CHUGWATER – A school district in crisis in the midst of a state in which the educational system is walking on eggshells. Such is the perplexity at not only Chugwater school, the second biggest school in the PCSD No. 1, but the district as a whole.
Five teachers as of last week have tendered their resignations including Bryce Cushman who is taking a job with the department of education and Chugwater principal Kelli Jo Williams. Neither Cushman or Williams were available for comment by the PC Record-Times print deadline.
After last month’s special town hall meetings concerning the problems with the school district’s budget and the need to find solutions, not only were the solutions implemented not good enough to suit everyone, but because of the tense feelings on both sides, a Civil War has broken out in Platte County.
One of the Wheatland teachers who left for “more stable” pastures was Dylan Hancey, former art teacher.
“Early in March I accepted a job in New Mexico,” Hancey said. “There is just too much instability and uncertainty with the direction of things here at PCSD#1 for me to feel comfortable staying. It is definitely bitter sweet because I want to continue mentoring the students, but I have to balance my career and family. And with how they have prioritized (or haven’t prioritized) the arts I knew it was time to leave. With the recent budget cuts, the admin have made it clear that they are more focused on the bottom line and doing what is easiest, rather than putting the students first and doing what is right.”
In Chugwater with the five teachers resigning out of the seven that are employed there, it may leave the two teachers still there feeling as if they are on a deserted island and parents are beginning to organize to try to find solutions for the education of their children next year.
Tom McDonnell, parent with students in Chugwater schools said that there was a meeting June 2 of parents who looked into starting a Chugwater charter school.
“We’ve lost all our teachers but two,” McDonnell said. “We have two teachers left, Tyler Lay and Shelly Van Why. We had a big meeting last Thursday on what we were going to do since basically we have no school left. It was a meeting of the parents to begin work on the charter school. We have to have a school down here. For some of our kids it would be an 80-mile round trip to Wheatland.”
As for enrollment at Chugwater, parents are stating that there are 58 students while Cory Dziowgo, superintendent of PCSD#1 says that it is more like under 50.
As to the planning of a charter school, McDonnell said, “Well, we’re moving forward. We have no choice.”
As to where the newly organized school would meet, McDonnell said, “It will probably be in the Chugwater elementary or in the high school itself.”
Upon being questioned whether they could run a charter school within the building in an established school system, McDonnell said it wasn’t owned by the school district, but by the state of Wyoming.
If new teachers would be hired down in Chugwater, the situation would change, but McDonnell questioned whether teachers could be found.
“There is a teacher shortage going on right now,” McDonnell said. “And I don’t think you are going to find a teacher who’s going to be willing to do a split schedule and then travel back and forth between the two towns. It’s just not feasible. You know how Wyoming roads are. And you know how much gas costs.”
McDonnell who wants to move on a course of action quickly said that he didn’t think there was time for Platte County School Board to react.
“Right now we’re all looking at home schooling until we can get a school started,” McDonnell said. “The best person to talk to would be Bryce Cushman; he’s going to the department of education next year and he’s the one helping us put the charter together. And we have a 501c3 already set up. Our school district is just in complete chaos right now.”
Dziowgo confirmed that there were five resignations from Chugwater and confirmed only Cushman and William’s resignations saying that he could not name the other teachers because the board had not approved the resignations yet.
“We are planning on moving forward with the sharing staff with the two rural schools,” Dziowgo said. “So, we’ve got the math position, we don’t need a science because we still have a science teacher that’s covering; social studies and English we need.”
As for the AG teachers, both Glendo and Chugwater have retained their teachers in that area. As for the loss of the principal in Chugwater, the coverage is going to be with the Glendo principal.
“That will save our admin costs by 25%,” Dziowgo said.
When questioned about the meeting for the setting up of a charter school, Dziowgo had not hear that news as of Sunday. If there were a situation where a charter school was set up, Dziowgo said that they could not operate in the high school.
“That elementary building, I’ll sell it to them for $380K,” Dziowgo said. “That’s what it’s listed at, I mean, if they want to buy it.”
In the event a charter school would be set up, Dziowgo also said that there would be no state funding.
“With the kids enrolled and the reason it was going to work was because of the staff, but the staff chose to leave and pursue other options and I wish them the best of luck,” Dziowgo said. “We’re still looking at hiring, but hiring in the state right now is painful. We had two elementary positions in Wheatland that we couldn’t fill, that we had to fill from within and take from another program just so we’d have core elementary covered.”
According to Dziowgo, hiring across the nation is not good. He also mentioned that he has heard that 43% of the jobs posted in Wyoming are not going to be filled.
“Nobody is really jumping to get into education,” he said. “If we couldn’t fill positions, that would be bad; then we’d have to move into long-term subs supported with online curriculum. Because if we get somebody covering a math class that’s not a math teacher, how do they design and implement highly functioning lessons, and I think we’re going to have to rely on our secondary curriculum that we have.”
Peak High School is using the Imagine Learning which would be Wheatland’s secondary curriculum. It’s sub supported virtual learning.
As for having to cancel some classes or electives, Dziowgo said that it’s too early to tell.
“I’m hopefully optimistic,” he said. “that we can get it filled to get it done. But we’re missing music as Frank Adams resigned, so we’re missing band at West Elementary and music at Glendo and Chug. I think we’ve got art filled, so we’re still pushing forward to get everybody shared.”
It’s now a numbers game and watching enrollments very carefully for the PCSD No. 1.
“If we lose 15 kids, that’s a chunk of money, but it’s not like we’re closing down Wheatland High school,” he said. “As for Chugwater, we haven’t even talked about closing it, and we’re going to staff it with subs if we can’t get it hired, and I don’t know if you’d send your kid to a school staffed with subs.”
Dziowgo knows that the bottom line is real. The hiring shortage is real. The problems are real. This is what most would term perplexity… problems without a solution.
“The teachers that left, do what they need to do, that’s fine,” he said. “But it did put us in a predicament where it’s gonna be tough. You can’t hire anybody anywhere in the state right now. If you start a charter school, we can’t operate Chugwater or Glendo. Let’s hypothetically say we have to close Chugwater. We can’t operate Chugwater. We’re not opening it back up. The state won’t let us open it back up. So it’s a careful decision. If everybody’s mad and goes charter and homeschool and forces us, then I don’t think Platte One’s in a good spot.”