One is a Keith Urban fanatic. Another lost 120 pounds over the past year. A third is a Guinness world record holder.
These are the new educators in Goshen County School District 1 who attended Monday’s orientation for the upcoming school year.
“You are gonna find people that want you to succeed. That starts right here,” Donna Fields told the 13 women and two men in the class. “If you are not successful, in my opinion, it is my fault.”
For the past seven years, Fields has been the director of curriculum, instruction, and data management for the 1,700-student school system.
Her message – and one that teachers heard from multiple others throughout the day – was: we are here to support you.
“If you do nothing else at Goshen County School District, take care of yourself and your family,” she said. “Do not worry if you need to call in sick. Do not panic if we’re going to be upset with you. Take care of yourself and your family. Then you will be much better to take care of our kids.”
Superintendent Ryan Kramer addressed the teachers in the morning, opening up candidly about his daughter with Prader-Willi Syndrome and describing his early career journey from a school in metro Denver to one in remote Iowa.
“Even though it was a school in rural Iowa, it was amazing some of the same challenges that we faced,” he said.
Jacob Martin, a 35-year-old social studies teacher at Torrington High School, was struck by the frankness with which Kramer and Fields spoke of their own special needs children.
“I really appreciate people that are speaking from the heart because I feel it’s more raw and real that way.”
The teachers’ first day covered a series of crucial topics: introductions to the principals, computers and software, reporting misconduct, and social media use.
“You should not friend parents. You really shouldn’t friend coworkers,” Fields rattled off forcefully. “Lock your Facebook down as tight as it can be for privacy. Unfortunately, and fortunately, we are scrutinized more than most professionals. Because we have their kids.”
The educators heard about the procedures for professional development, including a new requirement to track and report student data for three years after attending a conference to acquire new skills.
Fields said that although state contributions to the district’s general fund are decreasing, there was plenty of money available for professional development.
“Not only because the feds make us do it. Because it’s right for teachers,” she explained.
Goshen County’s teacher turnover rate has been generally declining and is lower than the state’s average. For the 2017-18 school year, Goshen 1’s turnover rate was 4.5 percent, compared to nearly 9 percent statewide.
At lunchtime, representatives from the Goshen County Education Association pitched the benefits of membership.
“For the last three years, teachers have gotten a raise in Goshen County,” the union rep said. “You’re getting paid to be here because of what we negotiated. Because it’s important that you’re here to learn the business of the district and we know that’s going to be better for your kids.”
Dues would be approximately $60 per month and would grant membership in the Wyoming Education Association, as well.
For Bryce Hespe, 23, the orientation came at the tail end of an eventful 72 hours. Her weekend began Saturday, Aug. 10, when she married her husband. On Sunday, Aug. 11 they moved to Torrington. And on Monday Aug. 12, she was sitting in the Central Administration Building as Torrington Middle School’s new language arts teacher.
“Sometimes there’s not the resources for you to be able to call in and have a sick day and the school system being able to support you,” she said. “Being able to want to take care of yourself, that’s amazing. Especially in a smaller town. It just shows that they’re wanting to take care of us while we’re here. That makes me feel welcome.”
Near the end of the day, the teachers heard about how to refer homeless students for aid. Even though less than one half of one percent of Goshen students are homeless, homelessness could include living with friends, in a camper, in a motel, or with grandparents.
“They might roll into your class and say, ‘yeah, I’ve been sleeping on such-and-such’s couch,’” said instructional facilitator Kevin Derby. “Refer that kid.”
He added that any aid given to students experiencing homelessness would follow them throughout the school year.
In her office, Fields reflected on the supportive messages she provided to the teachers throughout the day, particularly the call to put themselves and their families first.
“The things you regret on your deathbed are not having more fun, not being happy. It’s not, ‘did I go to work today?’ I want them to feel their family is their priority.”
Does she feel that she did that in her own teaching career?
“Probably not,” she admitted. “I didn’t work in districts prior to here that allowed that. Our kids, they didn’t get to see that.”
She added, “I hope that my daughter in there kind of helps them see that they really can ask us for anything.”
Her daughter, Sage Fields, is starting her first year of teaching kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary. She had a slightly different recollection of her mother’s performance.
“She’s super big on taking care of yourself and your family first and that brings out the best in you, so you can bring out the best in your kids,” she said.
“I love working with kids. I’ve grown up watching my mom do it. She’s made such an impact on kids, that I want to follow in her footsteps.”
The first day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 20.