Public schools slammed at SLIB meeting in push for charters

By Jasmine Hall, Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 9/8/22

Wyoming public schools were criticized by charter school advocates at a State Loan and Investment Board meeting Tuesday. 

The SLIB is considering applications from proposed charter schools in …

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Public schools slammed at SLIB meeting in push for charters


Wyoming public schools were criticized by charter school advocates at a State Loan and Investment Board meeting Tuesday. 

The SLIB is considering applications from proposed charter schools in Chugwater, Mills and Cheyenne and heard presentations and public comment for two. 

Applicants for Cheyenne Classical Academy can make their case at the next meeting, on Sept. 14, as the panel weighs which charter schools to approve before the 2023-24 school year. 

Wyoming currently has five charter schools, located in Riverton, Laramie and Cheyenne. Legislation passed in 2021 makes it possible for the board to allow a charter school to become an independent public school within the district where it’s located. Previously, only local school boards had such authority. 

In trying to convince Gov. Mark Gordon, outgoing Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, State Auditor Kristi Racines, State Treasurer Curt Meier and outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder to use their new power, many said charter schools are a necessary alternative. 

The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee co-Chairman Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said he was concerned with low WY-TOPP reading test scores. He said such scores are a matter of school management and community expectations.

Scott is a supporter of Wyoming Classical Academy that would be built in Mills. 

It plans to incorporate the Hillsdale College K-12 classical curriculum, emphasizing financial literacy, character development and civic responsibility. 

Scott said he thinks “having competition for students, which is competition for dollars, the way our funding formula works, will help persuade our districts to pay attention to this key metric and make them realize that they can do better.” 

For students in large, underperforming districts, parents can take them out of public schools. 

Scott said it will take a while for the state to turn around the public education system. 

“I don’t think the problem is the teachers,” he said. “The number of teachers we’ve got, you’re going to have very good ones and a few poor ones in the nature of human institutions. But I think, by and large, it’s a local management problem.” 

Legislators and parents weren’t the only critics of WY-TOPP performance. 

Natrona County School District 1 Trustee Clark Jensen, who has served on that board for eight years, said he is disappointed with how schools are performing compared to state standards. He is a supporter of the Wyoming Classical Academy because he said the public schools aren’t making enough progress. 

“I believe they’ll set the standard. They’ll set the bar in reading and math and science and many other areas,” Jensen said. “One of the things they’re going to do is teach the heritage in a way that’s needed greatly. I’m concerned that many of our students don’t have an understanding of the great nation that they live in.  They apologize for where we’re at and don’t appreciate the Constitution.” 

He said this will not be the case with the charter school. 

He noted he will not be running again for office as a Natrona County school trustee, but he may join the Wyoming Classical Academy’s board. 

Culture Charter school advocates back parental choice, because of what many described as a desire for a different school “culture.” 

In the case of the Chugwater application, proponents said they were receiving a large amount of community support, and they don’t want to convert the public school to a charter. There are only about 30 students attending the school in Chugwater, and its superintendent questioned whether this would shut down the school altogether if “95% of the students verbally committed” to attending the upstart. 

Jerah Nix, founding board member for Prairie View Community School in Chugwater, said allies didn’t want to convert the small public school because of the culture. She said it’s very hard to change it, as well as the model used in public education. 

Her school would implement project-based learning and place-based education. There would be a focus on internships, community service projects, and residents educating students about their experiences. 

It is not associated with the Hillsdale College curriculum.

Charter school advocate Russ Donley seeks to have the environment he’s seen at a Hillsdale College charter school in Golden, Colorado. He said there is a respect for teachers and parents that starts in grade school. 

“It’s a culture of virtue, a culture of goodness,” he said. “The kids are taught you don’t lie, cheat or steal. There are no locks on their lockers – none. You see happy kids.” 

A parent and board member of the Wyoming Classical Academy said her son struggled with reading and writing. 

Sena Selby said by the end of fourth grade, he wasn’t capitalizing letters at the start of his sentences or putting periods at the end. She sees hope in the charter school model, aimed at “exceeding current performance averages, combined with the school culture to inspire children to pursue educational excellence.” 

“The classical model offers a proven successful, teacher-directed curriculum in a culture that supports parents, teachers, students and staff,” she said.