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“I believe the government that governs the least, governs the best. I’m conservative, and I believe the more local the government, the better the government. Not because it’s not flawed, but because it can be fixed more quickly,” says Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction Ted Adams of his political views.
“When the federal government does something wrong, it seems like we never can get it changed. In local government, when they do something wrong we seem to be able to turn things around. That’s my theory of action,” states Adams.
“The reason I’m running is because I believe this is a public service,” he says, adding he’s been in education for 39 years.
“Wyoming is positioned with a funding model and a size and scope, with 48 school districts, 49 including the BIA, where we know each other personally and can make commitments and work together,” he says. “If there were ever a time someone needed to step up with the kind of background I have, now would be the time. That’s why I’m in the race.”
Adams came to Wyoming in 1966 to attend college at the University of Wyoming, where he later returned for further education and to coach the Cowboy wrestling team. Adams has taught in Thermopolis, his first job, and has worked in Green River and Worland. From there he traveled to Indiana, Arizona, Utah, New York, Indiana, and Oregon, working with educational systems to improve the educational system nationwide.
“I had the opportunity to come back to Cheyenne as superintendent, and that was three years ago, and that’s where I am today,” says Adams.
“In the state of Wyoming, education is the most important enterprise we have today. It’s our economic development engine, and it’s essential that in an information age we be effective,” says Adams, adding that the focus doesn’t need to be on self-directed learners. “It’s the disadvantaged population where we need to be effective.”
“I think our Wyoming quality of life, and its sustainability, is tied up in our ability to educate our kids,” continues Adams. “Good preservation and stewardship of our quality of life, our ag communities, the shared use of land, protecting private property and individual liberty are all tied up in what we do with schools.”
“For the last three years I’ve seen a failure in leadership causing us to focus our educational system on the federal need for test scores, and that’s really a failure of leadership at the state level,” comments Adams. “It’s not that we don’t have to comply, it’s that compliance can’t ever lead the train. It has to be commitment.”
In his opinion, Adams says a large component of compliance with the federal government is based on hard-nosed negotiating. “Instead of taking orders from the U.S. Department of Education, we have to say, ‘This is the way we’re going to do it,’ and then show them how it meets their standards. We work the political system to get what we want, so we can stay focused on our kids.”
“Every one of our kids needs to be college ready and workforce ready. Not all of them are going to get baccalaureate degrees, because that’s not what we are. Most of them will get technical degrees. We’ve got to prepare them to learn for a lifetime in an information age,” says Adams.
To accomplish that, Adams points out that the Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction is not just focused on K-12 education. “The statute, duties and responsibilities are to make the whole system, K-20, work,” says Adams, noting the Superintendent also sits on the University of Wyoming board as an ex officio member. “The statute is really clear that the duty and responsibility is to create a highly effective and efficient educational system for the citizens of Wyoming.”
In addition to taking some control back from the federal government, Adams says Wyoming should work together to develop a database of students and teachers and their interaction.
