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.

Early Literacy on the National Stage

Dear Superintendents,

U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Mick Zais visited Wyoming last week. Here is an article from the Casper Star Tribune about his visit. 


USED Deputy Secretary Mick Zais goes on a school visit with Wyoming’s Chief Academic Officer, Shelley Hamel.


It is a privilege to serve as the CCSSO president for many reasons and this week was no exception. I was invited to co-facilitate a national discussion about early literacy. The stage was set with an overview of 2019 NAEP results that show a decline in 8th grade reading scores in thirty one states, including Wyoming. Next, a journalist, Emily Hanford, shared clear and longitudinal evidence about the science of teaching reading. If you haven’t listened to Emily’s podcast, “At a Loss for Words; How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers”  on the topic, I highly recommend it. Our follow-up discussions were focused on three main literacy areas: teacher preparation, high quality curriculum, and Pre-K to 3rd grade instruction.

As I understand, the event was recorded and once I have a link, I will share it. Suffice to say, I was excited to share Wyoming’s policy work with the passage of HB297 in 2019 and some the work you are doing in schools.


One of many tweets sent during the CCSSO Literacy Summit.


The USDA announced proposed rules that will provide more flexibility to schools while still ensuring nutritious meals are served to students during the school year and summer. Here are a few key changes:

  • More variety in allowed vegetable offerings.
  • More ways to offer “a al carte” meals in schools.
  • More flexibility to offer meals at times other than lunch to better accommodate small schools and innovative programs like “breakfast after the bell.”
  • Reduced administrative burden for schools.

Wyoming’s schools are innovative and hard-working from purchase to preparation to serving meals to students. Increased flexibility with our programs means less food waste and a continued focus on nutritious and wholesome student meals. The Nutrition Team at the WDE and I will examine the proposed rules carefully and comment where we see that the plans conflict with what has proven to be successful in Wyoming schools. Overall, I am enthused about the proposed rules.

NEW ARM OF THE OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS (OCR) – for schools, families, and students

Also last week, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Outreach, Prevention, Education, and Non-Discrimination (OPEN) Center. The focus of the OPEN Center is on proactive compliance with federal civil rights laws to provide assistance and support.

The OCR typically enforces federal civil rights laws through the complaint resolution process. The OPEN Center aims to provide information and support prior to the filing of complaints.

Memos to be released on Monday, January 27:

  • 2020-010:  Douvas Scholarship Application
  • 2020-011:  Native American Student Pacesetter Awards
  • 2020-012:  Wyoming Education Trust Fund Grant Availability


We The People Teaches Leadership

Dear Superintendents,

It has been a pleasure to be on the road visiting schools, despite wintry travel. Thank you for opening your classroom doors to WDE staff and me!

Last week, the We The People state finals took place in Cheyenne. While an annual event, this is the first time that student hearings took place in the newly renovated Capitol Connector. It was and honor to judge the competition and I was inspired to see our future leaders making arguments and defending their stances based on the wisdom of our Founders, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and case law.

Congratulations to all teams who made it to the state finals. The Sheridan Broncs took first place and will represent Wyoming at the national competition.


Sheridan High School’s We the People team pose for photos in the Capitol Extension after winning the Wyoming state championship on Monday. The team is coached by Michael Thomas and Kim Ferguson.


Brian Becerra-Montiel of Jackson Hole High receives a medal from former University of Wyoming football player John Griffin Monday during the We The People state finals in Cheyenne. Jackson Hole placed second of six teams.

Memos to be released on Tuesday:



Federal Funding Update

Dear Superintendents,

Welcome to 2020! In the spirit of “top tens of 2019, this article, Teaching in 2020 vs. 2010, caused me reflect on the year and decade gone by.

Federal Funding Update

Here is a rundown of the bill signed into law on December 20 by President Trump that provides funding for education for the remainder of FY2020:

  • Title I grants to school districts (up $450 million, to $16.3 billion).
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants to states (up $400 million, to $12.8 billion.)
  • ESEA Title II-A Supporting Effective Instruction grants (up $76 million, to $2.1 billion).
  • ESEA Title III English Language Acquisition grants (up $50 million, to $787 million).
  • ESEA Title IV-A Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants (up $40 million, to $1.2 billion).
  • ESEA Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants (up $28 million, to $1.2 billion).
  • TRIO programs (up $30 million, to $1.1 billion).
  • Maximum federal Pell Grant award per student by $150 to $6,345 for the 2020-21 academic year.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants (up $25 million, to $865 million).
  • Federal Work-Study grants (up $50 million, to $1.2 billion).


