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.
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.
The WDE continues to welcome new educators and subject matter experts into key positions—our team grows stronger every day! First, Shelley Hamel joins us as the new Director of School Support. She previously served as the Special Education Director in Douglas—her leadership is a mainstay in Wyoming education and we are fortunate to have her lead work in CTE, federal programs, and more. Next, Laurie Hernandez was appointed as the Interim Director of Standards and Assessment. She successfully led the science standards committee work –she’s the right person to lead staff and stakeholders through this transition. Mike Flicek, who works with WDE on a number of data and assessment projects, will temporarily fill the role of assessment administrator. We intend to conduct a national search for a new assessment administrator. Meanwhile, Laurie and Mike will oversee the RFP and statewide assessment procurement work.
Upcoming ESSA Roundtable
We are nearly finished planning the ESSA roundtable with the United States Department of Education. As you’ll recall, the USDOE selected Wyoming as one of seven states to seek feedback from during a “listening session.” Here is a tentative agenda for the event. It will be held October 26 at Casper College. Please plan to attend and invite others to join you. This is a unique opportunity for Wyoming’s education voice to be heard.
Rural Education Forum
This week I attended a convening for rural education. Chiefs from rural states met in Ohio to discuss ESSA implementation, Native American education, equity in rural states, teachers as leaders, and more. I am enthused about the direction we are headed as a nation and grateful to have strong State Chiefs in rural states. The next president of CCSSO is South Dakota’s Melody Schopp and I expect to see rural education leaders continue to have a distinct voice at the table.
WeTip to Safe2Tell
Below is a memo for Wyoming Safe-2-Tell. This program REPLACES the WeTip program. Please advise building principals and/or school safety coordinators to remove WeTip posters and information. The Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General’s Office, the Wyoming Legislature, and the WDE have worked for quite some time to put this program in place and we are all anxious to roll it out.
Teachers Hunt and More
Finally, last week was the 4th Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. It was an honor to co-chair the event with Chief Justice Marilyn Kite. The event is also a fundraiser for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation which lends its support to self-sufficiency among women by providing resources, scholarships, and information. 37 of 45 hunters filled their tags. I gave lots of shout outs to the teachers who hunted, guided, and/or volunteered. It was very neat to have educators at the event!
It’s with a heavy heart that we see communities in Campbell County hit hard by changes in the coal and oil industry. Here are links to comments from Senator Enzi and an article that includes comments from Governor Mead’s press conference yesterday.
There are few, if any, words of optimism in light of this devastating news–our hearts break for the families and communities affected. I reaffirm my commitment to Wyoming education and stand strong in the belief that these times must strengthen, not weaken, our commitment to students. Education is the key to economic diversity, innovation, and our future. Every district is having difficult conversations about cuts right now–don’t forget to celebrate and build on all of the good things that are happening in the schools and in our state.
April is Financial Literacy month! On Tuesday, the first ever AmeriTowne-WyoTowne was opened with 5th grader and mayor, Camden Jackson, cutting the ribbon. This is a hands-on opportunity for students to run a town for a day. Wyoming is the second state to build an AmeriTowne, Colorado has several. 5th graders in Casper will begin running the town in a couple of weeks. The vision of the Daniels Fund, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, Natrona County School District, and other partners is to see WyoTowne be available for many, many more students across the state. Here is an article about the grand opening and a link to more information about AmeriTowne.
The Chapter 31 rules were unanimously approved for promulgation by the State Board yesterday. The rules are the result of a year+ collaboration with school districts. Thank you for your work in helping us hit the mark on graduation requirements that help ensure comparability, excellence, and local flexibility.
Also, a team from WDE will travel to Washington, DC next week to work on ESSA implementation. I will spend a full day working as part of an ESSA work group with other state chiefs. I am also participating on a national panel to discuss Title II priorities. Thank you to the multiple school leaders who provided feedback to me this week as I prepared for the panel. We are anxious to share additional information and resources with you in the coming weeks.