“This state has 79,000 public school students, and about 115,000 students total. There are school districts in this country with twice that many.
“Why wouldn’t we have our own data system, with all our student information around attendance, achievement, behavior and all the way through, and another databases on employees, teachers, credentials and training, and another around financial investments? If you put that data into a warehouse, programmers can write programs and tie student achievement to teacher interaction.”
Adams says what’s happening is that the 48 school districts are building their own. “We don’t have the wealth to do it right individually, but all of us together could do it right,” he notes.
Responding to the question of overstaffing in the Wyoming Department of Education, Adams says, “I’m not sure whether we’ve got people doing the wrong things, or more people than we need and we’ve built our own bureaucracy. If I win the primary I will devote a lot of time to the election and getting inside of that department to find out what’s going on. I’ll ask for access to where these people are and what they’re doing. Where are they? We live in Cheyenne, and we never see them – or anyone from the Department.”
Adams says visibility of the Department of Education in the school districts is the third thing he would address. The fourth is Wyoming’s high school dropout rate.
“We’ve got to create a statewide campaign and a commitment that no student drops out of high school. That’s not just schools’ jobs, but also the chambers of commerce, the faith based community and embedded in the community as a whole to say, ‘You need an education,’” says Adams, noting oilfield jobs that will pay high school students $25 an hour starting wage. “We need to make sure we have technical, career and vocational education, and the Hathaway Program tends to work against that, as students have to choose between staying in the ag program or taking a college bound class for Hathaway.
“Some of the most powerful leadership experiences I’ve seen have come out of ag programs, and those kids learn to lead organizations and systems, and we’ve got to align all that so we’re valuing career and technical education along with academic. They’re not separate, just different ways of learning. I think that’s a powerful place the Superintendent could use his position.”
This year Wyoming had 51 kids graduate as fifth- or sixth-year high school students. “That’s just as valuable, if not more, as those who graduate in four years, because those kids are high-risk for being involved in juvenile criminal areas and being dysfunctional,” says Adams. “We’ve got to have collaboration in the state, otherwise in the good times those kids have a job but can end up in poverty and raising a family, and the next generation comes along without the experiences and skills to be successful in schools. We’ve got to get our employers to not hire those kids for $25.”
“We have to have multiple use,” says Adams of state lands management and the Superintendent’s role in those decisions. “We really have to be open and consider the issues, because they’re not simple. The complex issues on which we make decisions will either preserve and strengthen Wyoming and its quality of life, or break its back and do damage that will ultimately destroy Wyoming. That’s the stewardship responsibility of the elected officials.”
Of the upcoming primaries, Adams says, “An incumbent has a record to run on, and that can be good or bad. Jim McBride’s record indicates he’s not the right person for the job. He’s got six years in there, and I don’t see us headed in the right direction. If I thought we were running in the right direction, I wouldn’t be running. I’d be playing golf.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Evanston – Joni Hutchinson of Evanston has been teaching for 26 years. During her time as an educator, Hutchinson has provided countless students with the opportunity to learn about agriculture and natural resources in a fun and creative way.

In recognition of her work highlighting agriculture in the classroom, Hutchinson was selected as the 2015 Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC) Educator of the Year.

“WAIC would like to congratulate Joni Hutchinson for being selected as 2015 Educator of the Year,” says Jessie Dafoe, executive director of WAIC.

As the art teacher at Mountain View’s K-8 school, Hutchinson has long utilized WAIC programs in her classroom.

“The Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom bookmark contest benefits all of the students who participate by teaching them that a lot of their food, clothes, water and energy for daily activities originate in Wyoming,” Hutchinson comments. “This learning activity is valuable because, as with most, it leaves a lasting impression on Wyoming students.”

From 2006-15, Hutchinson has taught 22 students who have received awards in the WAIC Bookmark Contest.

In recognition of her achievement, Hutchinson will receive a $5,000 check for her efforts in the classroom and encouragement for the following years to come. The check was presented during the 2015 Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame picnic, held Aug. 12 in Douglas.

“We’d like to thank Anadarko Petroleum, Wyoming Livestock Roundup and Mantha Phillips for their support of the WAIC Educator of the Year program,” adds Dafoe, “and congratulations to Ms. Hutchinson for this achievement.”

Scobey, Mont. – If a student is seeking an opportunity to take agricultural classes anytime, from anyplace, the Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences Online might be exactly what they’re looking for.
    Teacher and academy founder LeRoy Nelson says he started thinking about the concept for online ag education about 10 years ago, but he kept the idea in the back of his mind for a while, until technology was capable of doing what he imagined. He started the online school in December 2009, with classes beginning in Fall 2010.
    “I had so many kids who told me that, if they had access to ag education and FFA, they’d love to participate. There were so many kids who didn’t get a chance – 90 schools in Montana don’t have ag, and it looks like 30 or 40 schools in Wyoming,” says Nelson.
    He says he didn’t count on starting an online FFA chapter right away, but of his 60 students who are taking courses, 15 to 20 of them are already in a newly chartered virtual FFA chapter.
    “So many kids asked about FFA that I got together with our state advisor in Montana and he went to bat for us and went to the national association to ask for a charter,” says Nelson.
    Many of Nelson’s students come from around the country, including North Carolina, Michigan and northern California, and Nelson says he’s working on a way for them to be involved in FFA. Currently his FFA kids all live within Montana.
    “Even here in Montana we’re 300 or 400 miles apart,” he comments. “Our monthly meetings are online. The kids use Skype, and we have a regular agenda and officers.”
    Nelson says that, annually, there are four or five events the chapter attends together, and those are their face-to-face meetings, and also where Nelson helps prepare the students for competition.
    “Even though we’re separated by distance, when we meet for those few competitions it’s valuable time, and we spend time getting kids ready,” he says.
    Nelson says his courses have increased in number over the three semesters that classes have been in session, and they continue to build.
    “I started with three courses – basic animal science, a plant science course and farm business management,” he says. “I decide which classes to teach by surveying students to find out what they want, and then I start building. I plan to offer 14 to 15 courses when it’s all said and done.”
    He adds that the biggest difference between teaching online and in a classroom is making the information accessible for students. He uses Montana Digital Academy’s platform, which sets out units with 16 to 18 units per class, and he uses e-readings.
    “The students don’t buy textbooks, and there are terminology exercises and a lot of video,” he explains. “We do forums for class discussion, some blogging, and every unit has an assignment to be done online. Also, depending on the class, most have one or two projects for the 18-week semester.”
    When Nelson completes a course he adds it to his rotation. Right now he’s the only teacher, but he says that, depending on what happens, if he gets enough students he’ll bring on other teachers who are interested educating through the online format. If that happens, Nelson says he’ll be able to offer more classes.
    Nelson’s unit assignments that are true/false or multiple choice are graded by software, but he says he does spend the usual time grading project work and the forums.
    “I spend a lot of my time on a few things – writing the course work, answering emails and calls from students and evaluating the courses and corresponding with administrators and students about their grades.”
    A limitation to online classes is internet access and speed.
    “I have to watch out for the ability of my students’ internet access,” says Nelson. “I do quite a bit of podcasting and I use a lot of videos, and I have to make sure I don’t do something too advanced.”
    Nelson says he uses Ag Ed Net for his videos.
    “They’re a company that provides curriculum, and I purchase the rights to their curriculum and use their videos and resources along with things I’ve written,” he says, adding, “The government, university extension services and USDA also have good information that I use.”
    While 80 to 85 percent of the online academy’s students attend public schools, Nelson says he does have a good distribution.
    “Some schools support the students and pay their tuition, and give them time to work on the classes during the school day, while other students do their work after hours. I’ve also got a number of homeschool and private school students,” he notes. “The whole idea was to offer these courses to kids who don’t have a chance to get ag education.”
    Nelson notes that some of his students have been with him since the beginning and are starting their fourth semester with the academy.
    “I generally only lose them to graduation,” he says. “The kids stick with me, and 90-some percent are taking courses with me again this spring.”
    “I’m trying to get the word out, and I get a lot of calls from people who found the website or heard about the classes, so I’m trying to get the word out so kids can take advantage of this,” he says.
    In addition to his young students, Nelson is also opening his classes to adult students, and is working on putting together a certification program for continuing education, which means a certificate right now, but Nelson says he’s working on accreditation.
    “It’s online, and it’s flexible,” says Nelson of his program. “Students work at their own pace – when I open a course all the units are listed, and I don’t care if they move ahead of me.”
    Nelson encourages anyone who’s interested to visit his website to review the courses, their descriptions and titles and contact him through the website, phone or email.
    Find the Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences Online at Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Laramie – After 50 years of Extension and education work, 37 of those years at the University of Wyoming (UW), Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management Dan Rodgers is officially retiring from his position.

