Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Don't Cry Because it is Over - Smile Because it Happened

I used to blog 3-4 times a month but slowed way down this year. This will be my final blog as a York Duke.

Over the years, especially around this time of year when “graduation stuff” is in full gear, I’ve often heard the phrase, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” It is really great advice.

However, I am here to tell you that it’s possible to do BOTH because that’s exactly what I am experiencing as we transition out of York and into Omaha.

I am not ashamed to admit I have cried several times about leaving York on June 12th. I am sure many more tears will be shed in the coming weeks as well. Luckily, I have also smiled thousands of times thinking about all of the great people I met and the cherished memories we made together.

I have cried because we are leaving the comfort zone of York. We are leaving the place we have grown to love and called “home” for a decade, which is the equivalent of at least 24 years in a superintendent’s life (yes, our careers are kind of measured like dog years, I guess). I am sad because we leave behind so many people we call friends and teammates.

I have smiled because of all of the amazing students and staff I have had the privilege of working with/for. I am smiling because of the great board of education members I have been lucky enough to work with. I am smiling because of the parents and community members that have befriended me and made my family and I feel so welcome here.

I am smiling because of all of the accomplishments we have had that have brought a tremendous sense of pride and achievement to our school system and community. I am smiling because I have been blessed to watch the Class of 2019 grow up right before my eyes.

I have cried because I don’t want the memories to fade. I don’t want to forget the excitement of our “Back to School Celebrations,” Community Pep Rallies, adding academic opportunities for our students in all buildings, the sound of that beautiful cannon "boom" at East Hill Stadium on Friday night, the Duke Dome, One-Act plays, band and choir concerts, the soccer complex, the new ballfield complex, field trips, talent shows, random classroom visits, quiz bowls, FFA contests, administrative team meetings, and all of the other amazing things the York Dukes excel at.

I am smiling because I was so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was able to see our academics improve because of the dedicated work of teachers and staff. I saw our activity programs begin to excel because of desire and hard work and Duke Pride. I loved witnessing a community embrace a school district right before my eyes. I have been positively impacted by so many amazing students and staff members over the years in Y-Town, which we turned into Title-Town.

I have cried because this very rewarding, memorable, and successful part of my career is coming to a close. They say “all great things must come to an end” and I am living that out day by day. It is really coming to an end.

I am smiling because I am excited for the opportunities and challenges at Westside Community Schools in Omaha. Westside is a tradition-rich and proud organization that I am excited to serve. I am happy to be able to get my wife back to her hometown to be closer to her parents and family.

I am happy to “practice what I preach” and give up my comfort zone to reinvent myself and lay it all on the line as I start over in the Class A ranks. I have to start back at Ground Zero with no credibility or trust. It all has to be earned again. It’s a little scary but pretty exciting too. I have always embraced challenges. I don’t know what the future holds at Westside but I know that I will work harder than ever to help make a positive impact there.

I am entering the last stage of my career. I am planning on Westside being my final job. I hope to give them 11-12 years of all I have and will then shut it down and fish and golf until my hands hurt.

Thanks to all of the York Dukes. I will always love you and root for you. Let’s finish strong these last 12 days of school!

Thanks to Westside Community Schools for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. It is my honor to get to roll up my sleeves and begin to work for you on June 17th. It’s going to be a heck of a ride.

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Pretty Good" is Horrendous

Raise your hand if you want a "pretty good" pilot to be in charge of your next flight. Raise your hand if you want a "pretty good" surgeon operating on you or a loved one in the near future. "Pretty good" is the enemy, folks. "Pretty good" stinks. "Pretty good" gets you beat. How many of you want the Cornhuskers to give a "pretty good" effort against Iowa next November in football?

It sounds pretty harsh, I guess, but as educators we have to fight back against "pretty good." As educators, we have to expect more form ourselves and those around us. We can't give a pretty good effort. We can't accept a pretty good performance. We have to have more.

Pretty good is the lowering of expectations. Pretty good is settling instead of excelling. Pretty good is comfortable, and that is the main problem. Being comfortable can be a huge problem for us. Don't be afraid to get OUT of our your comfort zone and push yourself to a higher level. The best achievements in life happen outside of your comfort zone!

