Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

It's a 'brave' new world at WMS

Worland Middle School changes focus to staff unity, learner-focused education WORLAND - It's not just about academics for the Worland Middle School staff. An idea that Principal Ryan Clark pitched when he arrived four years ago has taken hold, creating a sense of community and unity.


November 18, 2017

Marcus Huff

DAILY NEWS/Marcus Huff Worland Middle School Staff showing their unity with their new Farmer's Insurance shirts. The shirts will be worn by the staff during district-wide development days. Pictured are (first row, l-r): Wendy Wheeless, Cathie Hill, Danielle Warren, Jenifer Berdahl, Debbie Thompson, Artis Averett, Trista Jones, Karen Earl, Diane Davis, Ashley Jurovich, Mario Perez; (second row) Joe Winkler, Angela Richardson, Shelly Hallsten, Teresa Werner, Denise Herman, Suzanne Dorn, Shannon Soderstrom, Donna Hunter, Jackie Rideout, Vanessa Woffinden, Kerri Barent, Nikki Thiel, Shelly Bailey, Rob Woffinden, Mike Montgomery, Beth Siegfried, Liz Becher, Debbie Keller; (third) Ryan Clark, Ben Hofmann, Brittany Miller, Cody Smith, Willie Wright, Nicole Scheuerman, Mike Sessions, Brittany Swalstad, Dean Barent, Tanya Kienlen, Kenna Lamb, Matt Mueller, Aaron Abel, Amber Bennett and Beth Hefenieder. Staff not pictured: Pam Aagard, Shelly Anderson, Jorga Brown, Jeremiah Dobson, Lonnie Friest, Beverly Newell, Roberta Rogers, Chad Rose, Andrea Scott and Carmen Wittkop.

WORLAND - It's not just about academics for the Worland Middle School staff. An idea that Principal Ryan Clark pitched when he arrived four years ago has taken hold, creating a sense of community and unity.

Clark said one of the goals has been staff unity. "We're trying to create a staff that is learning-focused for every kid. That is so much more difficult than it sounds just because of the behaviors, attendance and academics."

He added, "Inside that we're trying to address the whole kid by getting teachers talking about how students learn and what we can do to learn. It's not always comfortable, because it isn't what's best for us, it's what's best for students."

Clark emphasized that he feels Worland Middle School is already a good school, but he and the staff are wanting to move the school from good to great. In terms of state achievement, WMS has been listed as meeting expectations the past two years and Clark said he wants to move that to exceptional.


Clark said the change in education at WMS is going from teacher-focused to learner-focused. In a learner-focused environment you have to be able to address the learning needs of all the students, not just the mass, inside of a 49-minute class period.

If a teacher really likes to teach poetry, but that's not an essential piece for the students to get the skills they need, then teachers may have to forego poetry, Clark said. "You have to teach what they need instead of what you like, that is a hard, hard thing."

He added, "I originally pushed this idea four years ago but didn't do a good enough job of explaining all of the nuts and bolts. So my seventh-grade team piloted it. In conjunction with that and seeking outside training ... it is now a

schoolwide piece."

As far as Clark feels they have come this year, he said there is still a long way to go.


Clark said they are teaching every student essential behaviors, and they also have essential academics that teachers are guaranteeing every student will learn.

Regarding behaviors, they teach students to respect their peers, respect adults and they work on attendance. District-wide Worland had a 96.51 percent attendance in October with WMS at 96.75. "We all want 100 percent, but kids get sick," Clark said, admitting 100 percent for the year is an impossible goal.

He said the stress attendance because "students have to be here to learn." WMS also offers incentives for attendance. Students who achieve 100 percent attendance can select their locker next year.

Clark said they don't just tell students to respect their peers or adults, but they also tell them and show them what that looks like.

For adults, he said, they teach the students that they can communicate and ask questions without becoming defiant or disrespectful.

Clark, who outlined the changes in behavior at the school to the school board used the example of a student asking for a pencil. He asked administrative assistant Melissa Hefenieder to borrow her pen. She politely declined and he respectfully accepted her answer and turned to Superintendent Dave Nicholas and asked to borrow his pen, which he did and then Clark gave it back.

