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 Year, New Faces

Dear Superintendents,

There are some new faces on the WDE leadership team as we kick off 2019. First we said goodbye to our Chief Operations Officer, Dianne Bailey. She retired after many years of service to the State of Wyoming and a lifetime in education (her father was a district superintendent). Dianne was a key leader during my first term and has been the voice of wisdom and experience in our agency. Here is our leadership team at WDE with newly appointed staff in bold:

  • Dicky Shanor, Chief of Staff
  • Shelley Hamel, Chief Academic Officer
  • Trent Carroll, Chief Operations Officer 
  • Kari Eakins, Chief Policy Officer 
  • Michelle Panos, Communications Director
  • Jeremy Wilch, Finance Director
  • Ken Reynolds, Information Management Director
  • Julie Magee, Accountability Director
  • Laurie Hernandez, Standards and Assessment Director
  • John Bole, Federal Programs Director
  • Brenda Creel, Interim Special Ed and Programs Director

I am very excited about all that these leaders add to our dynamic staff at WDE!


Dual Immersion Teacher Chris Bessonette (in black shirt) from Munger Mountain Elementary School was happily surprised with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award on Friday Morning.


It was so exciting to celebrate, for the second year in a row in Wyoming, a Milken Educator Award winner. Today, we surprised Munger Mountain Elementary School teacher, Chris Bessonette. Congratulations, Chris and Teton County School District!

Congratulations also to Baldwin Creek Elementary School in Fremont School District #1 and Sheridan Junior High School in Sheridan County School District #2. They were recognized as National ESEA Distinguished School Award winners (see related memo below).


Memos to be released on Monday, January 7:


Wreaths Across America

Dear Superintendents,

Earlier this week I participated in Cheyenne’s Wreaths Across America ceremony. The event was particularly emotional for me as my daughter, a soldier, prepares to deploy to the Middle East. The purpose of Wreaths Across America is three-fold: Remember, Honor, and Teach. Remember our fallen warriors and their families. Honor our men and women who serve or have served. Teach the next generation about the price of our freedom. According to the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) only 23% of 8th graders are proficient in Social Studies. Wyoming citizens, including educators, frequently share their concerns about how we prepare students for civic engagement as adults. One way I hope to help in the coming months is to livestream more events like Wreaths Across America so students can join from the classroom.

Preparation for civic life was the primary purpose for establishing public schools in the United States. Students who receive effective social studies instruction are:

  • More likely to vote and discuss politics at home.
  • Four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues.
  • More confident in their ability to speak publicly and communicate with their elected representatives.

I recently ran across this related resource from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that is worthy of sharing with you.

*The inaugural event for Wyoming’s statewide elected officials will be streamed on January 7. Governor Gordon’s State-of-the-State address will be streamed on January 9. Details are forthcoming.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow stands beside a wreath with Wyoming Adjutant General Luke Reiner during a ceremony in Cheyenne.
photo courtesy of Wyoming Military Department
A mix of elementary and middle school students hold their Hour of Code completion certificates and raise their hands in excitement with State Superintendent Jillian Balow, and staff from Microsoft and the Array School of Technology and Design. They are all standing in from of a Microsoft banner.
Microsoft, BEAST Foundation, ARRAY School of Technology, & WDE team up to code after school
WDE staff sit at tables in a filled conference room for the all-staff meeting while a WDE employee leads a flash mob by waving a red and green ribbon wand in the air.
WDE’s Liz Gilbert was the mastermind of the 12 Days of Christmas flashmob at our semi-annual all-staff meeting

Memos to be released on Monday, December 17:


George H.W. Bush

“I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater.

-George H.W. Bush

A Solution Tree employee lectures to a classroom of teachers.
Statewide PLC work continues across Wyoming this week with Solution Tree
A classroom full of elementary students sit at computers playing games that teach coding.
Congratulations on another successful weeklong immersion into Computer Science. Students in Pinedale had a coding and dance party. In Cheyenne, the Array School of Technology taught students at Prairie Wind Elementary.
State Superintendent Jillian Balow sit on the dais for a State Loan and Investment Board meeting with the Secretary of State, Governor, and State Treasurer.
The Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board met for the last time with Governor Mead as Chair. Governor-Elect Gordon takes over as Chair in January.

There are no memos this week.


School Safety

Dear Superintendents,

School safety is a priority topic in every community, state, and in our nation. It is approached with an appropriate sense of urgency. At the community level, the vehicle for school safety discussions is often the school board. However, school safety cannot be the singular responsibility of the school board. Discussions about policies and practices should always include school resource officers and other law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents, educators, students, and other community members. Here are some topics for stakeholder discussion:

  • Should a community task force be convened?
  • What roles do various stakeholders play in ensuring the safety of students?
  • Have current safety plans and policies been analyzed?
  • Are emergency drills adequate?
  • When is the last time a school safety assessment or audit was conducted?
  • What resources exist to help us set and reach goals that help ensure student safety?