Why settle for "pretty good" when you can be amazing? Does any mountain climber ever wake up and say they want to climb up that mountain half-way? Go big or go home. If you don't want to be the best, find something else to do. If you wash trucks for a living, clean them up like a world-champion. If you paint houses for a living, make each one your masterpiece. If you teach for a living, pour your heart and soul into every student you have, every single day. Be sensational.

Every little thing matters. Yes, it causes stress and discomfort. Yes, it puts pressure on you. Winning and success aren't easy. They start with the mindset that pretty good is the enemy. Many of our grandparents used to tell us that "if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right." Let's keep that ideal alive.

Don't be pretty're better than that. Be spectacular.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Memories, Challenges, Reflections, and Opportunities

It's been an eventful month. Recent events have forced me to spend lots of time in deep thought reflecting on the past and pondering about the future. Typing this blog, while listening to some great tunes from George Strait and Alan Jackson, is very therapeutic and much needed. This will be the only time I plan to address York and Westside from this social media account as I want to be very fair to both.

Being a York Duke for these past 10 years has been a blessing. It has meant more to my family and I than I can put into words. We were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. My wife and I, as well as our four kids, all made lifelong friends here that we will cherish forever. Life is about relationships and we hit the jackpot in York.

Here are some of my all-time favorite memories in York...there are too many to list so this is just a sample....

1) Spending the night with our 3rd graders at the Omaha Zoo back in 2010 after an evening thunderstorm that led to a sleepless night of smelling 200+ smelly and wet socks, etc. My back hurt for a month but it was worth it!

2) Passing the YHS bond issue in November 2011 with a 69% voter approval ....I had always thought about what the celebration would be like as a superintendent on such an occasion...I came home ready to celebrate and my boys were asleep, Liesl and Micah had gone to Omaha to say goodbye to a family cat named "Honeycomb" that had gotten sick and there I was all alone....I ended up playing on-line NCAA Football until the wee hours of the morning with my beloved Seminoles and went 4-0 beating some guys that tried me with LSU, BYU, Ohio State, and USC.

3) When Brett Onnen made a deep 3-pointer as a Duke Hoopster playing at halftime of a YHS game in 2010. The student section picked him up, toweled off his sweaty face, and body surfed him through the crowd. It was the loudest I ever heard the YHS gym until...see #4 below....

4) February 2018 when the York Dukes beat Aurora in the district final basketball game in what was a deafening roar the entire game....the Duke Dome was jumping and it was an amazing atmosphere. My ears were ringing for a couple of days after that!

5) Our "Back to School Celebrations" and "Community Pep Rallies" in East Hill Park each August.

6) Being able to be there in person this year to watch YHS One-Act win another State Championship in Norfolk.

7) Watching #11 snag an important interception in Memorial Stadium to help YHS win the football state championship in 2017.

8) Watching the York Dukes Boys' Basketball team overcome all kinds of adversity to cut down the nets in Pinnacle Bank Arena in March 2018 and then being able to get Dr. Nordlund down to the team locker-room to celebrate and take pictures afterwards.

9) My first visit to the YHS Animal Science Lab and Greenhouse....leaving there thinking, "WOW!" Such amazing opportunities for our students.

10) Making home visits through our SixPence Early Childhood Grant and seeing some of the challenges our young people and their families have to deal with and how amazing our staff is that works with them on a daily basis.

11) Seeing the Manufacturing & Entrepreneurship course get launched at YMS last year. It is such an innovative course offering that will benefit many students for years to come.

12) Our "Real World Leadership Academy" each April for our graduating class out at the Holthus Convention Center.

13) Getting to take my beautiful wife to another Prom each April.

14) Every kindergarten graduation!

15) All of the YMS "Almost Anything Goes" Days.

16) Coaching Bo and his buddies in pee-wee football and in basketball games in Bee, Nebraska. Also, being able to see Jeb and Bo play varsity football together this year on the field at the same time.

17) Watching both of my daughters at State Cross Country in 2009 and 2010 and then qualify together for state track with gutty performances at district track in Lexington in early May 2011.

18) Every April at "Honors Night" when we get to see and hear all of the amazing academic accomplishments of our graduating class.

19) All of the concerts, Veterans Day programs, speech invites, and other activities that were so fun to attend.

20) NASB School Board Conventions every November with the YPS Board of Education....spending time learning and brainstorming together to help the York Dukes.

