GCSD votes new board leadership roles

Andrew Towne/Torrington Telegram

GCSD plans to tackle tough topics in 2023

GOSHEN COUNTY – At its first regularly scheduled meeting since swearing in new board members in early December, Goshen County School District board members voted on its new board leadership for the 2023 year as well as discussed how it plans to tackle tough topics in 2023.

Board members voted Michael Sussex as board chairman; Sarah Chaires as board vice chair; Chris Alexander as board clerk; and Bob Peterson as board treasurer.

All board members were present at the December board meeting: Sussex, Chaires, Alexander, Peterson, Carlos Saucedo, Matthew Cushman, Dylan Hager, Justin Hurley and Wade Phipps.

The board also determined board assignments for various board committees for 2023.

Those committee assignments within GCSD and to represent GCSD include:

• WSBA (Wyoming School Board Association) Advocacy Liaisons: Chaires and Sussex

• WSBA Board Delegate and Alternative: Saucedo and Cushman as the alternative

• Northeast Wyoming BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) board representative and alternative: Hurley and Hagar as the alternative

• Eastern Wyoming BOCES board representative and alternative: Hurley and Sussex as the alternative

• Salary Relations Committee: Peterson, Chaires and Saucedo

• Board Building Committee Representatives: Sussex, Hager and Saucedo

• District Activity Advisory Council (DAAC): Hagar and Alexander

• District Calendar Committee: Cushman and Hurley

• District Wellness Committee: Alexander and Phipps

• District Policy Committee: Peterson, Sussex and Saucedo

Board members heard from the three student representatives for the last time this school year as new student representatives will be selected and attend future board meetings.

Southeast Schools (SS) Student Board Member Alex McIntyre, Lingle-Fort Laramie (LFL) High School Student Board Member Kamryn Rafferty and Torrington High School (THS) Student Board Member Klacie Groene were asked to discuss an article presented to them titled, “Containing Cell Phone Harm” from a school administrator publication.

The question the student representatives were asked to answer was: “How have you handled having a cell phone at school? What are your thoughts in general?”

McIntyre explained to board members and Goshen County School District Superintendent Ryan Kramer he saw the benefit of limiting cell phone use in the classroom and on campus, but stated he and other students have become dependent on mobile devices for educational purposes.

“Cell phone use at Southeast is really interesting because some teachers allow you to have your cell phones in class, some make you put them up in a little holder they have in class,” McIntyre said. “I’ve seen students play on them (cell phones) in between classes and during lunch time, but I’ve also started to notice this year a lot, students are playing them in class while instruction is happening.”

McIntyre referenced a video he saw of cell phone usage and social media usage among tweens, teens and young adults in how these devices and platforms use the individuals data and information to influence their mentalities, behaviors, beliefs and opinions in addition to their overall characteristics. He further explained the article the district presented to them helped solidify what he had already thought regarding cell phone usage at school among tweens, teens and young adults.

Because of the profound influence social media and elections has on tweens, teens and young adults, McIntyre told board members it would be beneficial for the district to reconsider its district policy in part.

“If there really was an opportunity – I think, all phones should be turned into the office so the students could be focused more on learning,” McIntyre explained.

He acknowledged there are exceptions to this for safety reasons, such as students working in the agriculture or wood shops at school as well as a few other instances where it might be prudent for students to have access to their cell phones.

Other than a few exceptions, McIntyre said, “there really isn’t a need for students to have a cell phone in the classroom.”

However, McIntyre felt students should be better educated on being good stewards of their time and electronic devices while engaged in the school day instead of banning all mobile devices.

Groene echoed much of what McIntyre stated to board members, but added, “It’s easier to pull out our phones and look to see if we are missing an assignment or if we need to fulfill a requirement than waiting for laptops to load up, which makes us log in, when the app on our phones stays logged in,” Groene told the board.

Groene further explained she saw some to limit and/or modify the existing district policy regarding student mobile devices because some students are distracted by cell phone usage on campus during the school day.

