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.

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

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