Teachers from 27 counties met in Riverton for Social Studies professional development this week.

Early Education Grant Award Announced

Governor Gordon announced a $2 million grant award for early education efforts in Wyoming. Here is the media release. We look forward to partnering on the planning and implementation of the grant to help ensure seamless transitions into kindergarten.


First Lady Jennie Gordon, WDE Nutrition team members, staff from Big Piney schools, and I celebrate the growing “Second Chance Breakfast” program.

Memos released on Monday, January 13:

  • 2020-006:  Additional Career Development Facilitator Training
  • 2020-007:  2020 District Teachers of the Year
  • 2020-008:  Release of 2018 Census Data for FY20 Title I, Part A Allocations



A Busy Week for Education

Dear Superintendents,

Last week was Computer Science Education Week – Thank you for sharing your Hour of Code and other celebrations with us & on social media. Computer Science education is taking place across the state at all grade levels – and not just during Computer Science Education Week. Just three short years ago, zero girls in Wyoming took Advance Placement (AP) Computer Science courses. Last year, that number was 26!

Here is a link to Wyoming’s proposed Computer Science standards where, at the elementary level, almost all standards are unplugged and integrated.


One of the Hour of Code events in Wyoming – this one was called Girls Who Code – Many from this group will participate in a class of the same name in 2020.

150th Anniversary of the Women’s Vote

Wyoming commemorated the 150th year of the women’s vote this week. In Cheyenne, there was a march, ceremony, dedication, documentary release, and more. Faith Anderson from Devils Tower was the winner of the essay contest about making Wyoming history in the future. She read her speech at the commemoration and it was moving. Many of the events are memorialized in photos and news stories. This is a wonderful civic education moment for Wyoming students! Here is a link to an article in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. There are also many, many resource links with this article that are useful for the classroom and beyond. 

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Faith Anderson of Devils Tower reads her essay about how she will make history in the future.

Milken Award Winner

The Milken Educator Award Team descended upon Wyoming once again this year to hand out a $25,000 cash award. Principal Brian Cox from Johnson Junior High was the winner. Check out the WDE and Milken Facebook and Twitter feeds for lots of information and photos about the big event.


Johnson Junior High Principal Brian Cox was surprised when he was named the recipient of the Milken Educator Award – $25,000!

Memos to be released on Monday, December 16:

  • 2019-152:  Specialized Support to Help Teens Quit Vaping



Level Up to Elevate Wyoming’s Education Professionals

Dear Superintendents,

Early this fall, I announced a new leadership program for educators called Level Up. Through this program we seek to elevate Wyoming’s education professionals by providing authentic and innovative leadership development opportunities. In partnership with model districts, other states, Leadership Wyoming, the Wyoming National Guard, and others, we are eager to have a strong first cohort in 2020.

Each District Teacher of the Year (DTOY), along with that educator’s principal (or another leader in the district), is invited to participate in Level Up. While the DTOY program is optional, most districts participate. Thus, they are eligible to also participate in Level Up. The good news is that it’s not too late to select a DTOY in your district and be eligible to participate in Level Up.

Robin Grandpre at 307-777-5315 or is available to provide technical assistance on the process for selecting a DTOY and/or applying for the 2020 Level Up cohort through December 16.


Another opportunity for educators, this time at the national level, is the School Ambassador Fellowship Program. The U.S. Department of Education (USED) is accepting applications for the 2020-21 cohort. This program is designed to enable outstanding teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other school-based professionals who interact with students on a daily basis to bring their expertise to the USED and expand their knowledge of the national dialogue about education. In turn, fellows facilitate the learning and input of other educators and community members. The application period closes at 11:59 p.m. EST on December 31.

