Superintendent LettersApr 05, 2021 04:47PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
The greater Omaha metropolitan area is home to some of the state’s best schools, educators, and students. Superintendents at six of the area’s largest school districts share their thoughts and reflections from the 2020-2021 academic year.
Vickie Kauffold, Archdiocese of Omaha, lovemyschool.com
This 2020-21 school year has seen significant challenges in schools across the nation related to the pandemic. The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha have prioritized safety protocols, allowing our schools to continue with in-person instruction or hybrid instructional models for a majority of the year.
There are over 18,500 students and 1,400 teachers growing every day in faith, academics, and service. Omaha natives are familiar with the long tradition of excellence in our schools; evidence can be seen in our ACT scores that are above national average across all demographics and in our 99% graduation rate.
• We strive toward being accessible and affordable for every Nebraskan, so that we can increase the number of students from historically underserved populations—
children in poverty, non-English speaking families, and students with diagnosed learning disabilities. The academic programming and support services in our schools continues to grow in order to accommodate even more students.
• One third of our Metro elementary schools participate in one of the largest, private-school Blended Learning initiatives in the United States, impacting more than 3,500 students. Since implementation, 20% of the students using the program for five months who had been below grade level at initial placement have moved up to grade level, and 5% of the students who had been at grade level at initial placement have graduated to above grade level.
The Omaha Catholic School Consortium opened the Dual Language Academy in 2018-2019 and has now outgrown its original location in South Omaha. The DLA will be expanding into additional classrooms at St. Joan of Arc, providing for children age 3 through third grade. Dual language students can continue their education through eighth grade.
Jeff Rippe, Ed.D., Bellevue Public, bellevuepublicschools.org
We are incredibly thankful for each and every student, staff member, and family member in Bellevue Public Schools. During these challenging and unique times, we’ve come to understand how deeply important our connection matters to our well-being. Though learning took on a different process for everyone, whether in-person learning or our at-home learning program, I’ve never been prouder to see us come together to support one another.
Bellevue Public Schools’ beliefs include learning for all; preparing our students to persevere and face the challenges of living and learning in an ever-changing world; respecting diversity and helping students understand their roles as responsible citizens; providing a safe and secure learning environment; and partnering with our students, parents, and community to support learning and enhance the quality of education in our district.
We are united with a common purpose, to be Champions for Children.
Stay safe, healthy, and strong!
Bary Habrock, Ph.D., Elkhorn Public, elkhornweb.org
Over the course of the last year, the adaptability of our educational system has been tested. All involved have been asked to adjust to teaching and learning in new ways, and the interdependence between school and home has been magnified like never before. Through it all, our teachers were creative and hard-working, our students resilient and engaged, and our parents exceptionally supportive and involved. Together, everyone was truly amazing in working together to navigate remote learning, in-person learning, and the many protocols that made schools a safe place during a pandemic.
In 2020-2021, Elkhorn Public Schools served over 10,700 students, an enrollment increase of 5%, and marked the 34th consecutive year of growth for the district. EPS staff has embraced this progress and continues to believe in the potential of each student, while also focusing on maintaining a sense of community for all.
Regardless of the disruption the pandemic caused, EPS is grateful for another year of continued growth, outstanding achievement, and community partnership. It’s these facets that make our Elkhorn school community a great place to live, learn, and grow as we continue to be dedicated to preparing students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and shaping them into responsible, lifelong learners. Together, we can ensure that every student thrives in school and is prepared to write their future story beyond our system.
Jim Stuffin, Ed.D., Millard Public, mpsomaha.org
Sometimes the moment defines us. The past year will always be remembered for the pandemic. Sometimes we define the moment. We are making this year about getting better, and then about getting stronger.
The pandemic is still with us and will be for some time. But we are already shifting into a recovery mode.
There are three steps. The first is to gather data and define the learning gaps. The second is to determine what we need to do to close the gaps. While this will be unique for each child, we know it will always be about increasing frequency, intensity, and duration of learning. Our last step is determining the resources we need to do this work.
All three steps are already well underway. We are excited to help our students find a positive way to define this year for themselves.
Cheryl J. Logan, Ed.D., Omaha Public, district.ops.org
More than ever, this school year demonstrated the vital role public schools play in our community. I am immensely grateful to our students, staff, and families who rose to meet every challenge we faced, together.
Throughout this school year, teachers innovated to engage students remotely. Operations staff coordinated our rigorous health and safety efforts, allowing for a responsible return to in-person learning. Our nutrition services team prepared hundreds of thousands of meals for students throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Looking forward, our long-term plan to address unfinished teaching and learning from the pandemic will organize many layers of support for students. As you read this edition, the work includes additional summer school opportunities across our district.
Even as we focused on a thoughtful, coordinated response to the pandemic, our district forged ahead to improve education for the students we serve. Construction continues on five new schools—two elementary, one middle, and two high schools. Improvements and renovations are underway throughout our district, thanks to the voters who approved our 2018 Bond Program. Following months of review, engagement, and planning aligned with our Strategic Plan of Action, our district introduced the Omaha Public Schools College & Career Academies and Pathways, designed to better engage students in classroom learning and connect them with high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand jobs after graduation and post-secondary education.
Though many things look different compared to this time last year, our commitment to students remains unchanged. More than ever, we thank our families for their essential partnership to prepare all students for success in college, career, and life.
Mike Lucas, Ph.D., Westside Community, westside66.org
Every day, educators in Westside Community Schools and throughout all of Nebraska wake up with a unified mission: to nurture, teach, and support children to make their lives better. Schools do so much more than just teach reading, math, science, and other academic subjects. We are in the opportunity business, and it is our duty to help our students learn as much as they can about academics, teamwork, inclusion, kindness, work ethic, and perseverance while providing them with endless opportunities to gain confidence and proficiency in numerous areas.
I believe the 2021-2022 school year will be the most important school year in the history of our school district and state. We will need to continue to overcome the many adversities that COVID-19 presented. We will need to continue to forge ahead and make sure our students have the resources and support they need to thrive academically and socially/emotionally. The pandemic has been extremely difficult and has negatively impacted many students and their families in a variety of ways. Schools are a big part of filling in the gaps and helping those in extra need, but we need help from our amazing community as well.
As an educator, husband, son, brother, parent, and now grandparent, I know everyone reading this can help our entire city as we move forward. I hope we all look to find more common ground and less battle ground as a society. We have labels and barriers that keep us apart: Republicans, Democrats, skin color, religion, gender, rich, poor, short, tall, skinny, fat…the labels and dividers go on.
We can: do better if we appreciate and support those who are different from us; do better if we lead by example, and teach our children lessons that will last a lifetime; and improve all lives overall. We can do better, and we must. Our children are watching and learning from us.
This correspondence originally appeared in the 2021 edition of Family Guide.