rang in the new year with family and friends and found time to recharge your batteries. We are off and running in Wyoming education as the legislature prepares to consider a large volume of education bills on a variety of topics. I will have the opportunity to address legislators prior to the beginning of the session at their caucus. I look forward to sharing our accomplishments and challenges from 2016 and advocating for bills that help improve student outcomes.

Over the holidays, I sent you a special update about the release of “Wyoming K-12 Education Funding Deficit White Paper” and the upcoming Superintendent’s Summit, S5S. Here is an update on both:

White Paper

On December 19, the Joint Education Committee (JEC) formed the Subcommittee on Education Finance.  On December 28, the Subcommittee released the following document:  http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/WhitePaperEducation.pdf

Feedback was requested by January 4, 2017. Here is a link to the feedback I submitted: edu.wyoming.gov/edfinance

According to the white paper, discussions about school finance will take place during the first weeks of the legislative session. To stay abreast of scheduled hearings and meetings, I encourage you to check the Wyoming Legislature website at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/LSOWEB/Session/SessionHome.aspx

S5S-Superintendent’s Summit

A great opportunity to visit with legislators, district colleagues, and state leaders is quickly approaching. It’s likely that legislative hearings and meetings mentioned above will coincide with S5S–your district team is encouraged to attend and take advantage of all events in Cheyenne that week (legislature, S5S, State Board). Again, the Summit is free of charge for your district team of four. Please register at this link: https://edu.wyoming.gov/s5s/

7th in the Nation

The annual Quality Counts Report (published by Education Week) was released on January 4. Wyoming moved up one spot from 8th to 7th in the nation for overall education quality. We far outpaced neighboring states and had the highest score in the western United States. All states are scored on a number of indicators in three areas:

  • School Finance
  • Student Achievement
  • Chance for Success

There is insightful information in the full report and state report card about our wise investments in education and our challenges with school achievement.

The state media release with my comments and links to the report can be found at: https://edu.wyoming.gov/blog/2017/01/04/wyoming-ranked-seventh-in-education-quality/  

Several news articles have been published:

Memos to be released on Monday, January 9:

Jillian

Budgets

Dear Superintendents,

This week the WDE appeared at Joint Appropriations Committee hearings to present the agency’s additional 8% cuts. Here is a recap of comments I made to the committee:

  • Since taking office we have taken commensurate cuts with other agencies and made voluntary cuts to our budget and positions. Further cuts will be difficult.
  • I am committed to doing my part to realize budget cuts and efficiencies  and will bring attention to both our challenges and potential solutions.
  • The WDE was staffed with 143 FTEs in 2015, we are at 130 FTEs today.
  • My first priority as State Superintendent and CEO of the WDE is to provide expertise and support to school districts. I believe wholeheartedly that the most important decisions about education should be made at the local level. The WDE should serve as your #1 partner and support.
  • Internally, we are finished restructuring WDE and we are set up to be lean and effective. We continue to collaborate and team to meet the needs of schools across the state.
  • We maintain high standards for hiring new staff at WDE and seek the best employees to help reduce costs.
  • We are utilizing our federally funded staff in new ways through innovative teaming and work on implementing ESSA.
  • As a state we’ve made careful and research-based investments in education. Those investments pay off in big ways for our students. We have a strong infrastructure for a quality education for all students. I am nervous that the legislature will look for cuts with price tags that stand out – I caution us not to make decisions based on dollars but, rather, based on maintaining what we know is best for student outcomes and school success.

MEDICAID BILLING

The Joint Health and Labor Committee met this week to discuss a number of Medicaid cost-saving measures. One recommendation was for schools to begin billing Medicaid for services delivered to eligible students. Wyoming is the only state not billing for said services. No vote was taken but I anticipate additional discussion and, possibly, an interim legislative study on the topic.

UPCOMING MEETINGS AND EVENTS

In last week’s update, I shared information and comments about school funding challenges, next week’s meetings, and S5S coming up in January. Here is a link to last week’s update.

****This is the last Friday update until 2017****

Memos will be sent on Mondays during the winter break observed by school districts

A group of FFA students stand on state holding their degrees.
FFA students in Laramie County #1 receive their Greenhand degrees
A man speaks at a podium during the press conference announcing the reduced rate for internet access.
Boys/Girls Clubs and Spectrum-Charter teamed up to provide internet access to families with children on free and reduced lunch for $14.99/month in Laramie County

There are no memos this week.