Memos to be released on December 9:

  • 2019-149:  Special Populations on Target (SPOT) Training
  • 2019-150:  State Registration Requirements Under the Military Selective Service Act
  • 2019-151:  2019-20 National ESEA Distinguished Schools Program



Federal Update on STEM

Dear Superintendents,

On November 8, National STEM/STEAM Day, the United States Department of Education (ESED) announced a  $540 million in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education investment including computer science, through discretionary and research grants in Fiscal Year 2019, in accordance with the President’s directive to foster expanded opportunities in these in-demand career fields.   

These funds deliver on a commitment to support STEM education, as well as on the overall goals of the five-year federal STEM education strategic plan. A new progress report offers an update on federal activities related to the plan.  

The funds — about $200 million for new awards and almost $345 million for continuation awards — will be used to prepare the STEM teacher corps, provide graduate student fellowships in areas of national need, increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, and support state initiatives to expand and improve the transition of high school career and technical education (CTE) students to postsecondary education and employment through apprenticeships, among other areas.


This group of 4th graders is one of the very first classes to tour the newly renovated Wyoming Capitol.

Memos to be released on Monday, November 25:

  • 2019-139:   CTE Transportation Sector Connector December 10
  • 2019-140:   2019-20 Girls Go CyberStart Challenge
  • 2019-141:   WDE Policy for Isolation and Maintenance Reimbursement
  • 2019-142:   2018-19 Student-Level Graduation Data Verification Process



Support for Career and Technical Education

Dear Superintendents,

The annual Governor’s Business Forum was held in Cheyenne this past week. I was enthused by members from Wyoming’s employer community (business and industry) who clearly value career and technical education and strong partnerships with local schools. It was heartening to learn how schools, boards, community colleges, and businesses are tackling workforce gaps together by developing apprenticeship and training programs that are connected directly to jobs. Multiple educators, students, and policymakers discussed this issue during panels, keynotes, and breakout sessions. Student representatives from our Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) participated on a panel and I received so many positive comments about their depth of knowledge and earnestness. Wyoming is in good hands with this ongoing and strong partnership!


Council of Chief State School Officers

Earlier this week, I assumed the role of president of the board of directors for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). I have the honor of serving in this capacity for one year and have selected “Beyond the Bell” as a presidential platform – to better link learning opportunities outside of school to student outcomes.

In addition to a platform, I’ll have many opportunities to advocate nationally for students, schools, and education policy. One such event will take place in January when I co-chair a summit of state chiefs joined by national experts, educators, and other partners to examine what we know works and what must be done to improve literacy for all kids.

During my speech this week, I highlighted great “beyond the bell” work happening in Wyoming and other states. Thank you Boys and Girls Clubs, 21st Century Community Learning Center grant recipients, and numerous schools for sharing your stories about computer science and STEM learning after school and during the summer.


Memos to be released on Monday, November 18:

  • 2019-138:   Webinar on English Learners and Title III Funding



Literacy Opportunities With The Big Read

Dear Superintendents,

If you attended the final day of the recent S5S conference, you felt the energy and inspiration when our 2020 Wyoming Teacher of the Year (WTOY), Dane Weaver, spoke. His impromptu acceptance speech worth watching and sharing!    Mr. Weaver’s Speech

THE BIG READ – As Wyoming sharpens its focus on early literacy teaching and learning, we have many opportunities to provide literacy opportunities both during school and beyond the bell. The National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) announced a grant opportunity for local governments, libraries, school districts, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations.

The Big Read, established in 2016, supports Americans reading and discussing a single book within their communities.  Entities can apply for one of an estimated 75 grants to be awarded for programming occurring between September 2020 and June 2021.  The application deadline is January 29, 2020.  Besides the grant, communities will receive resources, such as reader’s and teacher’s guides and audio guides with commentary from artists, educators, and public figures.  Communities will also receive publicity materials.

In this cycle, communities will choose from 32 selections (novels, short stories, memoirs, poetry, and books in translation), including several works by female authors in honor of the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage.

For technical assistance in filling out the grant application, contact Arts Midwest to schedule a consultation with staff; visit the Application Advice page for tips and best practices for applications; and review the NEA Big Read Survival Guide to gain wisdom from past grantees.



