School district increases in size, services
With an enrollment of more than 5,600 students, Sweetwater County School District No. 1 is the fourth-largest school district in the state and one of the fastest-growing – to the tune of 26 percent in the last 10 years. With such dynamic growth have come opportunities for the district to add to both facilities and curriculum that better prepare students for college, careers and beyond.
In the past five years, the district has opened three new elementary schools, including Stagecoach Elementary, a school serving 500 students in grades K-4 that opened in 2015.
Also in 2015, the district opened Black Butte High School (formerly Independence High School) as an alternative to traditional high school. The new building, which features state-of-the-art technology and new instructional materials, sits on the campus of Western Wyoming Community College. The district partnered with the college to offer dual and concurrent opportunities, which Superintendent of Schools Kelly McGovern says will help increase the school’s graduation rates.
“Our vision is to maximize the capacity of 100 Black Butte in-district students and support each one of them to receive a high school diploma. What helps Black Butte students even more so is that they can just literally walk across the street and go from one campus to the other and have an opportunity to attend the junior college while they are high school students,” McGovern says.
McGovern says the presence of Western Wyoming Community College has been a boon to the entire district.
“If a high school student decides to pursue a vocational field, they can go up to WWCC and take a welding class or get certificated in one of the many programs [the college] offers, and that student really could walk out with a high school diploma and a certificate from WWCC and be employable,” she says.
Smart Starts to College and Careers
At Rock Springs High School – one of three high schools in the district that serves the communities of Rock Springs, Wamsutter and Farson-Eden – specialized academies are also preparing students for careers in the region’s high-growth industries. The Energy Resource, Health Occupations and Fire, Law & Leadership Academies provide hands-on instruction and even give students real work experience through job shadowing and internships.
“It’s really important to connect everything to career and technical education. Whether students are college bound or they want to enter into the work force, we’re making classes and preparing them for things that are applicable to whatever their career path will be,” McGovern says. “One of the things that our academies really promote is job shadowing. They also offer internships where our students can go and see [for example] a day in the life of an engineer.”
McGovern says schools work to equip students with not only technical skills but also those soft skills that employers desire, such as communication, problem solving and collaboration.
“Written communication is very important, but oral communication, team work, emotional intelligence, how you work with other people, how you conduct yourself — those are also necessary to be successful,” McGovern says.
The superintendent also stressed the importance of technology in keeping the district on the cutting edge of education and says the district had adopted a “bring your own device” policy in schools.
“Technology has always been a priority. Technology isn’t a separate piece of education; it is the hub,” McGovern says. “Technology helps their learning, and it makes them achieve in quicker ways than before.”