Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Importance of Support Staff

Amazing school districts have amazing school teachers. That's a given. What our teachers do within the four walls of their classrooms each and every hour of each and every school day is of the utmost importance. You simply can't be a winning organization without winners in key roles.

However, another extremely important group of school employees, that often gets overlooked, is what we call support staff. These are our paras, secretaries, drivers, custodians, nurses, cooks, and all of the groups that often work "behind the scenes" but are so vitally important. York Public Schools is a winning team because of our support staff. We can't do what we do without them!

Our support staff doesn't always get the attention that administrators, coaches, and teachers get but that doesn't mean they aren't just as important. They often do the "little things" that get taken for granted by many. They often work with students that need it the most. They often deal with adults that are upset. They deal with tough driving conditions. They deal with large crowds and big messes. They deal with deadlines and to-do lists just like their certified counterparts.

My hat is off to all support staff employees. THANK YOU for being important in the development of our students. THANK YOU for being part of our TEAM. THANK YOU for your commitment to YPS. THANK YOU.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I Messed Up Yesterday

Let's face it, I make mistakes every day. Yesterday at Kindergarten Graduation was no different. I was lucky to be able to address the large crowd for about two minutes. I thanked our teachers, staff, and administrators. That was a no-brainer. They're awesome! I thanked the parents of our students for sharing their children with us. That was easy.

I messed up by not hitting hard enough a couple of points I wanted to really emphasize. I told the parents and grandparents in attendance that even though our teachers and staff are amazing that parents and grandparents will ALWAYS be their children's most important teachers and advocates. I then kind of tailed off instead of hitting that again and again and again.

Parents and Grandparents are the most important people in the lives of young people. Being a parent is the toughest job in the world. Parents simply need to spend TIME with their children. Read with your kids. Let your kids help you cook. Go fishing together. Sit on the front porch and talk to each other. Play cards. PUT YOUR CELL PHONES AWAY. Watch a movie together. Go on a walk.

Too often, we think our love for our kids is measured in how much money we spend on them. It's not. The most important thing you can do with children is spend your TIME. Play catch. Work on a crossword puzzle together. Just be together.

A school year consists of about 13% of the hours in a 365-day year. That's not a typo. Do the math. A typical school year is about 1,125 hours of time in our classrooms. There are 8,760 hours in a year. Our students/kids are OUT of our classrooms for 87% of the year. Parents, grandparents, and family are the ultimate role models of their children.

To all parents and grandparents...embrace the opportunities and challenges you have to help your child each and every day.

Our kids grow up too fast....it seems like just yesterday I attended Kindergarten Graduation of my oldest daughter. On June 10th, I will walk her down the aisle as she gets married. Time flies. Enjoy your children!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


York Public Schools is extremely proud to be part of "Project Search," which is an internship program designed to transition young adults with disabilities from the high school setting into employment within the workplace. This rewarding program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help young adults with disabilities make successful transitions from school to productive adult life.

Thanks to Beth Ericson, ESU 6, Nichole Wetjen, York General, and others for their commitment to this vital program. I just left Project Search Graduation where we honored Katlyn and Cody, two more YHS graduates. It is one of my favorite days of the year. The pride and enthusiasm that our Project Search students display as they learn various work skills is inspiring. Their work ethic and desire to work hard should be examples for us all!

I choked up a little as I listened to Nichole Wetjen passionately and tearfully reminiscing about the gains each of this year's graduates made. I smiled like a kid in a candy shop as I looked around the room and saw so much happiness and joy from the families of each graduate. Today was a tremendous accomplishment for Katlyn and Cody and a young man from Milford High. They earned their high school diplomas and completed work internships in multiple areas. All three have employment already lined up.

As I told the crowd before I proudly presented diplomas, Project Search is one of the best things we get to be involved with. It is refreshing to be around those that are so humble, thankful, and enthusiastic about working and learning. My hat is off to everyone involved with Project Search.

We are proud of you!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

LB-651 is a HORRIBLE Idea

Another day and another potential crisis for public education in Nebraska....Senator Linehan, a school choice advocate, wants to pass LB-651, which would require school districts to fail and retain 3rd graders that don't pass a high stakes reading level exam. Here is the email I sent off to all state senators earlier today....

State Senators:

LB-651 has caused quite a stir....folks in the Governor's office and even a few of you have taken jabs at public education by verbalizing that we are "against 3rd graders reading at/above grade level." It's always interesting to see how those clamoring for "school choice" take any attempt they can to try and make public education look bad.

We're opposed to LB-651 because of the retention piece, that we know from numerous studies, is harmful to children. (John Hattie's Study Regarding the Effects of Grade Retention)

We'd love for any and all of you to come visit York Elementary School at any time to go through our K-3rd grade reading program. Shadow our classroom teachers and/or our Title I teachers and/or our numerous community and parent volunteers to watch the small group work they do every single day. Come watch our DIBELS testing. Come see our tiered interventions. We bust our tails to help ALL kids read at and above grade level.

