A $5 million grant is the start of an education renaissance that could lead to better teachers in Wyoming classrooms. However, it is only the start of a very long road.
“In July 2014, we had a summer retreat, I was the new president of the (University of Wyoming) Board of Trustees, and I advised the leadership of the Legislature to come talk to the trustees about whatever was on their mind about the university,” Trustee President Dave Palmerlee said. “One of the things that came up during the meeting was a desire to improve the quality of the teachers being trained at the College of Education.”
After months of buildup and planning, the trustees accepted a $5 million grant through the next five years from the Daniels Fund to jump-start the Trustee Education Initiative.
“The Daniels Fund is only the initial funding of the (decade-long) initiative,” Education Dean Ray Reutzel said. “Its cost, overall, will be about $15 million.”
However, the last three years each require a match of $2 million from the university.
Reutzel is already considering grants, private fundraising and possible legislative help, but that worry is still a ways out.
The initiative is meant to raise the college above its already good credentials to new heights, Palmerlee said.
“What we expect to see is a dramatic change, over time, in the teacher preparation, or professional educator preparation, practices — in other words, what the students at the college are being taught about how to be effective teachers and administrators,” he said.
The creation of a Trustees Education Initiative Board this month includes several trustees and other representatives of interested parties.
A strategic planning committee consisting of teachers, superintendents, Department of Education officials and State Board of Education members will soon be created.
“We are also launching a search for an executive director for the initiative,” Reutzel said. “It is moving forward on a compressed timeline — we hope to find someone by early summer.”
The search is funded by the $5 million grant, not university money.
After the structures are in place, subcommittees for individual programs will be created, such as one focused on special education.
“These impact groups of 4-7 subcommittee members, assisted by an employed researcher, will identify top, recognized programs in their field in the country, travel to them and learn their best practices, come back and write up a final report and recommendation,” Reutzel said.
Only the top evidence-based practices will be used — a method that one teacher anecdotally says works won’t likely be implemented.
“(The subcommittees) will identify our strengths and weaknesses — what do we have in place that’s working, and what does the faculty desire to have in place,” Reutzel said.
After a year or more of traveling to different institutions around the nation, implementation at UW will begin.
“Over the next 10 years, we’re hoping to eventually have a new program a year,” Reutzel said. “We’re developing 1-2 niche programs that should give us a distinction, nationally, from other institutions.”
Of course, the initiative isn’t just interested in new programs.
The mainstay programs, like elementary or secondary education, will come under review and receive major overhauls in teaching methods and strategies, Reutzel said.
Staring at a book for hours on end might not be the best way to teach. After graduation, students can pass on their new teaching abilities to K-12 students.
Townhall meetings throughout the state will allow teachers and community members to share feedback on any program changes.
A request to begin looking into a new College of Education building could be presented to the Legislature five or six years down the road.
“We’ll have incredibly high-tech programs, but the Education Building is 70 years old,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s an obstruction to what we’re trying to do.”
First, the initiative has to show progress.
“We won’t ask until we have first-class programs,” Reutzel said. “Then, we’ll need a first-class facility.”