As I discuss this important issue across our state, I always describe how school and student safety encompasses prevention, preparedness, crisis response, student well-being, responsibility, and the need for ongoing and coordinated dialogue.

As we have these critical conversations I’ll note that in some instances current state statute is out of sync with best practice. I was pleased to see the Joint Education Committee sponsor legislation earlier this week that begins the work of setting a stronger state framework for school safety. I look forward to continuing to work with legislators on the bill with the understanding that every aspect of school safety must be carefully weighed at the local level.

WDE Hathaway consultant, Bradley Barker, speaks to the Leadership Cheyenne class in a classroom at Laramie County Community College, with graphs projected on screens behind him.
WDE teammate Bradley Barker makes a presentation about the Hathaway Scholarship Program to Leadership Cheyenne Wednesday.
The WDE math and science standards consultants stand on either side of a banner with reads, "Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching."
WDE teammates Brian Cole and Sharla Dowding traveled to Washington, DC, recently to share strategies in promoting excellence in STEM education in Wyoming.

Memos to be released on Monday, December 3:



Dear Superintendents,

I hope you were all able to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and surround yourself with loved ones.

Three memos will be released this afternoon:


Veterans Day

Dear Superintendents,

There are no memos this week. There were lots of activities across the state in recognition of Veterans Day and more. Below are a few photos:

Judy speaks from a podium with a WSBA (Wyoming School Boards Association) sign on the front while WSBA Executive Director Brian Farmer observes.
Judy Richards accepts the Golden Bell award for her years of service on the school board in Lovell at the WSBA annual conference
A soldier posts colors during the dedication of Wyoming's Fallen Warrior Memorial on Monday, Veterans Day Observance, and sits near the State Museum in the Capitol Complex
A soldier posts colors during the dedication of Wyoming’s Fallen Warrior Memorial on Monday, Veterans Day Observance, and sits near the State Museum in the Capitol Complex
State Superintendent Jillian Balow and Governor Matt Mead pose for a photo behind the Governor's Office with several dozen people in support of adoption month.
Governor Mead proclaimed November “Adoption Month” in Wyoming
A WDE employee helps a jr. high student navigate a project on a laptop during the Innovations Conference.
The Innovations conference took place in Evanston late last week and incorporated students into the training
Frank Brogan talks with CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Miller on a stage underneath a large sign that reads CCSSO Council of Chief State School Officers.
Frank Brogan, Asst Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, at the U.S. Department of Education talked ESSA and school safety with state superintendents this week

There are no memos this week.


Election Results

Dear Superintendents,

Congratulations to election winners across our state and nation. Governor-Elect Gordon mentioned his desire to support education and stable education funding during his acceptance speech on Tuesday night. He served on the Johnson County School Board for a number of years. Personally, I am thrilled to continue my service to the state for another four years. I look forward to working with the new governor and with both new and seasoned members of the legislature.

Education, as always, was a topic of campaigns nationwide. Election outcomes will impact state education governance in many state legislatures, state education agencies, and in the U.S. Congress. The Education Commission of the States tracked elections with an education lens and the outcome is depicted in the infographic below.

Education Commission of the States. 2018 Elections. Changes in state education leadership. Governors: 36 states plus D.C. held Governors races resulting in 16 democrats (11 new, 5 incumbent) and 19 Republican Governors (8 new, 11 incumbent). Of the 50 state governors, 23 are democrats and 26 are republicans with some races still being decided. In Legislative Chambers, 87 elections were held. Democrats gained control in six states: Colorado senate, Connecticut senate, Maine senate, Minnesota house, and New Hampshire house and senate. Democrats now control 37 chambers and Republicans control 61. Seven states held elections for Chief State School Officers, resulting in a new democratic chief in Arizona and a new Democratic chief in California. Republican incumbents were reelected in Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming.  Eight states plus the District of Columbia held elections for State Boards of Education, with 40 seats up for election, resulting in 21 new and 19 incumbent board members. Thanks to NGA, NCSL, CCSSO, and NASBE for their collaboration.

Educator Training

Despite the cold weather educators continue to gather for training opportunities. This week:

  • WDE partnered with community colleges and Canvas to host the annual Innovations Conference in Evanston
  • Jan Hoegh led the New Art and Science of Teaching training in Casper
  • 25 school leadership teams participated in the first Leadership Coaching Academy session this week and focused on developing a Culture of Collaboration and Ensuring that Students Learn – two of the “big ideas” that represent the core principles of Professional Learning Communities.

