For Ryan Kramer, engaging with students on a personal level is the key to education.
“We never know when that one conversation, that we might not think is that important, has a huge impact on a student’s life,” he said.
Goshen County School District No. 1’s new superintendent sat down with the Guide for a wide-ranging interview after assuming the role on July 1. He recalled one success story from earlier in his career, in which he attended a student’s graduation party.
“I was the only Caucasian member of that group at his party and definitely spoke the least amount of Spanish, but the impact that had on him,” Kramer, 42, recalled, “for him to go get his two-year degree, for him to come back and be a coach in our district - he even told me as I was leaving the district, the impact that had on him to be a good father….”
He paused and smiled, recalling the feelings from that interaction.
“It was tremendous.”
Kramer joined Goshen 1 after leading the West Sioux Community School District on the border of Iowa and South Dakota. That system was half the size of Goshen’s, with a Latino population more than double Goshen’s 15 percent.
There remains a wide test score gap in Goshen County schools between white and Latino students. Kramer, who said he can understand basic conversational Spanish, had a few general ideas for improving achievement.
“Most likely, our core instruction needs to change. That’s what I found in my previous district.”
Modifying instructional techniques, he said, “wasn’t going to do a disservice to the students performing at that high level. But it was going to assist in bringing everyone even further.”
A “push-in” model, where teachers with backgrounds helping English language learners come into classrooms, is also an interest of his.
When asked about a 2017 study that showed how black students assigned to black teachers had improved educational outcomes, Kramer acknowledged that the same principle could hold true for Latino students and teachers.
“I think there’s absolutely a factor in recruiting and developing students that are of Latino background within Goshen County and helping to see if they would come back into the district to become teachers.”
He added that it would send “a very powerful message.”
Despite being in what he described as an “opening, welcoming environment” in Wyoming, the superintendent recognized that Goshen schools are not immune from a sometimes-toxic national environment, one in which gay students may be bullied or students of color may be told to “go back” to their countries.
“I was just recently in a meeting that a parent mentioned that as a situation,” he said, referencing a 'go back to Mexico' taunt. “Certain things rise to a level of seriousness. When we hear the word ‘bullying,’ it rises to a different level. Those type of statements should increase our blood pressure to draw a reaction from each and every employee within the district.”
He vowed to demonstrate, through investigations and his own actions, that such conduct will be impermissible.
One of Kramer’s priorities this year is to further personalized learning. Work opportunities, projects calibrated to student interests, and experiential preparation for college are components to explore.
“When the teacher found things that I had interests in and then correlated those standards, along with my interests, I ended up achieving a lot higher and grapsed those concepts for a lot longer,” he said.
Kramer conceded that such a time-intensive model may overwhelm teachers, but that disciplinary problems would decrease and student engagement would rise.
His first year as superintendent coincides with the Wyoming legislature’s decision to cap special education reimbursements to school districts. Allocating local money from the general fund and becoming more efficient with existing money are the first-tier solutions, Kramer said.
“I would really encourage the legislature to take a look at not necessarily an endless bank account, but a realistic analysis of what’s appropriate. This is going to be an absolute, no question about it, state problem.”
Kramer also weighed in on a pair of school board discussions from earlier in 2019, one about Torrington High School’s drug-free policies, and the other about a new dean of students to address high school absences.
He supported, as a “positive deterrent,” bringing in drug sniffing dogs, but admitted it is not the “end-all, be-all answer.”
“I do believe a dean of students would address, if there is an attendance issue, that problem,” he said. “To be able to actually make home visits, absolutely affects attendance from my experience.”
He explained how in his Iowa school district, it would fall to him to visit families whose students were truant.
“Most attendance and tardiness issues deal with spending time with the family.”
It was a solution that again spoke to his desire to forge personal connections with students and families in ways that will affect them long after they leave the classroom.
“We should never have a kid ever indicate on any survey, ‘no one cares about me.’ That just rips my heart out. I’ve heard it said in my office,” he said.
The smile disappeared from his face for one of the few times in the interview.
“Never, ever should a child ever think that no one cares about them,” he noted.