Like her cohorts, Rafferty explained to board members cell phones can be a distraction at school, but not always. She also agreed the district should consider some modifications to the current policy, but not take mobile devices away entirely.

After explaining the district's current student mobile device policies to attendees and board members, Kramer thanked the three for their service to the board by saying, “These guys are pretty sharp – I’ve greatly appreciated working with this crew, they are three very confident, very well spoken individuals and I appreciate their time and commitment.”

The board then heard from Vice Chairman Chaires regarding her recent attendance at the WSBA Annual Conference.

Chaires explained the conference discussed many important and significant previous, current and future board agenda items but that the main topic of discussion centered around better communication as a board member to both the district and community as well as within the board among other board members. She encouraged other board members to join in the next meeting if they had time to do so.

Only one community member, US Military Veteran Frank Ahekrn, spoke during the public comment time during the board meeting.

Ahekrn told board members how much he appreciated the display of love, affection and dedication Trail Elementary in Torrington gave to veterans for Veterans Day in November.

“I am just – so touched by this generosity of the district and the students at Trail Elementary,” Ahekrn told board members. “This was a very well put together and nice program they had for us old vets.”

Ahekrn expressed his gratitude toward the district for remembering veterans and honoring veterans this year for Veterans Day and added with misty eyes, “Thank you, so much thank you for your amazing students and staff. This really means a lot to us.”

The board approved its 11 item consent agenda, minus the one consent agenda item board member Saucedo requested to vote on separately to avoid a conflict of interest regarding approving an amendment for services of a student at St. Joseph’s Children’s Home as he works at the facility.

The consent agenda included several items of recommended actions, including approving the additional 2022-2023 school year Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) Chapter 20 transportation safety expectations as presented. This policy regulates which students qualify for school transportation based on distance from the school and specialized education needs.
The consent agenda also approved a number of grants and other contracts relating to special education, services, programs and softwares.

In the consent agenda, board members approved an exception to district policy 5147 regarding field trips, which allows Lingle Fort Laramie Middle School sixth graders to travel to Rocky Mountain National Park in late May as it exceeds the district's allowable travel time and overnight travel policy.

From the boards old business, an item the board tabled in a previous meeting due to not having the final dollar amounts, the board unanimously voted to approve the purchase of 270 student laptops and 70 staff laptops from Microsoft Store for the total amount of $365,238.98, of which $140,238.98 will be funded from the ESSER II funds and $225,000 from the general fund technology budget.

On last reading, the district passed its final revised updated and consolidated policy regarding parental leave for new parents; eliminating the new for two separate policies for mothers and fathers, into one policy which simply now states ‘parent’.

Goshen County School District Business Manager Marcy Cates presented the final district audit which was done by an outside agency from Cheyenne. The agency presented its findings to board members in which it stated it could not find any financial discrepancies in the district's finances and budgets.

The board voted to approve the district financial audit unanimously.

Board members also unanimously voted to approve a contract with Baker and Associates Inc. for engineering design and construction services for a proposed waterline improvement at Southeast Schools since the Town of Yoder finalized its new water tower construction for a total of $28,800 out of the major maintenance fund. Yoder's new water tower was covered in an earlier Telegram story earlier this fall.

The board also unanimously approved the purchase of a replacement Resilite wrestling mat for THS totaling $15,276.24, of which $2,500 came from a donation and the rest of the $12,776.24 will come from the district activity fund.

Board members approved the purchase of mini robot equipment and software from Sphero totaling $32,291.69, which is being funded in full from the Wyoming Trust Fund for Innovative Education grant.

In a follow up conversation with Superintendent Kramer regarding this agenda item approval as it relates to the recent WDE and Wyoming State Board of Education decision to audit Wyoming Standards, he said the grantors and GCSD ensured this particular computer science standard was not one of the ones the state is currently looking at subsidizing, modifying, changing, or removing at this time and felt comfortable in moving forward with the purchase.