As he reflects back on his career at UW and his experiences working in Wyoming, one of the highlights for Rodgers has been helping students discover their passion for learning and rangeland management.

“Working with the students has probably been the most rewarding part of my career here at UW,” says Rodgers, “Especially trying to get them motivated and to get them to think that they’re going to school for themselves.”

Growing up

Growing up farming and ranching in north central Texas taught Rodgers many invaluable lessons in agriculture.

He explains that his father was pivotal in his education and love of learning.

“I was the oldest son and my dad tried to teach me everything he knew or heard, and he read a lot,” says Rodgers. “I tried to soak it all in.”

In school, Rodgers notes that he learned to be self reliant as his knowledge in certain topics rose above what his ag teacher could teach him.

“I made my own plant collection the first time I got interested in plants. My teacher just told me there was a book in the library I could check out on it,” he comments.

After showing his teacher his collection of grasses, Rodgers’ teacher had him teach the class about all that he had learned.

“That was probably my first attempt at teaching anybody. That led me to plan to go vocational ag,” Rodgers notes.

Ten days after graduating from high school, Rodgers began attending East Texas State College to obtain a degree in Agricultural Education.

Change of plans

As he was preparing to start the final year of his Agricultural Education program, Rodgers was given the opportunity to meet with a friend of his advisor about a graduate school program.

“He offered me support if I could start in January,” explains Rodgers. “So, I went back home and figured out how I could change that Ag Ed program and change to a general ag program, take about 22 hours that fall and could graduate in January.”

That January, Rodgers left to begin his master’s program in Range Management at Texas Tech.

“After 1.5 years there, I was done and trying to decide what to do, but that had been so good I thought, ‘Well maybe I should just keep going to school until I flunk out,’” he jokes.

While attending a range meeting in Wichita, Kan., Rodgers interviewed with several colleges for the PhD programs.

“Utah State University (USU) had a teaching assistantship available. I went home and married my girlfriend and off we went,” says Rodgers.

During the three years he was at USU, Rodgers gained experience teaching a variety of different courses, while also working on his research project.

Early career

After completing his PhD, Rodgers began looking for work closer to family in Texas.

“I saw a job for an Extension Specialist at Texas A&M University (TAMU),” says Rodgers. “I didn’t know what they did for sure, but I went down and interviewed with them.”

In September of 1967, Rodgers began working for TAMU as their third state Extension Specialist.

“That was fun for a long time except every biennium, the legislature gave us another area range specialist job and those guys all were working the good ranch country,” he laughs.

While he was able to do all of the youth work he wanted to and enjoyed working in east Texas, Rodgers decided that a career change was in order.

“I was spending more of my time doing budgets, plans to work and reports than I was range work,” Rodgers comments.

Wyo bound

After seeing a job advertised at UW, Rodgers applied to and interviewed for a position in the Ecosystem Science and Management department.

“I started to work here on June 1 of 1980, which is coming up on 37 years now,” he says.

For the first 11 years of his career at UW, Rodgers’ focus was primarily on Extension, with only a month of teaching and two months of research.

However, after losing several faculty members in 1991, Rodgers convinced the department head to switch him to a focus on teaching.

“He was tickled to death to get out of that bind, so I’ve been heavy teaching for nine months with two months of Extension that I can do in summer and then just one month of research time,” comments Rodgers.

“In 1996, we started the WyRED, which the Wyoming Resource Education Days,” he notes. “I’ve continued doing Extension work in the summer, workshops and youth camps, as well as identifying plants for people.”