This June, it will be time to begin the final chapter of my career as we transition to Westside Community Schools in Omaha. I am very excited about the opportunities at Westside. It is a premier school district known for innovation and excellence. I have given everything I have to York the past 10 years and will continue to do so for the next few months. It will then be time to be "all in" at Westside and to do our part to help build on the tremendous accomplishments and rich history already in place.

The opportunity to get my wife back to her hometown to be closer to family, while also joining one of the best school districts in the entire Midwest, was too good to pass up. Earning a Class A leadership position was always in the back of my mind and there is never an ideal time to do so. We are excited to develop relationships within the Westside family and to do our part to help push Westside forward to ensure a bright future for the 6,000+ students counting on us each and every day.

Thanks to the York Dukes Family for the last 10 years. We still have several more months together to get better.

Thanks to the Westside Family for believing in me and trusting in me to help you for the next 10+ years. It's going to be a fun and productive ride!

Thursday, November 1, 2018


Sometimes in education, we get too caught up in labels. We are beginning to work on our "annual report" that we publish for our patrons every December. We list out many things from how many miles our buses drive a year to how many breakfasts we serve to how our students are doing on state and national assessments.

We also include demographic info on our students to include what percentage of our students are enrolled in special education, how many qualify for free/reduced meals, and how many are classified as "mobile" by being in two or more school districts in a year. It is here that we need to be careful about our expectations and actions.

School districts today have access to more student achievement data than ever before. We can tell on a monthly basis what kind of progress students are making in all kinds of areas. We disaggregate data to compare this subgroup to that one. We analyze results through a myriad of factors. Are they on grade level? Are they showing ample growth? How do they compare to the state and national average? Are they just "meeting" or are they "exceeding" standards? It's all good if used the right way.

It's important to crunch the numbers and see how different groups of students are doing, don't get me wrong. Do you have a gap in math achievement between males and females? Are special education students showing the same yearly growth as their non-SPED peers? These are all extremely important! Analyzing achievement data helps us make important curriculum adjustments. It helps mold our instructional initiatives.

It's just that I want all educators to be careful with their "expectations" when it comes to disaggregated group labels. The most obvious one to me is those students that qualify for free or reduced school meals. Right at 45% of the state's students do qualify for free or reduced school meals. In York, the percentage is over 46%.

I'm here to tell you that students in this category should not be limited in their achievement. They should not have lower expectations. There are numerous factors that go into whether or not students qualify for free/reduced meals. Many of the bet students I've ever had in Kansas or West Point or Franklin or York were on free/reduced meals. Many earned an ACT score of 29 or higher. Many were on the honor roll.

We need to have high expectations for all students. We need to have high expectations for all faculty and staff. We simply cannot put a ceiling on a kid's potential because of a label. Kids will more often than not rise to the level of expectations we have in them. We need to believe in them and support and all.

Friday, October 12, 2018

School Safety Update from YPS

School Safety is something we spend a lot of time and resources on throughout each year. Events across the country the past few years have shown this is a topic that must be continually addressed and enhanced on a regular basis.

• In September, all YPS classroom and office staff earned ALICE certification after an on-line training program. ALICE stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate.
• All YPS buildings have determined two “rallying points” in case they need to evacuate their facilities. By having two different rallying points in totally different directions, we can select which one is best for the uniqueness of a given situation.
• All YPS classrooms have received “Emergency Go Buckets.” These buckets include some basic emergency kit items that would help us in a lockdown or evacuation drill.
• Over the next few weeks, all YPS classroom and office staff will have participated in “Stop the Bleed” training with staff from York General. This would be useful if we were ever in a lockdown situation and had to wait on medical care to arrive on site.
• On Tuesday, October 30th, it is our intent to conduct basic lock-down and evacuation drills in each YPS building. We will NOT use practice intruders or fake guns or do anything that will be alarming, loud, intrusive, or upsetting to our students. We will simply practice some intercom announcements, conduct our lock-down drills, discuss movement throughout the buildings, review our protocol with emergency buckets, staying away from doors, etc. We will then perform an evacuation drill where we walk off campus to one of our rally points. We want to see the flow of our students out of our buildings, on sidewalks, etc. to better prepare for any adjustments we need to make. We want to practice keeping track of our students as we move from campus in an urgent but efficient and organized manner. We are working to collaborate with local law enforcement and first responders so they can participate in the drills to see our procedures and offer up any suggestions from their professional points of view.

