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State gives formal OK on Fort Washakie unification

May 10, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Fremont County School District 21's unification request got its final stamp of approval Monday after the Wyoming State Board of Education voted to accept the order of approval for the district's application.

"The state committee finds that the proposal adequately provides for educational opportunity equally in all areas of the district," states the board's order of approval.

The decision was unanimous among the seven state school board members who participated in the special meeting via teleconference.

Chelsie Bailey, executive assistant to the state board, said Monday's action was approving the official document. On April 27, the board approved the application, but it needed to have a formal order in place.

"The state committee finds that granting the proposal provides an improved educational opportunity for students," the order of approval reads.

"Aside from the obvious benefit of relieving some students of travel obligations, the students will benefit from being able to maintain their student community through grade 12."

In its order, the state board noted that Fort Washakie met the two requirements for unification, which is to have 100 electors petition the Fremont County Boundary Board and to have an enrollment greater than 500 students. Once those two requirements were met, the county boundary board made a recommendation to the State Board of Education for final approval.

"The state committee finds that granting the proposal is an appropriate allowance for local conditions and special needs," the order states.

The committee said that granting the proposal was "an appropriate decision of local residents and representatives of Fremont County."

"In particular, the state committee acknowledges that when students attend schools outside the district, their parents and other members of their community do not have the ability to participate in governing their schools through the election of trustees," it says.

Also, granting the application will permit the Fort Washakie community to exercise control over the education of their secondary students.

Currently, students who graduate eighth grade at Fort Washakie School have the option to attend Fort Washakie Charter High School or other nearby districts, including Lander, Wind River and Wyoming Indian.

"This charter school provides limited education opportunities to students residing within the district," the state board's order states.

Fort Washakie superintendent Richard McClements agreed.

"After the eighth grade, you get scattered in all directions. It's a tragedy that kids go off to four or five schools rather than going to their own high school. Now they will have their high school," he said. "It's been a long time coming, and it means an awful lot."

Next step

Unification is effective July 1, and in the meantime, McClements said the district will have a series of meetings with the charter high school board to figure out how to disband the school.

"The assumption is the charter school will end on July 1 as unification begins," he said.

There will also be building use analyses conducted on the K-8 school to look at space that could be used for high school students.

"Right now, the high school is limited to how many students it can provide education to. It's about 70 students," McClements said. "We will try to find space for them."

Principal Shad Hamilton said there are 60 students enrolled at Fort Washakie Charter High School, but the school has seen 78 students so far this year.

Fort Washakie is slated for a new K-8 school facility, which will be built in front of the current building. Fort Washakie Charter High School uses parts of the K-8 building as well as some modular classrooms assembled behind the gymnasium.

McClements said the district was granted another roughly 20,000 square feet for the high school, but he's unsure how it will be used.

"The high school will most likely be a separate building," he said.

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