In celebration of Farm to School Month, states throughout the Mountain Plains Region (CO, MT, MO, KS, NE, UT, ND, SD, WY) competed to see which state could get the most “crunches” into a local apple or other local produce. Here are WDE Crunchers on Halloween! Many schools across the state participated their own “Crunch” competitions.

Wyoming has great resources for local Farm to School programs including available funding for meat processing for schools. Take a look at the Farm to School web page. 


Rita Watson celebrates 50 years as an employee for the State of Wyoming this month. She is currently the longest-serving employee in our state. Governor and First Lady Gordon hosted a special lunch in her honor on November 1 (pictured above with her husband, Floyd). Earlier in October, Rita was recognized during the Buffalo Gals Luncheon at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. She is one of the women profiled in the project, Women of Wyoming. Her profile, and others, can be found here. 

To know Rita is to call her Friend!

Memos to be released on Monday, November 4:

  • 2019-129:   2019-2020 National ESEA Distinguished Schools Application
  • 2019-130:   Wyoming Advisory Panel for Students with Disabilities
  • 2019-131:   2020 PAEMST Nominations Open
  • 2019-132:   National Youth Science Camp Applications
  • 2019-133:   Educator Input for Math Extended Standards and Science PLDs



Giving Parents Accurate School Performance Information

Dear Superintendents,

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Wyoming and all schools receiving Title I-A funds have new requirements for publicly reporting various metrics about schools, scores, and students. Last month, the United States Department of Education (ESED)  released information about how local education leaders can make sure parents and caregivers have accurate and accessible information regarding the performance of schools in their state. The guide, Opportunities and Responsibilities for State and Local Report Cards, is aimed at assisting educators with both the design and implementation of report cards.  It follows the release of a special Parent Guide to State and Local Report Cards by the USED late last year. 

The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) has been proactive and worked with schools and stakeholders across the state. A number of state-generated resources can be found on our website.


Wyoming was well represented at the Batelle for Kids Rural Education Conference. Andrea Wood (middle), a Wyoming teacher, presented “Digital Stories of Wyoming” at a breakout session.troy

Troy Riechert, CTE teacher in Guernsey, received recognition and a $50K check from Harbor Freight Tools for Teachers this week.

Memos to be released on Monday, October 28:

  • 2019-127:   Suicide Prevention Programs and Resources
  • 2019-128:   University of Wyoming Seeks Student Teacher Supervisors


Introducing Level Up, Our Teacher-Leader Development Program

Dear Superintendents,

During our recent Superintendent’s Summit (S5S), I announced a new teacher-leader development program called Level Up. In coming days, you will receive the official announcement, along with some of the exciting activities planned for this next year. In a few bullets, I want to describe the impetus for this program:

  • Every teacher is a leader; all teachers need opportunities to hone their skills outside of the classroom and school. When quality teachers access relevant professional development, retention rates are higher.
  • Since I have been Wyoming’s state Superintendent, each Wyoming Teacher of the Year has asked me how I could utilize them as an advocate for the profession and educational policy. Level Up is my response.
  • Beyond the recognized teachers of the year, there are many promising teachers across our state, and not enough opportunities to develop teachers as leaders.

There will be more to come regarding Level Up!

October is Disability Awareness Month and educators everywhere are highlighting topics of awareness for learning disabilities, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Down Syndrome, blindness, disability employment, and more. This year’s theme is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2019: The Right Talent, Right Now and celebrates contributions of workers with disabilities and spotlights the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.


plan a

Plan A School Counselor Professional Development Days continued across Wyoming this week. The forum explored changes in the Hathaway Scholarship Program post the passage of Senate File 43. WDE teammates brought the forum to Cheyenne, Rock Springs, Thermopolis, Casper, and Gillette.

Memos to be released:

  • 2019-122:   WDE684A Fall Subgroup Review Window Now Open
  • 2019-123:   Nominations Open for Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award
  • 2019-124:   Hathaway Scholarship Day – November 15
  • 2019-125:   Public Comment on Proposed Leader and Teacher Evaluation Rules
  • 2019-126:   Digital Threat Assessment Training Opportunities November 4-5