As reported in an earlier Telegram story at the start of December, WDE and SBE are currently in a multi-year process of auditing the states standards, of which, the current standards being audited include computer sciences.

Only one board member, Peterson, voted against approving the program, despite it being fully funded by a state grant, because his concerns include the standard becoming obsolete in a later process of the standards audit, which would mean the purchase would have been for nothing and didn’t see how students would continue using the robots and software moving forward. Peterson felt the board should have waited until they knew for certain what the new computer science standards would look like.

Additionally, Peterson reiterated his campaign promise to bring in programs that better enabled students in the workforce upon graduation, such as certain Career Technical Education (CTE) programs and other programs more focused on trades and agriculture needs for students as the reason why he voted against the purchase of the robotics program.

Seven of the nine board members approved a hiring incentive for a new THS Principal of $15,000 to be paid in payments of $5,000 during a three year period.

Board members Peterson and Phipps contended this incentive program might draw in better candidates for the position than what the district is getting as mentioned by Kramer, however, they felt it would only bring in a qualified candidate for the span of three years before the candidate would choose to move elsewhere to a higher paying position.

“What happens after the end of the three years?” Peterson questioned. Adding, “Or what happens if the candidate decides after one or two years to leave and we’ve already paid that annual incentive?”

Kramer responded by saying as unfortunate as those outcomes could be, the candidate the district ultimately chooses would be paid the $5,000 for each year of successful completion.

The recruitment for this position ended on November 21, but did not yield a successful candidate according to Kramer. So, the district agreed to extend the deadline for applications into 2023 with the hopes of the board passing a resolution to include a hiring incentive for a better qualified candidate.

After months of discussion at board meetings and committee meetings, the board unanimously voted to set two public input meetings in January and February 2023 regarding the proposal of an alternative school calendar for the 2023-2024 school year. Those dates will be determined at the next board meeting, however, board member Alexander asked Kramer to ensure these meetings did not overlap school activities, sports activities, holidays or any other major community event so that students, parents, teachers and community members interested in attending or speaking at these meetings could be present without worry. Kramer said it would be a priority to make this accommodation.

Lastly, the board unanimously approved to hire a School Resource Officer (SRO) for Southeast Schools and LaGrange Elementary through a partnership with Torrington Police Department (TPD) due to the success of having two SRO’s in GCSD schools inside Torrington city limits.

The resolution approved includes employing an SRO at the district's expense for $32.61 per hour for a minimum of 20 hours a week with mileage reimbursement if needed. The resolution also included the purchase of a Axon body camera for the new SRO for the amount of $2,700 to be purchased from the General Fund.

In a follow up conversation with Kramer, he told the Telegram it is his hope to have an SRO employed either part time or full time at each GCSD via partnerships with local law enforcement agencies but appreciates TPD stepping up to provide an SRO for LaGrange and Yoder.

Kramer expressed how well the SRO program is going in Torrington schools and wishes to have the program extended even further for all the district's students.

Recently, through a grant, TPD was able to hire a second SRO to help cover the elementary schools so the original SRO could focus on the middle and high school.

During the board members discussion time, Peterson requested the district dissolve its use of standards-based grading at the next board meeting by having it put on the agenda. Peterson also requested at that meeting the district also add a resolution agenda item to switch back to the traditional Percentage Carnegie grading system.

Incoming board members expressed a desire to have a physical copy of current district policies to be able to inspect as the district continues to move toward consolidating its policies.

Superintendent Kramer discussed many topics, including current 2022-2023 enrollment numbers, lunch balances, central office update, and upcoming proposed board agenda topics in the 2023 year. A detailed Telegram story of the superintendent’s report will run in a future Telegram edition.

However, in his report, Kramer stated the district intends to take a closer look at previously reported community input items from roundtable discussions earlier this summer, like the potential to opt-in to Wyoming’s state law that allows teachers and administrators to concealed carry with the proper permitting and training. More about this in a future story.

The next GCSD board meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at 7 p.m. in the central administration building.

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