Monday, December 4, 2017

An Open Letter to Husker Football Fans

An Open Letter to Husker Football Fans:

I love Nebraska. This is a special place. The Huskers are my 2nd favorite team only because I was born in Tallahassee and grew up in Florida. You see, Florida State University will always be my #1 school but I do root for Nebraska as well.

It is from the perspective as a die-hard and life-long Seminoles fan that I offer the following thoughts on Coach Frost and the future of Nebraska Football.

Husker fans, you are lucky! You get to welcome home one of your own. Enjoy it. Be respectful of his family and their need for normalcy. Don’t bother his wife and child. Give his parents some space. Understand that even Husker legends need to be able to breathe a little bit on their own.

My “fanhood” has recently been kicked in the stomach. For the first time in over 40 years, Florida State is conducting a search for a head football coach. It’s a reminder of what a huge BUSINESS college football has become. Florida State’s former coach chose to take a job at Texas A&M, a place that pales mightily in comparison of tradition and accomplishments. However it turns out, he will make over $20,000 a day, every day, for the next 10 years in a guaranteed contract.

We live in a day and age when head coaches like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, the guy who just left FSU for Texas A&M, and others are akin to hired assassins. They go to the highest bidder. Their agents hold universities and booster clubs hostage. It’s a big-time business.

But, now, Nebraska has a chance to avoid all of that. Coach Frost is back home in his dream job. He wants to be here and could end up being here for 12-18 years depending on how long he wants to coach. Give him support. Be patient. It’s highly unlikely, despite how good he is, that Nebraska will go 12-0 next year like his UCF team did this year. In fact, a 7-5 record in Lincoln in 2018 might be worthy of some “coach of the year” honors. It will take a few years but enjoy the journey. Embrace the process of going in the right direction.

When Nebraska gets “back” to where they’ve been, it will be that much sweeter for you. You won’t have to look over your shoulder when another big job opens up because you have your guy and your guy has you. This is meant to work. This is how it is supposed to be. A Nebraskan leading Nebraska. It worked out pretty well when a guy named Osborne from Hastings was at the helm!

Watch out how you handle yourself on social media. Don’t vent just to vent. Don’t attack this new coaching staff at the first sign of adversity. They’re going to get the train rolling again but first, they need to get it back on the track and that can sometimes be a little bumpy.

While most college football fans won’t admit it to you, you’re now the envy of many fan bases. You don’t have a hired gun as your coach. You have a Nebraska guy at the helm. Someone who understands the culture of this state. Someone who knows how we value work ethic, integrity, and pride. Someone who cares about you. Someone who appreciates Nebraska. Cornhusker wins will be so much sweeter in the coming seasons.

My guys in Tallahassee will be fine. They’ll hire a great coach that can recruit well. They will win lots of games. However, whoever the new coach is for my beloved Seminoles won’t be one of our own. He’ll be another hired gun. What I wouldn’t give for a Seminole legend like Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Charlie Ward, or Chris Weinke to be our head coach but that’s not in the cards.

This is going to be a tremendous ride Nebraska. Don’t forget the tough times you’ve endured over the last 15 years. They will hopefully make you appreciate the next 15 years a lot more. “Winning” is hard to do. The 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s are over. They’re not coming back. No fan base is entitled to 11-win seasons and championships every year. It’s a grueling process.

I will be rooting loudly for Coach Frost, his staff, and the Husker Football Program. This is going to be so fun to watch a Nebraskan do things the “Nebraska way” that I have come to love and admire so much.

Go Big Red!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Inside Look at Snow Day Decisions and More!

I love snow and freezing weather. I really do. I’m 45 years old and I still like to go sledding. No joke. It's not always a pretty sight when I go sledding, but I love it! I guess growing up in Florida and having Christmas every year in 85 degrees will do that to a guy!

One thing I don’t love is making decisions about whether or not to have a late start or snow day when inclement weather is upon us. It’s an exhausting experience both physically and mentally. No matter what we decide, we upset people. It’s often a “no-win” situation that we just try and make to the best of our ability.