We are sending out this information to simply let everyone know the steps we are taking to maximize the safety and well-being of our students and staff. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns at 402-366-6491 or Thank you for your support.

Mike Lucas
Superintendent of Schools

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


I love seeing all of the "BE KIND" info on social media, on shirts, and seemingly all over the place in Nebraska. It's obviously a tremendous message. BE KIND. It should go without saying. I'm proud of the important work Dr. Mark Adler and his beautiful wife, Joni, share about BEING KIND as they tell Reid's story. Dr. Jim Sutfin in Millard is doing a great job as an unwavering supporter of the BE KIND initiative as well. It's all awesome!

I haven't been super vocal about it but that doesn't mean it's not important to me. BEING KIND is one of my main goals every single day. I love to talk to people that others don't often acknowledge. I'm that guy that chats up the stressed out sandwich maker at Subway and tries with all of my power to make them smile and relax a little bit even though the line behind is growing. I literally try to go out of my way to help others every day. Not because I want attention or praise but because it's the right thing to do. For everyone. Every day.

I love to see students lead the way with BEING KIND. My favorite students are the ones that make sure no students sit alone in the lunchroom or on the bus. The best students are the ones that can find a way to include everyone.

We all need a little more KINDNESS in our lives. The world can be an unkind place at times.

Each and every day we are faced with thousands of decisions and situations. BEING KIND should be the easiest decision we make.

Don't be afraid to extend a helping hand to others. We've all felt isolated and alone before. It's a horrible feeling. Be the reason today that someone feels included and accepted.

Don't get me wrong....I love the attention that the "BE KIND MOVEMENT" is receiving....I just wish it wasn't needed and was a no-brainer like it should be.

BE KIND today. BE KIND tomorrow. BE KIND next week. BE KIND when nobody else is paying attention. BE KIND always.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Dealing with Grief

My sister-in-law, Molly, passed away on Saturday, August 18th. It's been a brutally tough time for my family. Molly was "fine" before Thursday, July 19th when she went to the doctor with a headache and some back pain. The next thing we know, after some tests were conducted, is that she has tumors all over her brain and lung cancer. By that Sunday, July 22nd she was pretty much bed-ridden. Shortly after that, she had seizures and lost sight in one of her eyes and never left the hospital again. She passed away on August 18th holding hands with my wife and her parents. Jeb, Bo, and I were en route at the Utica exit on I-80 to say our goodbyes as she died.

It's been tough to deal with the sadness. Molly was only 56 years old. This all happened so fast. She leaves behind Kate, her 18-year old daughter, who graduated from Skutt this past May.

Personally, I'm as sad as I've ever been. I loved Molly. She was a sister to me. She was an amazing and kind person that everyone felt good around. She was special. She really was. When you factor in how hard it is to see how devastated my wife is it gets even harder. Liesl and Molly were close. They were eachother's only sisters. Molly was always there for Liesl. She isn't anymore.

It's hard to wake up each day knowing Molly isn't there. It's harder to wake up each day and see your wife dealing with the fact Molly isn't there anymore either. Then, you throw in how much my kids miss Molly and it's hard to process at times. It's tough to see the toll it takes on my mother and father-in-law, my sister-in-law, and brothers-in-law, my nieces and nephew, and especially Kate.

I know our grief isn't unique. Way too many families lose loved ones every day. To cancer. To suicide. To accidents. We're not special. We know that. This feeling of loss is too common for too many.

I've lost loved ones before. All four of my grand-parents have died since 1995. They all lived well into their 70's to 90's so it was easier to process than losing Molly at 56 within a month of being diagnosed. Molly's death just feels different.

I would give anything if Molly was still with us.

Speaking at her Rosary on August 22nd was the most difficult thing I've ever done. I've given thousands of speeches and talks but not that meant as much as that one. I wanted to be anywhere else in the world doing anything else than saying goodbye to Molly.

Molly is gone. I know that. The holidays will be brutal without her. We will do our best to wrap Kate in love and support and that makes us all feel a little better about "helping out" and having a sense of "purpose" in the memory of Molly.

We are trying to be normal. We are trying to be happy. We are staying busy. We will get back to normal at some point, whatever normal is anymore. Thanks for all of the support.