Jillian

S5S Registration

Dear Superintendents,

Tis the season to plan to attend the Superintendent’s Summit (S5S) in January. Last year’s summit was a huge success and we are gearing up for an even better second year! Please mark your calendars and assemble your team for S5S in Cheyenne on January 12-13. Here are a few highlights:

  • Interact with legislators at a hosted reception
  • UW President Nichols, and ECS’s Jeremy Anderson give keynotes exlusive to Wyoming’s opportunity to forge ahead
  • Tour the Wyoming Judicial Learning Center (opens on January 9)
  • Vegas Break
  • Continued and new conversations with colleagues and experts
  • Coincides with State Board meeting

Registration for a team of four is free of charge-there is an add-on fee if you want to bring additional participants. A room block at Little America is now open. We suggest your team of four include:

  1. Superintendent or district administrator
  2. Board chair or designee
  3. Teacher of the Year or outstanding teacher
  4. Principal of the Year or outstanding principal

REGISTER BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW

S5S 2017. 2017 Wyoming State Superintendent's Policy Summit. Register at edu.wyoming.gov/s5s

2016 LEGISLATURE

Both the Joint Appropriations and Joint Education committees meet in December to discuss school finance. Many superintendents are planning to attend the meetings and I look forward to more in-depth discussions with you.

To reiterate my message, which is the same as last year, our state’s fiscal situation requires austerity. Education must remain a priority for our state. We must work together to make the necessary cuts and find savings so that essential education programs and opportunities for students do not deteriorate.

Also, next week the Joint Health and Labor Committee meets to discuss three Medicaid recommendations made by the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL). One recommendation is to seek reimbursement for special education services for students who are on Medicaid. We are the only state that has not implemented this practice. To be clear, I support continued 100% reimbursement for Special Education with Medicaid recoupment as an “extra” for the state, of which part should be returned to schools. WDE leaders will be on hand to answer questions and offer comments at next week’s meeting.

Leadership and committee assignments for the new legislature were finalized recently. Many of the new members will be in the audience at upcoming meetings. Here are members of the 2017-18 House and Senate Education Committees:

House: David Northrup-Chair, Debbie Bovee, Landon Brown, Jamie Flitner, John Freeman, Hans Hunt, Mark Kinner, Jerry Paxton, Garry Piiparinen

Senate: Hank Coe-Chair, Affie Ellis, Stephan Pappas, Chris Rothfuss, Jeff Wasserburger

More information about the upcoming legislative session can be found at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/LSOWEB/Default.aspx

A classroom of 4th grade students each sit at a laptop participating in an online program that teaches coding.
4th graders coding during Computer Science Education Week
Governor Mead and Superintendent Balow pose with a group of WDE staff and other stakeholders at the Governor's Office.
Governor Mead signs a proclamation for Computer Science Education Week-a first for Wyoming
Superintendent Balow with Rita Watson at the WDE All-Staff Meeting.
Rita Watson has been andexecutive assistant at WDE for 47 years

Memos to be released Monday, December 12:

Jillian

Hour of Code

Dear Superintendents,

Next week is Computer Science Education Week. On December 5, Governor Mead kicks off the week with a proclamation signing. This event will take place at the Governor’s Office at 1:45 and the public is invited to attend. I am very excited to participate in Hour of Code at several schools across the state on Monday and Tuesday. Over 100 schools in Wyoming intend to host this and other virtual events next week. It’s not too late to plan a celebration in your schools. For more information, steer your schools https://code.org/learn.

FEDERAL UPDATE

Final regulations for accountability under ESSA were published by the USDOE this week. Almost every concern Wyoming submitted during the comment period was addressed/remedied in the final regulations–good news. It is likely that these and all regulations will be analyzed on January 20 with the incoming presidential administration. Considering that these rules were mostly derived from a negotiated rulemaking process, I don’t anticipate they will change significantly.

A new U.S. Secretary of Education was named last week. Here is a link to one article about the new secretary, Betsy DeVos. She, and other political appointees will begin confirmation hearings after January 20.

Wyoming's Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, and State Treasurer hold their pot pies with State Superintendent Jillian Balow, a culinary arts student and their teacher, Mrs. Stutheit before the elected officials lunch.
Wyoming’s statewide elected officials were treated to lunch by Mrs. Stutheit’s culinary arts students on November 30
Elected officials and staff done hard hats for a tour of the Wyoming State Capitol building under renovation.
Tour of the Capitol Square Project–more at http://www.wyomingcapitolsquare.com/

Memos to be released: