Despite Troubling National Trends, Park County School District #6 Has Been Fortunate, Superintendent Orndorff Says
Written by Caleb Nelson on August 31, 2022
Despite troubling national trends in education where thousands of teacher vacancies pose immense challenges for school districts, students, families, and administrators, Park County School District #6 has been fortunate, Superintendent Vernon Orndorff says.
According to USA Today, “300,000” teachers left the profession between February 2020 and May 2022, creating a significant labor shortage in public education. These figures match reports from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Public education in Park County has been uniquely insulated from these trends, according to Orndorff, because of Wyoming’s supportive culture, rigorous standards, competitive compensation packages, and excellent facilities, which all play an important role in maintaining high levels of quality in Park County 6.
Originally from Kansas, Orndorff is from a family of educators, but his father was “a good, hardworking blue-collar worker,” who had a job in the local refinery. Orndorff’s mother was a registered nurse.
Orndorff, however, has cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings who are all in education. His father’s youngest sister was a principal, “I learned a lot from her,” Orndorff says.
Speaking about how sports impacted his journey, “I always had a passion to coach basketball,” Orndorff says. “I always wanted to coach basketball, that’s how I got into education.”
Orndorff earned a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health from Emporia State University. He has a master’s degree in Education, and also went back to school to receive his principal’s certification in Ed. Leadership while living and working in Florida. Currently, he’s a certified Superintendent in the state of Wyoming.
The Park County School District Number #6 Board of Trustees selected Vernon Orndorff to serve as the Superintendent beginning on July 1, 2022. Previously, Orndorff worked as the Superintendent of the Milford Independent School District in Milford, Texas.
“As you get a little older with more experience, you get a little wiser,” Orndorff says. “So, through that, I try to leverage my experiences to help students and even our professional educators and staff just on some insights and career prep,” Orndorff explains.
In terms of Orndorff’s jump from teaching and coaching to administrative work, “I was drawn to that leadership side, and saw that I could have a bigger impact in this profession,” Orndorff says.
Orndorff spent twelve years with the Flagler County School District in Florida where he served as the executive director of leadership development before leaving the Florida Department of Education for the Milford district.
Regarding the news of teacher vacancies around the country, Orndorff says, “I’ve got some colleagues in Florida, there’s some concern that there’s a large number of shortages, you know, in Florida, but it’s nationwide.”
The teacher shortage has accumulated from various situations including higher demands on accountability and increased expectations across the board, Orndorff suggests. It also depends on how each state chooses to handle the changing landscape of public education.
As Orndorff explains, Wyoming has more of a “growth model, not a punitive model and so districts can actually look at their data and improve teacher effectiveness and student learning.”
The punitive model of school district assessment, Orndorff argues, is one where districts use a grading system to rate individual schools, which then contribute to the district’s overall “grade.” So, a particular school might have an “A” rating or an “F” rating (or a “B-” etc.) and so on.
Orndorff prefers Wyoming’s data driven assessment system, but he thinks that the system needs to be supportive of teacher and student success as well. “I believe in accountability, I think our profession needs to be held accountable, but I think it needs to be supportive and serving so we can actually do our jobs” Orndorff says.
The mission of Park County #6 is to educate students and prepare them for the future, Orndorff says. This preparation includes a focus on readiness for college, career, or military service. Mission success depends on teacher accountability, but it also depends on “culture and climate.”
The pandemic placed enormous pressure on the entire public education system (including the transition to virtual learning), which exposed certain gaps throughout the country. “The pressure and expectations of the job creates uncertainty and so across the nation you see a little bit of a dip,” Orndorff says regarding teacher vacancies.
Park County School District #6, despite the teacher “dip” nationwide, has fared well. “In Park County School District 6, we’re very fortunate that we have filled most of our positions,” Orndorff says.
As Orndorff explains, Park County #6 has a “positive culture,” a “great community to live in,” and a “solid board” that is supportive of teachers and staff.
“People want to come to work, it’s a great place to live,” Orndorff emphasizes.