There are SO many factors in play. First off, and most importantly, you think about the safety of your students, those that ride school buses, those that drive themselves, and everyone in between. You think about making sure you meet Nebraska’s Rule 10 guidelines for accredited public schools needing to be in session for a certain amount of hours. You think about all of your students that might be stuck at home on a snow day. Not all of our kiddos get to enjoy snow days with hot chocolate, puzzles, X-Box, movies, and a lunch date with mama. Many of our kids live in poverty and spend snow days in a freezing house with no food or adult as their parent(s) have to work. You also think about the fact that YPS is a “business” and each contract day costs us about $22,000. These are not easy decisions.

This is Nebraska. You can't call off school every time it's cold or a little bit snowy. We would never get in the 1,080 required hours of school we need for accreditation. You have to have school on some days that some folks think you shouldn't. It is what it is.

When we experience snow and/or ice overnight, Troy Rowe and myself wake up around 4:00 AM. I take off in my truck and usually head north and east to check roads, look for drifts, see how icy the conditions are, etc. Troy heads south and west. We are looking to see if our buses can make it on their routes. We are checking visibility. Troy is normally in contact with the County Roads Department to see what their thoughts are. I am normally in communication with the National Weather Service out of Hastings to get up-to-the-minute forecasts and accumulation totals.

Troy and I visit on the phone by 4:30 AM to compare notes. I then begin to text superintendent friends in the area to see what they’re thinking. I usually communicate with Holly in Hampton, Josh in Seward, Tim at Centennial, Brent at Cross County, and sometimes Damon in Aurora. We try to get a decision made by 5:15 AM so that we can begin to put the word out. We have school staff that often arrive by 6:15 AM so we need to get the word out quickly. Plus, we are sensitive to the fact that many of our students’ families will have to figure out daycare arrangements if we have a snow day.

The worst kind of “weather event” is when forecasters and news reporters tell us about huge, massive, and threatening storms that are headed our way! I will never forget in 2010-11 that “Snowmageddon” was headed for us. We heard about it for days. I don’t remember the exact details but I do know that numerous schools across the state were announcing on a Tuesday that they were not going to have school the next day due to this massive storm that was bearing down on us. Here in York, we waited and waited. We did NOT want to announce a closing before any white stuff hit the ground!

Well, the day got later and later….school dismissed. We had not closed yet for the next day. Every passing hour, more and more schools closed. There was still no snow on the ground. By 9:30 PM that Tuesday, we gave into peer pressure and announced that were closed the next day even though there was still no snow on the ground. I barely slept a wink that night….I remember thinking that it better snow and snow and snow! I woke up at 4:00 AM and there was no snow on the ground. There was no snow on the ground at 5:00 AM or 7:00 AM or 9:00 AM. I was feeling like an idiot! Finally that day, around 1:00 PM, we got about 2-inches of snow. It was NOT “Snowmageddon.” We could have had school! When our school calendar only allows for two snow days before make-ups have to be scheduled, you don't want to waste any!

Another “weather event” that I will NEVER forget is January 6, 2014. It was a Monday. It was the first day back to school after Christmas Break for pretty much every school district in Nebraska and it was bitterly cold. We had no snow or ice but we had cold, cold weather.

The whispers of schools thinking about closing “due to cold weather” began that Saturday, January 4th and they increased on the morning of Sunday, January 5th. I couldn't believe my ears. Closing because it is cold? What? This is Nebraska. This is January. Yes, it can get kind of cold from time to time! Wow!

I texted dozens of superintendents the early afternoon of Sunday, January 5th to see what they were thinking. Every single one of them was adamant they were going to have school the next day. By 4:30 that afternoon, everything changed. Several school districts feared their buses would gel over and not start in the morning due to “severely cold weather.” Two superintendents tried to start their school buses around 3:30 that afternoon and they would not start. That’s when it began. Several school districts cancelled for the next day due to “severely cold weather.” The weathermen on TV were having a field day. It was “bone chilling cold” and “dangerously frigid” everywhere you turned! Schools began to close like dominoes!

I was in constant contact with Troy Rowe, our transportation director. He assured me over and over again that our buses would be fine in the morning. You see, we are very lucky to have a covered and insulated bus barn; something most school districts do not have. It never gets below 38-40 degrees in there. Plus, our buses get fueled with an additive to helps prevent gelling in cold weather. We decided that even though it was cold, that we were going to have school.

We posted on social media our decision to have school. Boy, did the claws come out! We were vilified on the YPS Facebook page, all over Twitter, on the Facebook pages of many adults and students, as well as on the Facebook pages of several TV stations. We were called every bad name you could imagine. I thought my defensive coordinator in college had already called me every evil name in the book back during my playing days, but I was wrong. We were accused of putting our kids’ lives at risk. It was nasty.

What people didn’t realize, and we should have done a better job of stating, is that most of the school districts that closed did so because of their buses NOT being in a covered and insulated building. Most school buses are left outside in the elements. Those districts couldn’t guarantee their buses would start. We could.

We knew kids would not be walking to school anyway. We have tons of walkers to school in the fall and spring when the weather is nice but hardly any on cold days in the winter. Families get that stuff figured out and make arrangements with each other, neighbors, etc. We assumed most families would make arrangements so their children wouldn’t have to walk. We figured that if teenagers had an unreliable vehicle they drove to school, that their parents would make sure they had made arrangements to get them to school on cold, cold days. We also knew/know that parents can keep their kids at home if they choose to do so. Parents have to be the #1 provider and protector of their children. That should never change.

That decision came down to us knowing our buses would start and that many of our kids would be much better off in a warm school building with hot food and a structured environment that they might not have at their houses. We were also coming off a 10-day Christmas Break.

I rode one of our buses that morning. It was cold but not horrible. Everything went fine with all of our routes. We had right at 89% of our kids in school that day, which is less than our average daily attendance of 96%. Some families elected to keep their kids at home, which is ALWAYS their right. From what I can remember, we were one of just four or five districts in the state in session that day.

Here’s the REAL KICKER, however. I don’t remember the exact temperatures and wind chills from 1-6-14 but I do remember that we had one day later that same month and two days in February 2014 that were COLDER….and you know what….EVERYONE had school on those days….there wasn’t the media build-up and ALL school districts were in session. Closing due to “bone chilling cold” or “dangerous wind chills” wasn’t even mentioned after January 6, 2014.

In a perfect world, we love to call snow days the night before if/when possible. On many occasions, it is bad enough at 10 PM to make the call for the next day. We always try to communicate our decision as soon as we can. It really stinks when you are “supposed” to get snow overnight and everyone wants you to call a snow day before any snow actually hits the ground. We don’t plan on closing school due to “forecasts” very often because we’ve been burnt several times.

Sometimes, we go with a 2-hour “late start” because this allows our buses and teenage drivers a little extra time and daylight to navigate some tricky areas. Sometimes, we will first announce a late start and have that turned into a snow day. It’s a strategy that can buy us another hour or two to get an updated forecast, see how many roads can be cleared by county and city workers, etc.

We hate to, but sometimes even have an "early dismissal" due to weather. We had this last December when an ice storm moved into town and we felt it was best to dismiss at 1:30 to allow plenty of time to get people home safely while it was still daylight. These decisions are not made lightly.

We do our best when these decisions are made. We're not perfect. You won't always agree. Our parents always have the right to keep their children at home if/when they think we are having school on a dangerous day.

Growing up in sunny and hot Florida, I never thought I would be in charge of snow day decisions! How ironic is that?

Go Dukes!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Scare Tactics and Politicized Messages

We live in a time where words like "fake news" and "alternative facts" are thrown about on a regular basis. We have to navigate too many Netflix scams, email viruses, online banking hacks, fake Twitter accounts, and social media alerts. It's hard to know what is real and what needs to be avoided and ignored.

Groups that so desperately want to cash in on "school choice" and "school reform" are beating their drums again in Nebraska in hopes that the "Average Joe" will believe what they're putting out. A new approach they're using this fall is to try and paint Nebraska's public schools as failures because of a change in our statewide assessment system, often called NeSA (Nebraska State Accountability). In 2017, our state moved away from the NeSA-Reading exam, where 82% of the state's students had met/exceeded proficiency in the past, to a more rigorous English/Language Arts Assessment (ELA) that is geared towards tougher college and career ready standards.

Across the state, and here within YPS, we saw scores drop significantly on this new English/Language Arts assessment when compared to NeSA-Reading results from prior years. It doesn’t mean our kids are performing poorly all of a sudden or that our teachers forgot how to teach. In fact, lower proficiency levels have happened in all other states, without exception, where standards have been re-aligned to college and career ready benchmarks. No comparisons can be made between this year’s new English/Language Arts scores and any previous scores. This is a baseline year and you will see major improvements in future years throughout YPS and the entire state just like we did when the NeSA-Reading test began.

Yet, you will see grandstanding "choice advocates" that will send out "press releases" and social media clips wanting you to believe that poor Nebraska kids can't read and write. They will then try and convince you that they have the "solution" with their privatization efforts that have failed time and time and time again in other places.

I’ve always been for “choice” but can never see being for “privatization” where individuals, donors, investment groups, politicians, and others try to turn education into a “for profit” business venture using state dollars for charter schools, vouchers, and opportunity scholarships. What worries me about “school choice” groups are that some of them don’t tell you they’re really about “privatization,” exclusion of others, and making a profit; while shouldering zero accountability to local taxpayers.

It would be a tremendous mistake to offer up money from the limited state budget we have to enhance privatization/choice options like charter schools with vouchers and tax credit scholarships that don’t have the same accountability that public schools have to follow. They don’t have to have publicly elected boards, don’t have to have annual audits, don’t have to adhere to open meeting laws, manage spending lids, and they get to pick and choose which students they serve, while public schools gladly welcome one and all. They get to take who they want, do what they want, and spend state money while likely damaging the public school system through even less funding.

Nebraska already offers lots of "choice" and an option enrollment program that not many other states allow.

* Over 22,000 students use their “option enrollment choice” throughout the state.
* Within YPS, we have students from seven school districts that use their option in or out choice with us.
* We currently have about 30 more students that option in as opposed to optioning out.

* Over 37,000 students using their “non-public school choice” with an estimated 8,000+ of them being “home-schooled.”
* YPS has about 35 home-schooled students living within our boundaries.

Public education is always going to be a "work in progress." There will always be tons of success stories to share and some challenges to overcome. The "success" we strive for is a journey; not a destination. Come visit us and see for yourselves.

Privatization of public education isn't needed in Nebraska. Chadron isn't Chicago. Bennington isn't Boston. York isn't New York. Alliance isn't Atlanta.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Importance of Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a special time to pause and give thanks to our active and retired military personnel. We are very excited to host another community Veterans Day Program at YHS on Friday at 9:30 AM. Our PreK-5th grade principal, Kris Friesen, has done an excellent job of coordinating this important event.

I taught and coached on the military base at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas from 1994-1998. This was during a "time of peace" but I still got to see first hand the sacrifice that the soldiers and their families made/make. I saw dads leaving their wives and children behind for months at a time to go to specialized training all over the world. I saw mamas and young children moving every 9-10 months from military base to military base.

We all know what happened on September 11, 2001 and how our world has changed since that terrible morning. My love and admiration for the military has only escalated since that point. The courage and bravery they display to help protect our freedoms are amazing. Just think about the trials and tribulations that our Veterans experienced during World War I and II, the Korean War, in Vietnam, Desert Storm, and all other battles/wars.

Our Veterans deserve our admiration and respect every day of the year, not just on a special day each November. We can't forget about the families of our Veterans either. The mamas that stay up at night wondering if they will ever see their son/daughter again. The wives/husbands that live on pins and needles each time the phone rings while their loved one is deployed. The children that don't get to spend time with their parent(s) that are protecting our freedoms all over the globe.

I hope everyone takes some time to thank our Veterans. I hope everyone acknowledges the sacrifices they make so we can live in this great country with the opportunities and freedoms we have.

Veterans Day is an important time to reflect, remember, and thank all of the brave men and women that have served, and continue to serve. The United States of America is not perfect. We have many issues that need to be addressed. We are experiencing a tumultuous time in our nation's history. Our Veterans deserve our respect more than ever right now.

