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When there's good news, say it

Sep 16, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

No one wants to hear good news.

While that's a generality on its best day, it seems that bad news always spreads quicker than something positive.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill has taken more than her fair share of shots from media outlets in the eastern region of the state and from a handful of self-appointed "experts" in the Wyoming Legislature.

A little over a year ago I was poring over the 2011 PAWS results for students at School District 38 in Arapahoe. I had analyzed the data from previous years many times during my two years at the district. That's not the type of thing a technology director usual does, but I had an interest in the success of these kids.

After getting to know the students for the previous couple of years it was glaringly obvious that the incredibly poor test results didn't reflect the potential of the vibrant children I spoke with each day in the hall.

Perhaps it was my competitive nature, but I couldn't stand to see these children judged as somehow inferior on yet another standardized test.

In the haste of the moment I called Superintendent Hill and asked her what we could do.

It was what one of her staffers later called a "perfect storm." All the elements fell into place within 72 hours to create a unique learning experience for these children.

My phone call arrived while Superintendent Hill was in a meeting with staff that included her deputy Sheryl Lain. They were discussing a project called WYR (Wyoming Reads) and were looking for a school to unveil the program at.

As they say in the military, I was in way above my pay grade, without the local superintendent's approval or without the knowledge of the local board. I called on a Friday, and an entourage of WDE staffers, including the state superintendent arrived on Tuesday at Hunt Field in Lander, then drove to Arapahoe for a meeting.

A plan was quickly set in place, 10 tutors were trained and hired, and the children of Arapahoe were the beneficiaries of a great experiment.

Incidentally only the two directors, Joan Brummond and Dr. Jane Brutsman, were certified teachers. The other eight were just motivated young people with an interest in children.

The essence of the plan was to work with students in a one-on-one setting with a trained tutor. The children read books that interested them. The tutors worked at improving comprehension and vocabulary.

Amazingly, the program worked.

In addition another program called 3+8 was used in training the existing staff at the school in alternative methods of teaching.

Subsequent PAWS results indicated growth rates in reading ranging from six months to a full four years in students taught through WYR.

Parents reported their children reading at home and teachers in grades that weren't targeted by WYR witnessed the collateral effect of the program in their own students as the reading ability of older brothers and sisters improved in the program and trickled down to younger siblings.

A group of people, none of whom works at the school anymore, formulated a plan with a WDE sponsored School Improvement Grant to fund the program for the three years it would take to get every child in the district the chance at improving their reading ability. Sadly, it didn't happen. The funds were redirected primarily for administrative purposes and WYR was not asked back to the school.

PAWS results are open to the public on the Wyoming Department of Education website and anyone can view the results dating back to the test's inception. Arapahoe's third grade scored 34 percent proficient in reading this year.

Not an impressive number until you compare it to the 18 percent from a year ago. That same group of children scoring 18 percent in 2011 jumped a full 40 points on the test from third to fourth grade.

Arapahoe's fourth and fifth grade teachers are among the best in the state and children always improve under their tutelage but last year the results were amazing.

While the present administration has decided to not follow up on this program the results remain extraordinary.

Perhaps its time for those in the Wyoming legislature who have dedicated their elected positions to the "blame and shame game" towards public education to acknowledge success as well.

State Sens. Hank Coe of Cody, Phil Nicholas of Laramie and Rep. Steve Harshman of Casper get a lot of press slamming the teachers of the state. OK, boys, how about a positive statement when something works?

I heard Coe recently as he campaigned on a radio talk show. Coe commented on how proud he was of his heritage in Park County. He went on to complain that if we didn't have to count those people in those schools in Fremont County (indicating the Wind River Indian Reservation) the state average PAWS scores would be much higher.

Guess what, Senator? You claim pride in your heritage but "those people," if you meant the Arapahoe and Shoshone, have a much longer heritage in this state.

That broadcast didn't play well down here, Senator. Perhaps you should think of a solution rather than just laying blame.

The WDE's WYR program was a great success in a school that is constantly reminded of failure. They celebrated that success locally then sent the WYR program on its way. The vapid reasoning escapes me.

The children deserve better.

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