Sheridan High School was one of roughly 200 schools in the U.S. and Canada recognized for being a model professional learning community by a national education group, the latest in a wave of accolades for the northern Wyoming school district.
Nearly all of Sheridan County School District No. 2’s schools have now been given similar recognition, Superintendent Craig Dougherty said. The national group, Solution Tree, recognized the school and others like it for its “sustained commitment to helping all of their students achieve at high levels.”
The district has been repeatedly commended for its approach to education: Gov. Matt Mead has praised it and its students routinely perform near the top in Wyoming.
The high school specifically has earned a wave of recognition in recent years: The Washington Post ranked it as one of the country’s most challenging high schools in 2016 and 2017, and it was given a silver award by U.S. News and World Report — placing it in the top 6 percent of schools nationwide — in four of the past five years.
The school’s principal, Brent Leibach, said in a statement that he was proud of his staff.
“Their commitment to excellence creates a learning environment that puts this school in the top-tier of high schools in this region,” he said. “We are honored, recognize that there is more work to do and believe that we are on the right track to improvement.”
The district’s success is attributable to its professional learning community, Dougherty said. Teachers from every grade level in the district’s schools meet regularly to swap ideas on what’s working and what’s not, which students are achieving and which need more time and attention.
The effort is paying off. Four of the district’s schools were given the highest rating by the state Department of Education. All were at least meeting expectations. Juniors at Sheridan High had the highest ACT scores in the state by nearly two points.
“This is a grass-root thing,” Dougherty said, adding that he thought Sheridan High is one of the best schools in the region. “This is teachers doing the work. Not some consultant flying in and flying out.”
He acknowledged that the work can often be difficult: To be a teacher at the High School means to “open yourself up” to criticism when meeting with colleagues to talk about techniques and results.
“Our teachers say if (students) fail, then we fail,” Dougherty continued. “We don’t do it in isolation.”
He said it was particularly difficult for high schools to be recognized as model professional learning communities because each teacher has a specific specialty, rather than in grade schools, where teachers may cover multiple areas.
Recently, Sheridan 2 has worked to spread its successful professional learning framework to other districts across the state. It hosts a Principal Academy, where administrators learn how to implement the program in their schools. Natrona County sent two principals there in the fall.
In September, Mead said the district’s approach was innovative and praised its efforts to teach other districts. Dougherty told the Star-Tribune then that his colleagues across the state only had to look at his district’s results to see that the learning communities are effective.
Sheridan High will have to continue its work to maintain its status as a model school, he said Monday.
“It’s not one and done,” Dougherty said. “That’s the beauty of this whole thing. You might win the Super Bowl this year. OK, let’s celebrate that, but what about next year?”