Degenfelder outlines vision for education in Wyoming

By Jasmine Hall Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 5/24/23

CHEYENNE — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder released a strategic plan Thursday that will guide the Wyoming Department of Education for the next four years. It places an emphasis on parental empowerment, job preparation and developing citizenship for students.

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Degenfelder outlines vision for education in Wyoming


CHEYENNE — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder released a strategic plan Thursday that will guide the Wyoming Department of Education for the next four years.  It places an emphasis on parental empowerment, job preparation and developing citizenship for students.

Her goals outlined in the plan largely reflect promises she made to voters during election season, and she said she hopes to deliver in her first term.

“I’m not interested in another report that sits on the shelf,” she said in her announcement. “This strategic plan is a place of action. I meant what I said on the campaign trail, and we will deliver on these ambitious goals. Our education system should be reflective of Wyoming people and the Wyoming economy. It is critical that we include the voices of parents, business and education leaders in achieving these goals.”

Creating a new map for the state agency is among the first milestones for Degenfelder since she was sworn into office at the start of January.

She defeated former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder in the Republican primary last August, secured the seat against Democratic contender Sergio Maldonado in November and quickly moved on to undertaking the Wyoming Legislature’s general session in her first month of office.

She told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle she focused her advocacy on three main areas during the legislative session: school choice, protecting women’s sports and upholding parental rights.

“We saw some great successes in that arena, particularly around public charter schools. So very excited,” she said in reference to Senate File 174. “That was groundbreaking legislation that truly creates a framework and authorizer in the state of Wyoming so that we can expand charter schools in the state.”

Another success she cited was her efforts to get out of the superintendent’s office, communicate with residents and spend time in classrooms. She said she wants to see the great things happening in schools across the state with educators and discover areas where they can support them at the state level.

Connecting with stakeholders will continue to be a high priority for Degenfelder, she said, as she pushes the education department to develop parent- and student-level cabinets to the state superintendent of public instruction. It is a goal outlined in the parental empowerment and eliminating political bias portion of her strategic plan.

Parental empowerment

Each cabinet’s members will be selected by Degenfelder and her team and will be responsible for an initiative area, such as valuing and supporting teachers.They will work with the department to address specific goals, and progress will be tracked on varying timelines.

“Engaging in the voices of Wyoming people and following through with this plan is really important to me,” she said. “And I think that’s how we create maximum success.”

But this is only one of many steps under parental empowerment in the strategic plan. Other reforms include establishing guidelines or model policy for parental access to student health records, creating policy for library books to ensure age-appropriate access, as well as expanding student choice for families, both within and outside of the traditional public system.

Degenfelder directly addresses teaching content with the goal to “develop a public commitment to ensuring divisive and inappropriate concepts like critical race theory are not being taught.”

“First and foremost, our students deserve a well-rounded, factual education that’s free from any political agendas or bias,” she said. “If we have political bias in the classroom, our entire American education system fails. So, it’s really important for me to make sure that we’re providing that kind of education in Wyoming and really coming together as a state in order to do so.”

She said transparency is the best solution, whether that be with curriculums or open dialogue between community members and the education system.

Preparing students for jobs and citizenship

Two other initiative areas are preparing students for post-graduation life through career and technical education (CTE) and a focus on citizenship skills.

When it comes to CTE goals, the strategic plan sets goals for an increase in workforce credentials and work based learning opportunities, implementing student success plans, improving professional development for school counselors and updating the state Perkins Plan to reduce administrative burden on districts in order to most efficiently distribute CTE funds.

There are broader hopes, such as researching and pursuing assessment of students’ soft skills or piloting competency- based learning.

Degenfelder said she looks at job preparation from a private- sector background and can see the workforce needs and how to be more responsive.

“It looks a lot different than anything we’ve ever done in education,” she said. “And so, that means our students have that more problem-based learning.They can work in an internship and not only be gaining experience, but also working toward their diploma. They have more competency based education so they can move at their own pace.

“Those kinds of really innovative concepts in how we educate our kids – that changes how we’ve ever done it before.”

Degenfelder also said she wants to enhance civics education and engagement, financial literacy, as well as “improve free speech efforts across the educational pipeline, partnering with the University of Wyoming and Wyoming community colleges.”

A point was made to establish a statewide mental health framework, as well.

She said residents live in the greatest country in the world, and she is passionate about ensuring students understand the founding principles of the U.S. and have the ability to engage civically in democracy. Financial literacy is also another foundation of success, and she believes adults need to have the skills to manage their lives after they walk across the stage with their diploma.

“At the end of the day, the number one goal is preparing kids to have good, high-paying jobs and to be good American citizens. That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “All the other noise, it doesn’t matter.”

Valuing and supporting teachers

An entire initiative is based on valuing and supporting educators, which includes a recruitment and retention task force, launching a statewide Tour of Excellence highlighting work in the classroom, creating a teacher cabinet, and prioritizing and reducing state content and performance standards. It also spans school safety, student discipline reform and the impact of nutrition programs on student behavior.

Degenfelder said initiatives for parental empowerment and backing educators can coexist and work in tandem. She said one does not take away from the other, and anyone who argues differently isn’t interested in collaboration, innovation or moving forward.

She said her role is to bridge the gap between the education community and the external community, because it is a task involving all stakeholders.

“They’re all very important,” she said. “At the end of the day, when we’re talking about minor students, parents are the number one decision maker.They should be. Those are their children. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a great relationship and come together.”

The final two initiatives in the strategic plan are reducing bureaucracy and creating efficiencies, as well as improving outcomes through early literacy.These have fewer steps outlined by the education department, but they are broader and deal with regulatory reform or rewriting the literacy framework for the state.

In the end, Degenfelder will have to work with every branch of state government to ensure the vision she has for Wyoming public education comes to fruition. She said she is open to collaboration, because the beauty of democracy is having checks and balances, especially in education.

“We’ll have to work with the Legislature to see some of these through, whether it’s statutory changes, police recommendations, funding recommendations,” she said. “It’ll all look a little bit different for each goal, but I’m committed to working with the Legislature through this process. I’m very excited to continue to collaborate, just like how we did in the last legislative session.”

This story was published on May 20, 2023.