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.

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

Repeal of ESSA Accountability Regs

Dear Superintendents,

There are memos this week worthy of your review and attention. First, an update on legislative action at the federal and state level:

Congressional Review Act (CRA)

As of yesterday, both the U.S. House and Senate voted to repeal ESSA accountability regulations. President Trump is expected to sign the repeal. I submitted comments during the rulemaking process and was mostly comfortable with the final regs that were repealed. I am equally comfortable without the regulations. ESSA provides a great deal of flexibility (authority) for states and the congressional intent of ESSA is clear. Wyoming will proceed with implementation of the law as planned. Here are a couple of related articles:

WASHINGTON POST with Wyoming-specific quotes

WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

Bills Signed into Law

Governor Mead held the last formal bill-signing yesterday. He will continue to act on bills informally, including HB236. Among bills signed at the formal ceremony were SF35, Virtual Education and HB76, Indian Education for All. The room was packed for both bill signings. We look forward to working with schools, communities, and tribal members to implement the laws.

Supporters of SF35 with State Senator Stephan Pappas, WDE staff, State Superintendent Jillian Balow and Governor Matt Mead at the bill signing.
SF35 sets a framework for virtual education in Wyoming and is based on recommendations from a WDE-led task force
Members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes attend the signing of HB76 with Governor Matt Mead and State Superintendent Jillian Balow.
Members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes attend the signing of HB76
State Superintendent Jillian Balow with Wyoming's Poet Laureate Eugene Gagliano.
Eugene Gagliano is a retired elementary teacher and Wyoming’s Poet Laureate. He recited poetry and helped present awards to students at the Poetry Out Loud competition this week.

There are a number of memos this week worthy of your review and time.

Title II-A and Hold Harmless

We have communicated with all district business managers about the calculation changes and we recognize the poor timing of these changes. In an effort to mitigate the impacts on some Wyoming schools, WDE inquired about an exception from the USDoE for our state–to no avail. Please review the allocation changes for your district.

Data Collections

As we implement ESSA, there will be changes to various data collections. One goal of the law is to reduce the federal reporting burden on states.

Stakeholder Opportunities

A follow-up set of meetings to streamline and align CTE in Wyoming is about to commence. During the last set of meetings, 22 districts, higher ed, and BOCES participated. Please consider requesting district personnel to participate, via webinar, in these follow-up meetings. As CTE becomes a more pronounced component a well-rounded education, we want to ensure rigor and quality across the state and can only do that through participation of stakeholders.

The MATH STANDARDS REVIEW/DEVELOPMENT/ADOPTION process is about to get underway. We are looking to fill out a review committee with quality teachers, administrators, parents, business/industry representatives, higher education faculty, and others. Please consider passing this week’s memo or the link below onto educators, board members, parents, and community members:

Call for Participants–2017 MATH Standards Review Committee

As with Science, I expect the standards work to culminate with a set of nationally recognized and Wyoming-specific math standards. In particular:

  • UW President Laurie Nichols, Community College Commission Executive Director Jim Rose, and I have been working together to ensure better articulation between high school and college math. Standards articulation and a “2+2+2” mindset are where this begins. Currently, over 40% of incoming freshmen who attend community college or UW have to take remedial courses–math has the largest proportion of students.
  • Crosscutting with STEM subjects and applied math should be more evident in new math standards. Crosscutting standards with multiple subjects began with science. The committee will work to determine how rigourous math standards set forth a framework success in CTE pathway classes and other STEM subjects. Some Wyoming schools have figured this out and we will be counting on their lessons learned and input.
  • Computational thinking, coding, and discrete math skills will likely play a larger role in the math standards as foundational skills for all students.
  • Extended (Special Education) math standards may be reviewed simultaneously or separately depending on the scope of work determined by the committee.

