LUSK – The Niobrara County School District Board of Education approved 18 requests for early graduation from the Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) during its second meeting in October on Monday.
The number of students who applied for graduation was much higher than the previous year because of the influx of students who joined the program during the pandemic according to Head of School Joe Heywood.
Trustee Loren Heth said the board used to have students come to the meetings and present their reason for graduating early to the board members.
“I was reading some of them… and I’m wondering is it really warranted to go ahead and grant them an early release,” Heth said. “They might meet the graduation requirements, but is it really to benefit the students?”
Trustee Sheila Bolden said there was no reason for kids to sit in school if they are ready to graduate.
Bolden added her only issue was the way the letters were written which suggested to her the students may not have learned how to properly write a letter. Heywood said the students were instructed to just write a note, but he would tell them to do it again if necessary.
Vice Chairwoman Katie Kruse said WYVA High School Principal Caroline Hickerson would not have allowed the requests to the board if the students were not ready.
“She would not bring anything forward to us that she did not feel prepared to move on, and that was reassuring,” Kruse said.
Chairwoman Lexi Ashurst added the students have been planning an early graduation for aa long time.
“This is not something you can decide September 15th,” Ashurst said. “These kids have been aiming for this for at least two years probably more.”
Heywood agreed and said it is very common for virtual schools to have early graduates because it is one of the drawing factors of the program.
The board approved the 18 requests for early graduation.
In other action items, the board approved six isolation applications and lighting replacement in the Welding Shop and Lusk Elementary and Middle School (LEMS) Storage. The board also accepted resignations from third grade teacher Tiffany Hageland and middle school wrestling coach John Thayer who will still hold his position as a counselor at LEMS.
During the superintendent report, George Mirich updated the board on the district’s Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP) scores since it started in 2018.
Mirich said the data suggests the district has been experiencing some turnover.
“It’s not as consistent as we would like it to say that it’s real reliable data, but the core group of students has remained the same over the four years,” Mirich said.
According to the chart provided by Mirich, students have improved dramatically in language arts but only mildly in mathematics.
The Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) scores also proved to show different results, which is similar to what Heywood presented to the board at the last meeting for WYVA students.
Kruse mentioned the district’s math department has been working hard to fill in the gaps and raise scores.
“I appreciate them working on that,” Kruse said.
Mirich added the grades which started below the state average have had a steady progression to the average.
During board member reports, Trustee Randy Rose asked to initiate a climate survey for district staff since one has not been done in the last four years. Rose said it would be a great way to hear what staff members think of all the changes which have occurred in the last year.
Mirich said there is a strategic planning process which takes place every five years, and the climate survey is embedded in it.
Rose said it should be anonymous to allow staff to be honest, but Trustee Heth said there was a problem last time with teachers being harsh on their bosses.
“For an administrator, there wasn’t a good point that was made,” Heth said.
If the surveys are to be anonymous, Heth said the board needs to figure out a way to give credence to the feedback given.
Rose also told the board he and Thayer are planning to have an hour a day to let a few students who have issues in school to help fix old musical equipment
“[Thayer] has found out through other things that they’ve been doing that they live to take screwdrivers and pliers and fix things,” Rose said. “We’ll try it once and see if it works, and if it works then that will be a way to get some of those boys that need a little motivation something extra.”
In other announcements, Industrial arts teacher Joseph Martinez spoke to the board about the Cutting Edge Grant he received to buy a laser engraver for the shop. Martinez said it will show kids a more modern process for manufacturing. The laser engraver is expected to be ready in three months.
The next school board meeting will be Monday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.