SHERIDAN — People are more interested than ever about what’s happening inside Wyoming schools.
“People have taken a higher level of interest as they have seen more directly what their students are doing, and that is good,” said John Masters, who serves as the Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) Advisory Group chairman.
RIDE was announced in May 2021 and was tasked with studying and developing recommendations for elevating Wyoming’s primary and secondary education system into a “position of national leadership,” with membership including independent volunteers with an interest in Wyoming’s education system.
“If you were to ask me, I would say we have a very complicated system and we hear from lobbyists who represent administrators or principals or vendors or testing companies or book sellers,” Masters said.
“But we don’t often hear from the parents and the students in the process. Since they are the consumers, they are the people we really need to hear from.”
To hear from that group, RIDE conducted an online public survey earlier this year, which generated more than 7,000 responses. A final report on the results of the survey is scheduled for release this month, according to the governor’s office.
RIDE will host a series of community listening sessions across the state to take input from parents and stakeholders on the state’s educational system and to discuss the survey. The moderated listening sessions will also give stakeholders an additional opportunity to provide input on key topics identified within the results of the survey.
“My advisory group looks forward to hearing firsthand from parents and community members, and getting their thoughts about how we can better prepare our students to be competitive in a changing world,” Gordon said in a May 13 press release.
According to Michael Pearlman, communications director for Gordon, behind-the-scenes work has included meetings between RIDE and stakeholders including the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Education regarding suggested improvements to public education in Wyoming.
Key to that effort, according to the governor, is learning more about what families, communities and businesses expect from the state’s educational system.
Masters said there are around 93,000-95,000 school-aged students in the state of Wyoming, or more, if private school and home-school students are included.
“That’s a small number comparatively. There are a lot of school districts in the country that are larger than our entire state system,” Masters said. “The governor believes that we ought to be pretty nimble. I share that belief. We ought to be able to make changes and try things that would be difficult for a larger area.”
Masters said that Wyoming still uses a sort of industrial-style education model, where the goal is that every student will graduate at a certain level of proficiency, with all students looking similar when they come out of high school with the same set of skills.
That model does not allow much room for individuality, he said.
“The State Board of Education has been looking at what they call the Profile of a Graduate, and the idea (instead) is to capitalize on the unique qualities an individual student possesses,” Masters said. “That is a little different of a philosophy than what we have had … I don’t know if we will get there, but maybe this is a way to approach that.”
This week, the State Board of Education also announced a second round of its public input process on Profile of a Graduate project, which seeks to create a collective vision and commitment for the state regarding the knowledge, skills and mindsets a graduate should possess to be prepared for life after high school.
“The purpose of the project is to take a step back and gather the wisdom and perspectives of all stakeholders in determining what an ideal K-12 system should produce in terms of a Wyoming graduate,” said SBE Chair Ryan Fuhrman this week. “We, as the state board, want to make sure that our work and decisions align with the ideals of our state.” Once completed, the profile will provide the necessary guidance for the SBE to identify and develop state graduation standards.”
For its part, Masters said RIDE was pleased with the large response to its spring survey. More than 7,000 respondents, categorized into demographic groups from school district employees to educators to parents and others, described how they feel the state is preparing its students for the future, answering open-ended questions about where the state could do better.
Once all responses are categorized, Masters said RIDE will present its findings to the governor and Legislature, which will likely have to have one to two years of committee hearings on any proposals before taking action.
“Then they would have to write legislation to implement it, and it would have to pass. The process will probably take a few years,” Masters said. “But I think we will probably end up recommending some sort of options for districts, so that schools can become experimentation sites. That way they can choose to adopt, or not to adopt, recommendations from our report. Some districts will find things helpful, and some will find things not helpful, but we want to create stability within the system.
“The hope is to create something that will benefit kids for years to come,” Masters said.