THANK YOU to all Veterans and active military personnel and your families. I pray for you each night and am thankful for your courage and dedication.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


I'm a huge fan of Striv and Taylor Siebert. He's a great small-town, entrepreneur success story. One of the neatest things Striv does, and they do many awesome things, is a podcast series on high school teachers/coaches called "Why I Coach." These are well-done as they allow high school coaches the opportunity to explain why they do what they do. They're really cool. Look for them at @strivsports if you haven't seen/heard any. Danyel and Glen of YHS have been featured already this fall.

It got me to thinking about my "why." What do I enjoy about being a superintendent? Why do I come to work every day? Why do I fight through the seemingly endless battles?

It's real simple for me....our students. Our kids. Period. All day long. Every day. Kids. I'm a country music fan but I think Metallica has a song titled, "Nothing Else Matters" and that's how I look at students. They're my "why." Case closed. End of story. Shut the book.

I love visiting our classrooms and seeing all of the important things our students and teachers are working on. It's so humbling to visit lower elementary classrooms and watch students as they learn new skills. This year’s kindergarten class will retire in/around 2077. They are learning to read, write, critically think, problem-solve, and work with others over the next few years. They will take these skills they're learning in little 'ol York, Nebraska all across the state, nation, and globe. As professional educators, we get to be a part of that. Wow! That's a "why" for sure!

I love seeing kids mature from 6th graders, when they are so excited just to get to middle school, to 8th graders that can't wait to get to high school. I love the independence and confidence that our students gain in these "middle years." It is awesome to see the development our students make from 9th-12th grade. Today's high schoolers do so much more than they did when I graduated in 1990. Today's high schoolers are super talented and masters at multi-tasking and time management. In my opinion, today's kids are just flat out better and more well-rounded than they've ever been in many, many instances.

It is amazing to visit our classrooms and see what our students are capable of. They're learning math and science concepts in 7th grade that I learned in 10th grade. They're putting together presentations and projects that look like they could come from a professional agency. We have students guest writing columns for the York News-Times. We have kids helping area businesses design websites and logos. We have amazing young people that I am lucky to be around!

Our students give me energy. I feed off their enthusiasm and goals. I truly enjoy watching them grow and develop. I loved watching our volleyball girls play their tails off on Monday night as they defeated Columbus after losing to them earlier in the season. I can't wait to go watch our Mock Trial kids compete in Lincoln on November 9th. I'm stoked for this year's One-Act Play and plan to see it multiple times. You bet your last dollar I will be cheering loudly on Friday night (in my lucky shorts and polo) as the YHS football team competes in the quarter-finals. I'm excited about our choir and band concerts in December. I can't wait until speech season. There are always so many things to look forward to!

Yes, as a superintendent, there is lots of stress, drama, problems, issues, and disasters. Yes, you get burned out from time to time. Yes, you feel like giving up sometimes. Yes, you have those dark days and sleepless nights where you wonder what the heck you've gotten yourself into. Yes, there are times you think about a career change. Yes, you sometimes lose perspective.

However, you have to do your best to come back to your "why." When your "why" is kids, it makes it easier to deal with all of the "clutter." Many of you know my affinity for the quote from Pat Riley that says "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Well, when your "main thing" is kids, you can put up with all the other things that come your way.

I'm thankful to be in a servant leadership role where I get to help others make our organization the best it can be for our kids. York Public Schools is all about "finding a way" to get things done for our students. Every student. Every day. Find a way. That's our culture. That's who we are. That's what we do. That's our "why."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Perspective from Special Olympics Flag Football

This past weekend was amazing as we were so fortunate to help host the Special Olympics Nebraska Flag Football Tournament.  Thanks to EVERYONE that helped us show the Nebraska Special Olympians what a great place York is. Watching the flag football games and the teamwork and support the Special Olympians gave to each other was inspiring.  

We had student and staff helpers from YPS, Hampton, Aurora, Lincoln, and GINW.  We borrowed equipment from High Plains, McCool Junction, Seward, Hampton, and Cross County. We had parents and students and community members step up and work hard all weekend. York College Baseball players and coaches worked all day on Sunday and were amazing.  

The York County Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, downtown businesses, and Todd Kirshenbaum helped roll out the red carpet. York Office Supply donated a great “welcome” banner.  Wal-Mart helped with a donation. Culligan Water, Pieper's Potties, and Kopcho's Sanitation all helped out as well.  