Memos to be released Monday, March 13:

 

Jillian

End of the Legislative Session

Dear Superintendents,

Today is the last day of the 2017 legislative session and there is no final word yet on education funding. Unrelated to funding, there are a number of bills that Governor Mead has signed, or will receive for signature, that move Wyoming education in a positive direction. Some of those include:

  • Virtual Education
  • School Nutrition Pilot–Farm to Plate
  • Data privacy
  • Accountability
  • Indian Education for All
  • Hathaway Scholarship Program

PAWS

The PAWS window is from March 6-24.  As always, we are available to answer questions throughout the window.  Laurie Hernandez is the assessment director. Laurie and members of her team can be reached by email laurie.hernandez@wyo.gov or jessica.steinbrenner@wyo.gov or by calling (307)777-7675.

Here is a link to a short video message from me about PAWS:

PAWS VIDEO MESSAGE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

The message is intended for students and teachers as encouragement during the PAWS test. Please forward the link to teachers in your district.

ESSA

We are close to releasing a draft state plan and will be asking for feedback from specific stakeholders including educators.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow reads a Dr. Seuss book aloud to students in a classroom
Reading to students on Dr. Suess’s birthday

GOOD LUCK TO ALL SCIENCE FAIR PARTICIPANTS!

Memos to be released on Monday, March 6, 2017:

Jillian

A Surprise Visit

Dear Superintendents,

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to greet members of the Wyoming Association of School Business Officials (WASBO) during their spring meeting. What an outstanding group of education leaders! Here are a few points from my remarks:

  • The staff at WDE consistently demonstrates professionalism, expertise, and commitment in all they do–they are amazing! We know our success depends on our ability to partner with you–our school districts are essential team members!
  • Since taking office in 2015, WDE has lost over 10% of our staff due to budget reductions. Almost every line item in our general fund and foundation budgets has been reduced, totaling millions. We will continue to meet our core and critical mission of supporting school districts and we are grateful to have you as partners.
  • As the legislative session winds down, we have seen a spectrum of solutions that attempt to address the education funding shortfall—everything from raising taxes 5%+ so no cuts are needed to fundamentally changing the way education funding is prioritized. This spectrum of ideas underscores the crisis and has every Wyoming legislator invested in the challenge. No matter what funding legislation makes it to the “finish line” I think we can count on recalibration commencing almost immediately after the session. This is where you come in.
  • It is critical that education leaders, superintendents, board members, business managers, and others come to the table with solutions that are incremental and truly address the enormity of the shortfall.
  • Aside from funding, there is important legislative and policy work moving Wyoming education forward.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has formally directed state superintendents to continue moving forward with assertive timelines for ESSA implementation.
  • As changes related to Title funding formulas and programs are analyzed by our staff we will communicate that to you, the districts. We don’t anticipate state allocations changing but may see changes in formulas for local districts.
Chief of Staff, Dicky Shanor, and Comms Director, Kari Eakins, with U.S. Senator Enzi
Chief of Staff, Dicky Shanor, and Comms Director, Kari Eakins, with U.S. Senator Enzi
U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and State Superintendent Jillian Balow discuss CTE, ESSA, and Wyoming in the Superintendent's office.
U.S. Senator Enzi and Superintendent Balow discuss CTE, ESSA, and Wyoming

Only in Wyoming

Yesterday was the 100th birthday of the Smith-Hughes Act which created Vocational Education, now known as Career and Technical Education, or CTE. Earlier in the day, our CTE supervisor, Guy Jackson, bumped into the Senator at the bakery and invited him for cake. And, in a tale fit for Wyoming, Senator Enzi stopped by WDE to help us celebrate. Senator Enzi is a champion for education and CTE and we thank him dearly for visiting and for his work!

ESSA State Plan

I shared with WASBO members and others this week that Wyoming is moving forward with our ESSA state plan and full implementation of the new law. The timeline is assertive but we owe our teachers and students a finalized ESSA plan by the beginning of school year 2017-18. There are multiple areas within the state plan that need to be developed or articulated including our standards, assessments, accountability, federal dollars, alignment of local and state reform efforts, professional development, innovations, partnerships, and more. No decision is made unilaterally or in a vacuum. Thank you for your continued willingness to participate in the process along with many other stakeholders in Wyoming education. We have many strengths to leverage and we are doing just that. Please visit our website for more information, updates, and drafts.

Memos to be released:

Jillian

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