We're obviously not opposed to teaching children to read. That's laughable. We're extremely accountable to do so through NeSA and AQUESST.

We utilize numerous resources before school, during school, after school, and over the summer to deliver reading interventions in a variety of ways to help ALL readers improve their reading and comprehension abilities.

I know the "school choice advocates" are scurrying to find ways to make public schools look bad. I get that. They have orders to make school choice happen in Nebraska. They think allowing charter schools that aren't governed by locally elected school boards, that don't have transparency, don't have to follow public school guidelines, etc. is the way to go.

LB-651 isn't the answer. Forced retention of children is a horrible idea.

Did anyone behind this bill reach out to any school districts to see what they do to help struggling readers? Did this bill have any support within the education committee?

If LB-651 passes and we get charter schools at some point, will they also have to follow this guideline?

Please vote down LB-651. It's bad for children. Please reach out to your school districts (or York) and see what is already taking place.


My dad and step-mama came to York this past week for a quick visit. They live in Wildwood, FL so the weather change they witnessed from Thursday afternoon, over the weekend, and through Monday was eye-opening for them. Needless to say, as our temps dropped to the 30's on Sunday, they were missing 90 degrees in the sunshine state!

All of my family lives in Florida and I don't get to see them very much. I haven't been back there since 2012 and I need to do a better job of visiting. It got me thinking....which is always dangerous. My dad just turned 69 years old in April. Let's say we're lucky that he lives to be 95 years old. Let's say that I'm lucky enough to see him for eight days a year (often it is not that long) for the next 26 years. That comes to 208 days that I could possibly get to spend with my dad. That's less than seven months. That's not enough. That's sad.

As busy as we all get, as stressful as our jobs are, as hectic as life is, we must find time for family. We must reach out and make memories. We must embrace the limited opportunities we have to spend with loved ones. This is an area I have to improve in!

Here's to family. Near and far. Tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Surprise them with a card or a phone call. "TIME" is deceiving.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Let's Prioritize Adequate and Sustainable School Funding and Property Tax Reform

As almost any public school board member or superintendent can tell you, many of our state’s citizens are screaming for property tax reform while also being fully supportive of adequately funding our public schools. According to a poll conducted by “Reform for Nebraska’s Future,” 77% of respondents indicated they were supportive of property tax reform. The vast majority of our elected officials at the state level even campaigned on the promise of property tax reform, and for good reason.

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%. (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance, 2016 – Based on 2014 Survey Data.)
• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%. (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance, 2016 – Based on 2014 Survey Data.)
• Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state. (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance Report, June, 2016 https://www2.census.gov/govs/school/14f33pub.pdf)

The school funding formula, TEEOSA, which was implemented back in 1990, has only been fully funded two or three times over the past 15 or 16 years. In most instances, due to increasing needs, the TEEOSA calculation comes out more expensive than the state wants to allocate, so in order for the state to “balance” their budget, they underfund schools and force us to make up the difference with local property taxes. That’s how this current system works.

Some folks like to blame “spending” as the culprit for high property taxes but it’s really a funding issue. Many of the school districts most reliant on local property taxes, like York, have an annual average spending increase of less than 1.6% over the past eight years. York’s state equalization aid has plummeted from $3.7 million to $225,000 in that same span as land valuations increased. We have a school funding problem, folks.

Our state senators must decide soon whether they want to represent their constituents, the 77% of Nebraskans that are calling for property tax reform, or if they will succumb to a few very wealthy and powerful people instead. How our state senators handle various bills down the stretch will show us who they truly care about.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In 25 days it is "See You Later" and NOT "Goodbye"

I was lucky enough to spend all day with our Class of 2017 today as we held our first ever "Real World Boot Camp" for them. They were able to learn tons of things from basic car maintenance to how to build a positive credit rating to how metabolism changes as you consume sugary drinks. It was an enriching day!

As I addressed the kids at the end of the day, I told them to enjoy these next 25 days as that is how long they have until graduation. I challenged them to cherish these few weeks as classmates and friends. We all know that even though you think you will stay connected with your hometown buddies your entire life, that just isn't true. I spent almost every waking minute of my 13th-17th years on this earth with Pat McLaughlin, John Zito, D.R. Repass, and Brian Duffy. We were the best of friends, loyal teammates, and buddies. We graduated on June 8, 1990 and scattered all across the country for various reasons. I can count on one hand how many times I've seen those guys in the past 27 years.

In 25 days, this next group of Dukes will enter the "real world." However, I told them that we don't say "Forever a Duke" lightly. It means something here. When these kids leave us in a few weeks, it's not "goodbye" as it will be "see you later" because we want and need them to stay connected with York as they go out and do great things. After May 14th comes and goes, they will never dominate another biology test, score another goal, make another impressive speech, or play another instrument as an active member of York Public Schools BUT they will ALWAYS be part of the York Duke Family.

The Class of 2017 should be proud of their many accomplishments but their best is yet to come! You wait and see!