Looking back on his career at UW and toward the future, Rodgers concludes, “It’s been real fun, working with students and working with ranchers and agency people all over Wyoming for 37 years.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – School nurse Cathy Vasko was the keynote speaker at the annual Wyoming Women in Ag symposium held on Nov. 12 in Casper. Vasko combined hilarious dialect with real-life lessons that busy ag women can be apply to any 24-hour period of time.
“Part of the title of my presentation, The Longest Day is 24 Hours Long, comes from something my father used to say to me when I was little, all the time. On a really good day, say your wedding day, my father would say, ‘enjoy this day, it’s only 24 hours long.’ On a really bad day my father would say, ‘it’s only 24 hours long, and tomorrow you get a whole new day,’” explains Vasko of her chosen topic to present at the convention.
She highlighted 10 ways to get the most out of a day, and based several of them on terms and quotes her father used to say and she refers to as “daddyisms.”
“Something my daddy told me was to never judge a person by their relatives. He hated my mother’s hillbilly family. He had a hillbilly family too – both my parents were from southeast Missouri. But he would say her family was from so back in the woods they had to pump in daylight,” said Vasko to make her point.
“Don’t let your mouth write a check that your butt can’t cash,” is another comment from Vasko’s father.
“I finally figured out he meant not to talk yourself into a situation you can’t get out of,” commented Vasko to the laughing crowd.
“Put on your big girl panties and deal with it,” and, “Cry me a river, build me a bridge, and get over it,” are two more “daddyisms” Vasko uses in her daily life.
“Do what you have to do. It seems like kind of harsh advice for people, but, truth be told, we could spend an awful lot of time wallowing around in what’s miserable when the solution is to just get through it, move on and get over it. It just makes sense,” said Vasko.
Another comment her father often made was, “Just fake it ‘til you make it.”
“Pretend you’re happy. Put a smile on your face. Research has demonstrated that if you’re not feeling particularly one mood or another, and you put a smile on your face, you’ll end up conveying that to other people, and before long it rubs off on you,” explained Vasko of the quip.
“You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in, and you don’t even have to change your outfit,” is another comment Vasko’s father told her as a child.
“This is my all-time favorite! It’s all about changing your attitude about the situation. That’s pretty much the way a 24-hour period of time will go. If you’re starting out with a really bad day and have to fake it ‘til you make it, then put on your big girl panties and deal with it, you’ll get through even the longest day.
“My dad’s belief was that attitude is a state of mind, and if your attitude is dirty, it’s like looking in a dirty mirror. If you change your attitude, you can change your outlook and outcome,” explained Vasko.
Another bit of advice Vasko learned is that looks change and rest is important.
“If you’re not getting rest, you will eventually, but it will be a forced rest. Your body will absolutely demand you rest if you keep pushing and pushing. Thirty minutes out of a 24-hour day isn’t long to just sit on the porch and breath, or take a bath, or exercise, or whatever you need to renew yourself,” commented Vasko.
“Kindness matters. Be kind to people and it will come back to you,” is another step to making the most of every day, according to Vasko’s father.
“It’s better for you to be the thermostat than the thermometer. The thermostat sets the temperature of the room. You can adjust it and it makes the room that temperature. A thermometer just reacts to the temperature in the room. You want to set the temperature or pace, not react to it,” explained Vasko.
Laughing uncontrollably, out loud, at least once every day is another piece of advice Vasko encouraged attendees to try.
“Laughing exhausts you and relaxes you and lowers blood pressure and the benefits of laughing last 24 hours,” commented Vasko.
Another point to surviving every day that Vasko mentioned is knowing that sadness will come without question. She noted that no one gets out of life alive, and it’s okay to grieve, but to move on and start laughing again when the time is right.
Friends are another key Vasko mentioned to survive each 24-hour period. “Surround yourself with funny, happy people. Grouches suck the life out of you,” she noted.
Another key point Vasko mentioned is that education is power. “You can’t put a number on the value of an education, and as someone who works in education, we’re losing our power in a big and meaningful way,” she noted.
Working at something you love, or faking it ‘til you find work you love, is another key to survival, she said.
Love is another element of importance. “When you say ‘I love you,’ look the person in the eye and mean it. When you say you’re sorry, look the person in the eye, too, or it doesn’t count,” she said.
“In summary, life is short – so take chances, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do,” she concluded with two of her favorite quotes
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..