Over the Hill, but not out of the woods

2013-01-30T00:00:00Z 2013-12-28T15:14:06Z Over the Hill, but not out of the woods Casper Star-Tribune Online
January 30, 2013 12:00 am

Does it ever seem like we've been fighting for so long that we've forgotten what we're fighting for?

That may be the case the with Senate File 104 and the battle for the Wyoming Department of Education.

If Gov. Matt Mead signs the bill or allows it to pass into law, Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill will become all but ceremonial.

And then, the real work begins.The real job of leadership and running an effective, cohesive and supportive department starts now that the legislative battle is through.

The danger is believing that bumping Hill out of the top slot -- or at least neutralizing the position -- magically solves the problem of education and poor student performance in the state.

While Hill seemed to be the embodiment of what was wrong with education in Wyoming, she was more symptomatic than anything. During her tenure, the problems that had come and gone in the department seemed to reach a level that lawmakers and the public simply could not ignore.

In one very real way, the citizens of Wyoming should thank Hill. Her tenure was so mired by controversy and inept leadership that it galvanized support to make the necessary change to help students.

And that's really what this fight should have been about.

The fight between Hill and the lawmakers was nothing if not lively spectacle. We watched both sides battle in the Capitol and in the court of public perception. We watched as both sides claimed there was nothing personal about their position, but then went on to chronicle the flaws of the other side, often point by personal point.

So you can't blame folks for wondering: Was this fight more about bruised egos and a political power plays?

As much as that seemed to be the tenor of the debate, it was certainly not the substance.

Now, the real work has to begin in earnest.

Even a cursory look back at Hill's tenure shows huge defection from the Wyoming Department of Education. It demonstrated a lack of integrity when it came to complying with the law and not a lot of headway with accountability or better academic results.

That was the rationale and the reason behind the change in leadership for the Department of Education. And while it was easy to get distracted by the personalities, we believe the lawmakers -- and more importantly, the public -- knows that we have to do something in order to ensure Wyoming's students can compete on a global scale.

Now that we have a system that can select a leader well versed in education and administration, maybe we can finally start to solve the problem of mediocre test scores. Maybe we can understand better why Wyoming invests so much money per pupil and yet gets a poor return.

We should expect more accountability and more transparency. We can hope for a department that can support local districts as well as lead initiatives. We would like to see the department become a clearinghouse of effective practices as well as a taskmaster for school improvement.

We would like to thank lawmakers for supporting this very important bill. For two years, we've struggled to watch the department mired in controversy and results lag behind. This group of lawmakers had to make a tough vote, and it was not one without a very well organized, vocal opposition. Yet, we also believe the real  beneficiaries are not the people in Wyoming today. Those who stand to gain the most will be those in the workforce of tomorrow.

Lawmakers have done the heavy lifting, so to speak. They had the courage and the vision to make the change.

Yet, only half the job is done.

Now, the lawmakers and the newly restructured department have to move away from the contentious relationships of the past, and move toward raising Wyoming test scores and putting the public school system second to none.

Remember, what we've just fought for -- and what we must continue to fight for -- is nothing less than Wyoming's future, our children.

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