He said they want students to realize they can communicate with adults

"The issues, as far as contact in the hallways was drastically different almost overnight," Clark said.

Academically, Clark said the teachers collaborated on academic essentials, things with each subject that they guarantee a student will learn. In language arts, one of those guarantees centers on comprehension. The essential lesson is to be able to determine one central idea from reading the text.

Clark said twice a month the students are taught social and emotional behaviors for 20 minutes. The social and emotional instruction began last year. Clark said last week the topic was motivation - why do students come to school.

In addition to the semi-monthly behavior lessons, they are also working to make sure every student in the school has an adult advocate in the school that they can go to if they have an issue. "I think we are there. For some students that's a cook, to some that's a paraeducator. I'm very proud of that, it's not just teachers, it's all adults in the building," Clark said.

Clark said he worked to make sure every staff member had the opportunity to be around students to develop that advocate relationship.

When a student doesn't grasp the essential lessons they are given extra time in instruction to get those skills, Clark said. "In the old school teaching ways, when we taught it, the kids had to learn it and we moved on. We're trying to break that if we teach it and a kid doesn't get it that student can receive it again."

He added, "That sounds like a good concept but it is hard to accomplish. We have [336] students that are all very different so trying to address those learning needs is a challenge."

There are 25 minutes set aside before lunch for "What I Need Time," for those students who need the extra instruction. He said Monday is social studies, Tuesday is math, Wednesday is science, Thursday is language arts and Friday is electives. For students who do not need the additional instruction they spend the time reading or on enrichment activities including Native American beading and robotics.

Clark said one teacher has told him that in the smaller groups of six to 10, the students in the class that never speak, the students who never ask questions "become electric. They're now the ones who are facilitating the discussion. That's a byproduct that we did not intend that's been maybe the biggest bang for the buck. Because that kid that's struggling in class now has the teacher's attention in a small group, and is asking questions and is providing answers."


Clark said every staff member is included in helping students achieve success. "This can't happen without collaboration because we're collaborating on how we best teach the kids, on which students need extra time in instruction."

He said the collaboration piece is pivotal and why is working hard on staff unity. Last week, at the end of a professional development day, every staff member at WMS received a black polo shirt, courtesy of Lisa Beamer and Farmer's Insurance. Clark said he appreciates the partnership they were able to forge with Beamer. He said she was able to help the school and they pay that forward each year on the last day of school with their community service day.

"As we talk about best practices and I try to discuss what works best for kids with you, that may not be what you do. There are feelings hurt," Clark said. The unity helps teachers be able to ask colleagues, whose students may have higher test scores, what they are doing differently.

"That's a difficult piece for humans, because you're putting yourself out there and depending on other people to make that work. So then the staff unity, being a cohesive staff becomes paramount and that's where we were trying to go with the shirts," Clark said, adding that the staff then gathered for dinner.

The head custodian runs the prize wheel during lunch when rewards are handed out. Other staff members supervise students that need extra time as they work on school work.

"It is the entire staff. That's a piece that I'm very proud of. That it's not just teachers. If you work in this building you're in on it because if you're a kid in this building you're in it," Clark said.

Clark said, "Most of what we're doing has been two years. The ultimate goal is for all students to be academically successful on our state tests; however, I don't think you can do that without them being successful with their behaviors and social and emotional needs first."

What is happening at WMS is being noticed across the state. He said he and his staff have been asked by the University of Wyoming to make a presentation during a webinar through the ECHO™ Project that will be available around the state.

According to the UW website, "UW ECHO™ in Educational Leadership builds capacity, increases awareness of evidence-based, best practices and self-efficacy to establish effective mentoring platforms for school district superintendents and leaders to improve community, district and student outcomes.

"Network participants include superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, instructional facilitators, curriculum directors, special education directors, state agency staff, and individuals dedicated to improving educational leadership in Wyoming 

and beyond."


Online: Univeristy of Wyoming ECHO™ Education in Leadership


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