LUSK – The Niobrara County School District (NCSD) Board convened for their regular monthly meeting on Monday evening, Jan. 11, at the Niobrara County School District office. Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) Head of School Joe Heywood reported student engagement for WYVA at 1,122 students, with an additional 80 in the portal to be approved for acceptance into the program.
“We’ll probably finish up January with, I would assume, right around 1,200 kids,” Heywood said. “About double from last year.”
Heywood said he had been tasked with establishing clubs for WYVA, in addition to the established curriculum. These extracurricular clubs, totaling 28 programs, included a book club, yarn club, music club, drama club, horse and ranch club, student council, yearbook and newsletter club and several more.
Heywood told the board these clubs were established after learning the number one reason for withdrawal from WYVA was due to lack of social engagement. Heywood hopes these clubs will help to bridge this issue created by online learning.
These clubs have registered a total overall engagement from 4,242 students as of the school board’s meeting. Heywood hopes these clubs will remain in effect after more students return to school and attend in-person classes.
K-8 Principal Lucinda Kasper told the trustees the school had hosted its first afterschool program, which was funded by a 21st Century Grant. The grant paid the school $95,000 to host the program.
The program currently has 27 kids signed up to attend, but the grant was budgeted for 40. Kasper said the program would be open to WYVA students as well as students attending in-person classes. She expects to see an increase in enrollment as some WYVA students begin to come back to in-person classes.
WYVA Special Education (SPED) Director/NCSD Principal and Homeless Liaison Robyn Heth reported high school enrollment was up to 90 students. The school had also completed a drill using the newly-acquired Navigate360, a program designed to manage emergencies at the school using mobile technology.
Business Manager Stuart Larson reported financial numbers were ahead for the year, despite the addition of 30 new staff members acquired by the school district to run the WYVA program. Larson credited some of the financial status being due to a $450,000 payment received from Stride, Incorporated, the company which developed WYVA’s operational software.
Superintendent George Mirich discussed changing the building configurations within the NCSD. Mirich wishes to change the Lusk Elementary and Middle School to provide for Kindergarten through sixth grade and the Lusk High School to provide for seventh through 12th grade. Mirich told the board there would be cost savings involved if they were to do this now.
Mirich said the move would enhance the flow of day-to-day operations if the district were to consolidate some of their classes. He also told the board there would be some challenges to overcome, such as supervision, scheduling and the physical layout of the buildings.
Trustee Sheila Boldon expressed concern with the proposition as she fears having students who are 11-12 years old in the same building as 18-year-olds could provide for issues with the disparagement in the maturity level of the students.
Mirich responded to Boldon’s concerns, saying the situation could be remedied by the creation of differing schedules and the physical placement of students on different floors during the school day.
Mirich also brought up concerns about funding for the district. He said the state foundation had reported more cuts coming down the line. According to Mirich, the legislature’s boards of appropriations and calibrations had discussed a $100 million cut out of what is currently paid to state education establishments.
Mirich added there had not been much discussion on how the state intends to increase revenues or find ways to replace the lost revenues.
“This is going to have a negative impact on education in Wyoming, and this is going to have a negative impact on the economy,” Mirich said.
Action items for the night included the approval of adopting the 2021 board calendar and adding a new WYVA instructor to the NCSD staff.
Lastly, the board adjourned into an executive session to discuss personnel and student matters.