Our banks and service clubs donated funds to offset expenses.  Donn Athcison came out and took some amazing pictures. Dickey’s BBQ and LunchTime Solutions delivered delicious meals to the competitors and coaches.  The YPS Foundation and “student travel group” provided great food for fans and officials. My favorite part of the weekend was working with my son, Bo, as he helped me with all of the setup and cleanup. He was a huge help!

We had about 45 Special Olympians join us for our Friday night football game vs GINW. They loved the atmosphere and I think we picked up some York Duke fans out of the bunch!

I got to see two of my former students from West Point Elementary compete in the games. One plays for West Point and the other for Fremont. I was able to make a new friend named Brian in Minden. I can still see his smile and sense of pride from his work in Saturday morning's skills competition. I got to see James from here in York win a medal on Saturday and feel so good about it he was still wearing it on Sunday. I enjoyed getting to know the Omaha Bears and visiting with them about their trick plays and defensive strategies.

Everywhere I looked, I saw joy. I saw tremendous competitors that cared about each other. I saw athletes that just wanted to play. I saw appreciation and support all over the place. I saw many of our students from YHS showing tremendous poise, patience, and kindness as they helped the competitors.

It was a "Top 10" weekend for me. I smiled more this past weekend than I have in a long time. I learned a lot from the Special Olympians and am so appreciative of them coming to York. They have it figured out. Their positive attitudes are contagious.

Thanks again to everyone that helped and/or came out to watch and support. It was such a special weekend!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nebraska has a School FUNDING Problem

In a recent article in Kearney area newspapers submitted by State Senator John Kuehn, he stated that “big increases in local subdivision spending created the property tax crisis.” That really caught my attention because that certainly has not been my experience as superintendent of schools in York, Nebraska.

I realize it’s a very “catchy” thing for some elected officials to blame local spending for our property tax dilemma but let’s look at some actual, audited data to form our own thoughts on this wildly political topic.

You see, our politicians know how the system works. They know what the school aid formula (TEEOSA) calculates each year and how much they allocate in the state budget for K-12 funding. I would hope they realize that TEEOSA has only been fully funded to its calculation three or four times in the past 16 years leaving increased local property taxes to fill the void in all other years. I would hope they understand that K-12 education used to be 32% of the state’s budget but is now 27.6%. They should know that their unwillingness to adequately fund K-12 public education forces our over-reliance on local property taxes. I assume they know that approximately 65% of Nebraska’s school districts don’t receive any equalization aid from the state as they are on their own with local property taxes as their primary revenue stream. Property taxes have soared in the last 7-8 years because of inadequate school funding.

Let’s look at the revenue side of the equation to back up my claims from above.

• York Public Schools has had an average annual total revenue increase of just 1.1% since 2008-09 despite our local property tax request increasing over 57% in that same time span. Many other school districts and communities are in the same situation.
o That’s correct….local property taxes have increased over 57% in eight years but our TOTAL revenue increased just 8.8% in that same eight year span.
o You see, in way too many instances, local property tax revenue is simply replacing lost funding from the state.
• We’ve seen the total annual revenue of York Public Schools decrease from $16,040,850 in 2014-15 to $15,016,433 in 2016-17 even though our property tax revenue went up close to $700,000 within that same time frame.

Now, let’s look at spending.

• York Public Schools has had an average annual spending increase of just 1.3% since 2008-09 and a 0% increase since 2014-15. Many other public school districts in Nebraska can say the same thing.
• So, a 0% spending increase since 2014-15 but our local property tax request has gone up $700,000 since then because it is replacing lost revenue….not because of spending.

Here are some facts and figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and annual audit of York Public Schools.

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.
o YPS receives about 74% of our funding from local property taxes

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
o YPS receives only about 18% of our funding from state sources

It’s so easy for some elected officials to blame local spending for high property taxes. I wish they would spend more time and energy on fixing how our schools are funded. We have a funding problem that negatively impacts numerous school districts and communities. Expanding our tax base and looking at the hundreds of millions of dollars of incentives we give away each year could be a place to start as we work on finding revenue outside of local property taxes.