Classroom Dollars, Cindy Hill targets funding to students
“I’ve been focused on growing kids and improving schools for a long time, and instruction has been my focus,” says Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of her qualifications for the position.
After graduation from the University of Wyoming Hill spent 15 years working in the private sector with students, and she’s spent nearly nine years as the assistant principle for Carrey Junior High in Cheyenne. “I’ve been focusing on kids in schools,” she says of her experience.
Speaking of her campaign to date, Hill says Wyoming is a great place to run for office. “Sometimes when people go to vote, they don’t know the issues and they don’t know the candidates, and if I could I would talk to every citizen about the issues,” she says.
“I went out thinking I needed to share the issues with people, but I’ve found they have the same concerns,” says Hill. “And testing is number one.”
Hill says the controversial statewide PAWS test is only a part of it. “There’s too much testing going on, and it’s getting in the way of instruction. Teachers are being pulled from the classroom, and three different people around the state have told me that they substitute too much.”
“We’re spending $1.3 billion on education in Wyoming, and the people aren’t upset about it. They’re generous and passionate, but they want to know why it’s not significantly impacting students,” says Hill of her second concern. “I would say it’s because not enough dollars are getting to the classroom. Instead, we’re growing our bureaucracies.”
Hill says in May, a Wyoming newspaper quoted an out-of-state organization as saying they knew of no other state that funds central administration to the extent that Wyoming does. “The dollars aren’t getting to the classroom, and that’s where they need to be,” she notes. “Teaching reading is not rocket science. We should have proficient readers, and we can get teachers the resources in second and third grade classrooms instead of paying for someone who’s not impacting kids.”
Hill says just 30 minutes of instruction for 12 weeks can grow reading scores by two to three grade levels.
“Thirdly, people feel like they’re not being listened to,” says Hill of the education system. “They feel a disconnect, and I know what works. Our best interventions come from our teachers and the Department of Education has been the wall. The people of Wyoming know the issues, and they know the solutions.”
Hill says the fourth problem is the Facilities Commission.
“The gubernatorial candidates are talking about education, and I’m thrilled,” says Hill. “Now everybody is talking about graduation rates. Today we’re focused, and there’s a lot to be done.”
“We need a paradigm shift that hasn’t been there, and I wouldn’t do it alone, but with like-minded people,” says Hill of her plans for the office. “It’s a focus on kids. My charge is the kids, and it’s not all the other people who choose not to focus on kids. That’s not my fault or responsibility. This paradigm shift will be painful for some, but it has to happen if we’re going to grow kids, and we’re going to get the money closest to where it will yield results. We have more than enough money.”
As a part of that funding, Hill says the Department of Education has increased from 106 staff to 153 in recent years. “I will get in, and I will change things. I know how it works, and I get it at the Department.”
“We need to look at what we’re paying staff,” she continues. “We’re really flush when it comes to what we’re paying our administrators, and we need to take a look at why that’s happening, because those folks aren’t really focused on instruction – they’re focused on the status quo. “Many teachers haven’t gone into education for the money, but because they’re committed to the kids. We need to support them, and we need to listen to them.”
“If we’re not seeing results in schools, it’s about leadership,” she says. “There are schools in this country with more challenges than Wyoming schools, and their leaders are taking them beyond those challenges. We pay a lot for administrators, and we should get what we pay for. If it’s not working, we need to look at the leadership and change them out.”
She adds part of that is collecting schools surveys from teachers, parents and students and sending them directly to the Department of Education so teachers aren’t worried about their replies being added to their account. Hill says she’d then send that information to the school boards, who would determine whether or not they’re satisfied.
Hill says administrators should also take responsibility for supporting teachers in the area of parents. “I think administrators need to have the wherewithal to have honest conversations with parents,” she says. “I’ve had parents who are frustrated, but ultimlately we have relationships because they figure out we ask the hard questions because we care deeply about their child’s success, and they usually can’t argue that. If it helps the child, I do it.”
“I don’t have all the answers, but I have the drive and the focus on the kids,” says Hill.
Of rural schools, she says, “Our rural schools are the hearts and souls of those communities, and that’s where my support will be. Right now the funding model penalizes rural schools through the capacity element, but I am a proponent of small schools. They can do education better than anyone else, because they have the relationships and pay close attention to their children.”
“Wyoming’s fabric is made up of our small communities, and if we lose that we’ll no longer have the Wyoming we know. I will be rural schools’ biggest advocate,” says Hill. “I want to make sure every kid in every school is served.”
Of state lands management, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s seat on the Board of Land Commissioners, Hill says, “I think we have to honor the culture of communities, which is usually reliant on ranchers and farmers, so I’d hate to see the Land Board look at short-term versus long-term benefits. That’s what’s made us the state we’ve been, and we need to not sell out to short-term benefits that harm the communities that provide stability.”
Hill also says she’s “unequivocally” in support of homeschooling and charter schools. “Homeschooling parents want to keep their kids with them, because they don’t want them exposed to the very things that teachers are frustrated with,” she says. “Homeschooling parents are doing all this hard, arduous work, and we criticize them, when we should be paying them, but they don’t want that, or anything that will attach any kind of bureaucratic requirement. But we should appreciate their extraordinary job.”
“There’s an attitude that needs to change in the Department,” says Hill. “It’s pervasive. I think there are some really good hardworking people who work at the Department, and I’d like to think they’ll continue, but there are some that I think will leave, and I don’t think I’ll have to say a word.”
“I want to make certain we have a working relationship that is alongside Wyoming’s teachers – not a top down approach – and that will be a huge change,” says Hill.