The State Superintendent’s Policy Summit (S5S) is being restructured to provide training on the 25 components of Wyoming Accreditation. It will not be held during the 2019 legislative session as in the past. Information on the 2019 S5S will be shared at a later date.

A trainer from Canvas speaks from a podium while the dashboard is displayed on a projector screen for attendees to follow along.
Training on the Canvas platform was offered in advance of this week’s Innovations Conference

Memo to be released on Tuesday, November 13, 2018:


New Accountability Results Released

Dear Superintendents,

Accountability results for 2017-18 were released yesterday. Thank you again to school districts for reviewing your school-level data and helping us to push out reports that are relevant and useful in the school improvement process. Reports are available on Fusion and our staff continues to provide technical assistance. Here is a link to the media release:

Media Release: New State and Federal Accountability Results

Three educators sit around a table working intensely on their laptops. The wall behind them is full of posters covered with sticky notes from the workshop.
Educators from across Wyoming came to Laramie recently to participate in a three-part series to plan and develop science units of instruction. The Five Tools training was presented by BSCS Science Learning.
Five WDE staff wear halloween PacMan Halloween costumes. Everyone is dressed in black with posterboard hanging around their neck that shows PacMan, cherries, and three of the ghosts that chase PacMan throughout the game.
WDE staff welcomes local trick-or-treaters while channeling old-school PACMAN

Memos to be released on Monday, November 5:


Report Cards

Dear Superintendents,


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents a significant shift in educational authority from the federal government to states and local schools. Over the past two years you’ve likely heard me talk about the new requirements for public reporting that will be a lift for every district and every school. Two years ago this deadline seemed far away–now it looms.

Local and state report cards are a tangible way to:

  • link the federal and state accountability systems
  • reveal inequities and strengths with student groups and set goals to address challenges
  • link accountability to school improvement efforts
  • report to the pubic in a meaningful way

As with all educational endeavors in Wyoming, we at the WDE view our role as partners in successful implementation. There is a memo this week that outlines some information about state and local reporting.

Of note, the WDE will provide two webinars to help schools and districts navigate the requirements and next steps. The webinars are scheduled for November 8th and 13th. The requirement to report locally is the responsibility of the local school district and the WDE will be available for technical assistance.

The report card is one of the first opportunities for the public to view school performance under the updated accountability system and how schools are meeting the needs of specific student groups such as English Learners (ELs).


The final state ESSA plan was recently approved. (Wyoming’s plan was approved in January of this year–link to news release.) As the nation is now fully immersed in the implementation phase of ESSA, many are reflecting on the planning process in states. One thing Wyoming took to heart during the planning process was stakeholder engagement. Because of the input we received, our state plan was reflective of diverse views and aligned with other education reform efforts.

Recently, the Collaborative for Student Success analyzed every state ESSA plan and found nearly 2,000 mentions of stakeholder organizations throughout the plans. The Collaborative sent a survey to stakeholder organizations, and 400 responded to the survey.

  • 81% of survey respondents said they had great or some opportunity to provide feedback.
  • 82% of survey respondents said they were either “very engaged” or “somewhat engaged” in the development of the state’s ESSA plan.
  • 75% of survey respondents said they received follow-up information from state officials after the plan was submitted.

In Wyoming, I suspect those numbers would be similar or higher. Stakeholder engagement continues to be an underpinning of all our work with ESSA and other education efforts. We thank you and value our partnership!

Member of the Computer Science Standards Review Committee sit at tables reviewing the draft standards.
Above and Below: the Computer Science standards committee meets in Casper this week to work on stand-alone CS standards for implementation by 2022.
Computer Science Standards Review Committee Members sit classroom style in a conference room reviewing outlines of the draft standards, which are projected onto large screens as the WDE Standards and Assessment Director, Laurie Hernandez, leads them through a facilitated discussion.

Memos to be released:


Reviewing Accountability Reports

Dear Superintendents,

Embargoed accountability/school performance reports have been released. Thank you for reviewing, and having principals in your district review, your confidential reports. Thanks to you we’ve been able to make improvements to the report and have gotten great feedback on accountability in general.

It was so exciting to present the new Wyoming Teacher of the Year award to Valerie Bruce from Rozet Elementary School in Campbell County. Mrs. Bruce will represent our state for one year. She will take a deep dive into education policy at the national level, work with other state teachers of the year, and advocate for education.

Mrs. Bruce stands with faculty and students from her school behind a banner that reads, "2019 Wyoming Teacher of the Year, Valerie Bruce."
Mrs. Bruce and a few hundred of her fans planned a surprise assembly for her.
Valerie Bruce and Sara Reed pose next to each other outside Valerie's school with the Wyoming prairie in the background.
2018 & 2019 Wyoming Teachers of the Year–Valerie Bruce (L) and Sara Reed (R)

Memos to be released on Monday, October 22: