Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Just Some of the Reasons that I LOVE MY JOB

Like many of you, I also have a tough and stressful job. There are days that I definitely wish I had a different career. There are times that I want to go home and never come back to the office. I think that is probably pretty normal for any of us in any profession.

However, let me be very clear, 96.33% of the time, I absolutely love what I do and who I do it for. Being able to go to “school” every day of my career is something I am very proud of. My almost nine years in York have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I don’t know that I would change too many things that have led up to this point.

Below are just some of the reasons I love my job in beautiful York, Nebraska as a proud member of the York Dukes Family.

• I get to learn about amazingly talented students like Alyssa Gilliland, a sophomore at YHS, that already has an ACT score of 33 to her name and a full-ride academic scholarship to UNL. She’s in 10th grade! (Her ACT score already beats mine by a couple of touchdowns! No extra points but still….)

• I get to see awesome young people like Scott Fulsos mature right in front of my eyes. I got to see how his strong work ethic and determination led him to a gold medal at this year’s state wrestling meet.

• I get to see tremendously dedicated teachers and support staff that work hard for every student every day. I see them in our buildings at night, early in the morning, and on the weekends. Our teachers and staff members are top-notch. I will put them up against anyone.

• I get to do a wide variety of “stuff.” Just yesterday, I woke up at 4:10 AM to drive roads to check for ice. I then was able to tamper with a little weather forecasting. After that, I worked on YPS social media, attended a meeting at the bus barn, worked on a grant, wrote three positive notes to mail home, recruited for a potential staff vacancy, worked on two different budget reports, reviewed our NeSA scores, began preparations for 5th Grade Fitness Fun Day later this spring, made last minute tweaks for our Community Coffee and Lunch & Learn presentations on Wednesday, began to put the wheels in motion for some high ability learner programming this summer, prepared a board meeting agenda, worked on our Senior Class Real World Boot Camp coming up on April 3rd, sent out reminders to the YPS Foundation, studied some of our curriculum maps, reached out to a new hire, checked up on some legislative updates, emailed a state senator, texted another state senator, studied some bus bids, reviewed long-range facility plans/projects, and made notes for different improvements we want to make in 2018-19. Later on, I met with a staff member about health insurance benefits and then went to a basketball game. This is a typical kind of day and it fits my personality well because about every 15-20 minutes, I’m on to something else. I guess I’m like a 1st grader in that regard. Keep me on my toes and keep me moving!

• I get to know amazing parents and families of our students along the way. I have celebrated with them in times of joy and cried with them in times of pain. This job allows you to meet so many wonderful people.

• I get to work with amazing community leaders from our business and industry sector. I am lucky to serve on various boards and councils that get to help promote our town and community. These are connections and friendships that I cherish. York, Nebraska is a special place.

• I see HOPE in our younger generation. I see the great things they do in the classroom and within school activities. I know that today’s young people deal with more stress and distractions than any generation before them and most of them do it better than adults. Our students will always be my “main thing.”

• I get to be a TeamMate mentor that works with an awesome 8th grader each week. I get to listen to things through his eyes.

• I get to be involved with Special Olympics Nebraska, which is one of the most rewarding things I’ve been lucky enough to do.

• I see the uncharted enthusiasm and excitement in Kindergarten students. Every day is a great day for them. I wish we all had their energy and passion for learning.

• I have been able to meet unbelievably talented professionals like Greg Barnes at ESU 11, Jim Sutfin in Millard, Aaron Plas at Lakeview, Teresa Schnoor in Kearney, and John Skretta at Norris.

• I’ve worked with phenomenal leaders like Mark Adler, Mike Teahon, Melissa Wheelock, and Caroline Winchester.

• I’ve gotten to know young bloods like Lance Smith that keep me energized and ready to do more.

• I’ve been able to learn from great leaders at NCSA like Mike Dulaney and Dan Ernst and from NASB leaders like John Spatz.

• I get to have meaningful one-on-one conversations with our state’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Matt Blomstedt, a guy I really admire. Wow, life is good!

• I get to go to Speech Meets, One-Act plays, concerts, and Fine Arts Banquets. For FREE!

• I get to learn about aquaponics from our FFA.

• I get to go to all kinds of sporting events and spelling bees and Flag Appreciation Days and enjoy every single one of them!
• I get to learn about robotics and entrepreneurship from middle schoolers!

• I work with an awesome board of education that is truly a team. They study issues, discuss them, and do what is best for our students. I enjoy each and every one of them.

• Social media has allowed me to connect with former students and staff from Fort Leavenworth, Labette County, West Point, and Franklin. I cherish each of those stops throughout my career and the many impactful relationships I was lucky enough to have along the way.

• Every single day, I get to see so many young people with bright futures. It truly is a blessing! Working in education is the perfect career for me. It is so rewarding, challenging, and always changing.

Yes, I have to deal with upset people. Yes, some people hate my guts. Yes, it can get tiring to hear 548 complaints about YPS for every positive we hear. Yes, dealing with energy suckers like the foot stomper and the back stabber gets old.

However, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. When all is said and done, I love my job. I love York Public Schools. I love who I work with, and like my voicemail says, “every day is a great day to be a York Duke!”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Numbers and Random Things

This week's blog is just going to be a compilation of miscellaneous numbers and random things rattling around in my head. Read at your own risk.

Let's start off with some pretty cool information we're proud of regarding our Southeast Nebraska Career Academy Partnership (SENCAP) with Southeast Community College!

SENCAP was designed to provide YHS students opportunities to explore career and educational opportunities while still in high school. Through rigorous college coursework and career exploration, SENCAP and SCC have helped our students focus on a career pathway while saving our students time and money toward the completion of a degree.

Between 2011-2017, we’ve had 257 of our students participate in the Southeast Nebraska Career Academy Partnership (SENCAP). Since 2011, YHS has had 257 students participate in SENCAP and they have completed 488 courses! From 2011-2017, YHS students have earned 1,612 dual credit hours with an average GPA of 3.52 in those courses, which is the highest average of all SENCAP member schools!

YHS students and their families have saved $54,652 in tuition costs for those 1,612 credits earned due to our agreement with SENCAP!

Now, let's move on to our chemical application work certificate program we are so proud of at YHS. This is another exciting opportunity for our students that began just a few years ago thanks to a newly formed partnership with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA), Reinke Irrigation, and Central Valley Ag. In May 2017, we had our first two YHS graduates walk across the state with a high school diploma AND a work certificate in the area of chemical application. This May, we expect to have 5 more graduates do the same.

Our students are able to take the following courses listed below within the friendly confines of YHS, which earns the work certificate that is halfway towards an associates degree. By the way, this comes at ZERO cost to our students thanks to the phenomenal support we receive from NCTA.

* Pest Management
* Ag Chemical Application
* Precision Farming
* Commercial Ag Carrier/CDL
* Crop Science
* Natural Resource Mgmt
* Welding

Next, here are just some random facts and figures that might be of interest.

* There are 1,628 middle school teams in the Vex Robotics Global League. YMS teams are currently raked 270th and 326th in the nation!

* Unfortunately, over 68% of our school district revenue comes from local property taxes. The national average is 29%. Ouch.

* The York TeamMates Chapter has over 160 mentor/mentee matches! We're always on the look-out for more mentors. Contact gayla.knight@yorkdukes.org if you're interested being a mentor.

* Did you know that most states do not allow "option enrollment" like we do here in Nebraska? In most states, you are isolated to the public school within the district that you live but that is not the case here. In fact, over 22,000 students across the state use their "option enrollment choice." YPS has about 32 more students that option in as opposed to optioning out. Our option in/out students come from/go to seven different school districts.

* Did you know that the number of hours a typical K-12 school is in session each year (regular school day, not counting activities) only comes to about 13% of the hours in a given year? That's why parents, families, and guardians should always be the most influential adults in their childrens' lives.

* Did you know that Nebraska public schools have the lowest administrative cost as a percentage of total spending per student of all neighboring states that includes South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming? Nebraska is at less than 5% while all others in this array are between 5.5 to 7%.

* As a direct result, the percentage of public school budgets spent on direct classroom instruction in Nebraska is right at 66% and higher than South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming, who all range between 57-61%.

Have a great week!


Friday, February 9, 2018

News Release from Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform & Education

Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education is proud to support Senator Tom Briese’s LB1084. Coalition members, representing numerous agricultural and educational organizations, showed up in force to provide proponent testimony at the Feb. 8th public hearing on the proposal.

We have a property tax problem in Nebraska, and LB1084 is the only responsible and workable solution on the table that provides real reform while protecting essential public services such as health care, K-12 education, services for the elderly, mental health treatment resources, highways and roads. LB1084 recognizes the importance of both agriculture and education to the state’s economy.

LB1084 would close a number of tax exemptions, bringing Nebraska more in line with neighboring states, and would generate state tax revenue. A good portion of this revenue would be used to support K-12 education in Nebraska and reduce the current over-reliance on property taxes. It will also direct hundreds of millions of much-needed funds into the Property Tax Credit Fund.

Finally, this bill provides for a much-needed study to review the current system of funding K-12 education in Nebraska, and begins the conversation on how to ensure lasting reform that will deliver property tax relief while still providing the children of Nebraska the high-quality education which will allow them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Nebraska Farm Bureau
Nebraska GRANGE
Nebraska Council of School Administrators
Nebraska Corn Growers Association
Nebraska State Education Association
Reform for Nebraska’s Future
Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association
Nebraska Farmers Union
Women Involved in Farm Economics
Nebraska Soybean Association
Gage County Property Tax Group
Nebraska Pork Producers
Nebraska Wheat Growers
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education
Greater Nebraska Schools Association

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


York Public Schools remains extremely concerned about our over-reliance on local property taxes to fund our annual operations. We have been vocal about our concern for several years and, as a result, co-founded “Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education” with the intent to further the dialogue and pursue legislative action to remedy the issue. We have been working with elected officials for a few years on this important topic and appreciate their efforts and input along the way. We are hopeful that a new bill drafted by Senator Tom Briese’s office, with support from “Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education,” will gain traction and help move us closer to a legislative solution of this complicated issue.

The following data points clearly illustrate we have a school funding problem despite some saying that high property taxes are due to excessive school spending.

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%. Over 68% of our 2016-17 funding came from local property taxes!

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%. Just under 17% of our 2016-17 funding came from state sources.

• YPS has 6.5 fewer teachers and 16 fewer support staff members than we did in 2007 despite seeing an increase in student enrollment.

• YPS has had a 0% spending increase since 2014-15 and just an average annual spending increase of 1.3% since 2008-09.

• Our revenue from state equalization aid has plummeted from $2,214,826 in 2014-15 to a paltry $166,566 for 2017-18 causing an even larger over-reliance on local property taxes. The total revenue we have for our budget has decreased over $720,000 since 2014-15 despite a significant increase of more than $1 million in local property taxes. Again, with no spending increase within that time frame.

It remains our hope that our elected officials will pass legislation in this 2018 session to finally address how public schools are funded. If no legislation comes through this year, a logical next step, though one we don’t want to have to look at, could be the pursuit of a potential lawsuit against the State of Nebraska. Several agriculture related organizations, as well as multiple school districts, are regretfully beginning to explore that possibility just in case. If YPS were ever to consider a lawsuit, we would do so with several other partners to ensure that it would come at no financial cost to us.

Some of the main tenets of a potential lawsuit could center around the following legal points.

• The Nebraska State Constitution requires that the State provide a free and public education to all persons between the ages of 5-21 years.
• While the State can delegate the duty for providing the education to school districts, by doing so, it cannot avoid the obligation to finance the “free and public education” guaranteed by the State with a local tax that does not provide substantially equal revenues for each district.
• Students are denied equal protection in their right to a free and public education across the State and school districts are treated differently and are denied equal protection by current legal funding mechanisms.
• Property owners are also compromised by the property tax methods used to finance public education because this financing scheme, which produces widely varied mill levels from district to district, prevents statewide uniformity and proportionality in the imposition of property taxes.

We remain committed to our students and patrons to pursue all possible actions to find meaningful change for school funding in York and all of Nebraska.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Tribute to My Father-In-Law, Papa

Wednesday, January 24th was a scary day for our family. My father-in-law was diagnosed with colon cancer. It hit our family like a ton of bricks.

I had always known that I loved Dr. Dean, or “Papa,” as many of us call him. Ever since I met him for the first time in 1991, he’s been a role model and someone I admire and respect. When I married his daughter in 1993, I knew I loved him, and his family. I guess what I didn’t know was how much I loved him until last week. I guess I always thought there was a level of love for “in-laws” and it wasn’t as deep as the level of love for your “real” family. I really don’t know what I thought, to be honest.

Papa is as good of a man as you’d ever want to meet. He’s a hard-working, kind, sincere, humble, and honest man. He and “Nan” make a wonderful couple that we truly love to spend time with. Papa is what every person would want in a father-in-law and grandpa. He’s just an amazing person.

I guess I’ve let the “in-law” side of things mask how I feel. Maybe it’s not “cool” to love your in-laws like the rest of your family. I don’t know. There are so many jokes about people not enjoying their in-laws, etc. Nothing could be farther from the truth in my experience. I’ve been blessed with Nan and Papa as my in-laws and they’re amazing. I truly look forward to spending time with them. Nan is my sports buddy as we go to all kinds of different athletic events together. Papa is my fishing buddy and although we seldom catch tons of fish, we always have a good time together.

As I felt the pit in my stomach grow on January 24th and then as tears burned my eyes, my initial grief went towards thoughts of my wife. She loves her dad so much. I cried thinking about how much she was hurting. I struggled to think of things to say and do to help her process this info. I wanted to make sure I was “there” for her as I haven’t always done a great job of that in the past.

My sorrow then turned towards my four children. They love and admire Papa so much as well. They have so many great memories with him too. I struggled to find the words to tell Jeb and Bo. I had to tell Micah via telephone and didn’t want to share too much. Taylor was told by Liesl and I wanted to follow up with her to see how she was doing.

Next, I began to think of Nan. She and Papa are a happily married couple coming up on their 58th anniversary in a few weeks. They are inseparable. I didn’t want to think of Nan without Papa. I don’t like to think about Papa without Nan. They’re one and the same in my eyes…like peanut butter and jelly.
My thoughts then began to linger to others parts of the family, my nieces and nephews, brothers-in-law, and sister-in-law. Papa is such a huge part of all of our lives. We want and need him around for many more years.

After I processed all of these emotions and made mental checklists about each member of the family, I was still overcome with grief. I soon realized it was my own. I love Papa like he is my own. Again, it is weird to describe….I always knew I loved him but I didn’t know to what level until last week. The pain and sadness I felt couldn’t have been any worse if it was my own flesh and blood, my own parents. My love for Papa (and Nan) is not restricted by the title of “in-laws.” We’re simply “family.”

Well, on January 29th, Papa had successful surgery to remove the cancer. We now wait to see if it spread throughout his polyps. He looked good when I saw him after surgery. Tired and in pain, but who wouldn’t be? There was a huge sense of relief throughout the entire family.

This latest dose of “perspective” reminded us all to let our loved ones know how much they mean to us. It reminded us all that nothing should be taken for granted. It reminded me of all the things Papa has taught me over the years.

It made me realize how lucky I am to have married into the family led by Nan and Papa in Omaha, Nebraska. We continue to hope and pray for Papa to make a full recovery and to live many more happy and healthy years.

Papa has helped make me a better man. I'm not as good as I want to be but I'm getting there and he deserves a lot of credit for being the kind of role model we can all look up to.

I love you Nan and Papa.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MOTIVATION -- What Motivates You?

Motivation is a funny thing. It’s often hard to describe or depict in others but you can almost always tell when it is present.

For me, the fear of failure has always been my strongest motivator. As much as I like success and winning, the positive feelings that come with those don’t outweigh the negative feelings that come with failure and losing. Like Bo Ryan used to say, “The losses hurt worse than the wins feel good.”

I guess it’s safe to say that I’m more of an “intrinsic guy” because my motivation almost always come from within me, as opposed to external factors. I’ve had enough failures and losses in my life that I know I choose to do whatever I can to avoid those in the future. I think about it every day. I try to be my own harshest critic and set high expectations for myself that sometimes only I know if I accomplish or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I get motivated by outside factors as well. There’s a pretty healthy “chip on my shoulder” that motivates me continually. “The chip” exists from people telling me what can’t be done, from individuals and organizations not giving “little ol’ York” the respect we’ve earned, and from being looked down upon by others when I was younger. I do my best to manage “the chip” and use it strategically without letting it get out of control.

Growing up in a single-parent home and having to work since 8th grade forced me to look at things a little differently than my affluent friends. You see, working as a garbage man, farm laborer, gas station attendant, construction worker, roofer, security guard, and sod-layer between the ages of 13-17 makes you develop some toughness and can be very motivating. We had to earn what we had, nothing was handed to us, and that has a way of motivating you to work hard, appreciate what you have, and be skeptical of those that are entitled and unappreciative of the blessings in their lives.

I’m glad York gets overlooked by some because “we’re way out west” away from Lincoln and Omaha and not part of an urban, metro area. I will tell you this with unabashed sincerity….York is as good as anyone, regardless of our size. Just because we’re not “Class A” or within “the metro” doesn’t mean we’re not elite. Size does not always matter and bigger doesn’t always mean better. Real talk!

Legislatively, there have been several bills introduced over the past few years that could be motivating to all public school employees. Recently, a bill was introduced to eliminate the State Board of Education and give its control to the Governor’s Office. The Americans for Prosperity – Nebraska Chapter is using extremely distorted student achievement data to call public education in Nebraska “a disgrace.” Motivation is everywhere if we choose to look for it.

I will tell you this, the assault on public education doesn’t motivate me as much as simply serving our children does. I’m in the “kid business” and business is good. I work for kids, not for politicized groups. It’s always been about doing what is best for our students regardless of who supports that or not. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the “bulletin board material” the anti-public school crowd provides but it’s really just “clutter” that doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything different than we already do every day for every student. Our kids deserve our best effort every minute of every day and that has to come from intrinsic motivation; not from outside influences.

Motivation is often needed in January and February as the “winter doldrums” can overtake us if we’re not careful. I choose to use past failures to keep me going. I choose to use “the chip” to keep me fueled and engaged. I choose to keep going to help make YPS better and better.

What motivates you?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bulletin Board Material Regarding Legislative Bill 295

It was with great interest that I read the recent article in the Omaha World-Herald regarding Legislative Bill 295. This bill, as you might recall, offers income tax credits for donating to private and parochial school scholarships. Despite our state’s massive revenue shortfall, this proposed legislation somehow made its way out of the Revenue Committee last spring and could possibly be up for debate this winter.

A couple of quotes really caught my attention.

Senator Jim Smith of Papillion said the bill would “help curb education costs by reducing the number of public school students. He also argued that it would bring competition into education, which he said would improve outcomes and lower costs.”

I don’t agree. Let’s say York Public Schools, which has approximately 1,400 students, loses 50 children through LB-295. Let’s say those 50 kids are somewhat evenly distributed throughout our K-12 structure with 3-4 per grade level moving on to private/parochial schools due to these “scholarships.” What costs are we going to “save?” We will not be able to reduce the number of bus routes we have. We will need the same amount of teachers. Our facilities will have the same square footage to heat and cool. What exactly do we save with 3-4 fewer students per grade level?

His comment infers that there is not already intense competition within education. Do you think York is not already trying to do everything we can to be the best? Do you think we are sitting by while Seward, Aurora, Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, and Crete are improving and we are going to accept the status quo? Educators compete every single day. We often “do more with less” as York hasn’t had a spending increase since 2014-15 and averages just a 1.3% annual spending increase since 2008-09. Yet, our student achievement scores on local, state, and national assessments are at an all-time high. We compete with option enrollment, (which most states don’t offer), virtual schools, home schools, parochial and private schools every day. I assure you competition is alive and well.

Senator LouAnn Linehan, who I am proud to say has visited York Public Schools twice already this school year, was credited with saying, “that tax credit scholarships would provide students with an education for less than the average cost per student of a public school education, meaning the money would stretch further.”

“I promise you, in the long run we save money and the kids get a better education,” she said.

These quotes are “bulletin board material,” which I thought I was done with after I hung up my college football cleats and helmet back in 1993. I’d love to see the data that shows the education that these chosen students would receive that cost so much less but is so much better.

According to a March 22, 2017 article in the World-Herald, the NGL Academy in Bellevue, a specialized school that could possibly receive some students on “scholarship” if LB-295 advances, opened up this fall with an annual tuition of $14,500; which is over $2,500 MORE than our public school per-pupil spending average throughout the entire state. Most Class A and B school districts in our state have a cost-per-pupil closer to $11,000.

I will make my own promise. York Public Schools will put the education we provide our children up against anybody and we’re not afraid to say that we’re always a work in progress that strives to get better every single day; just like our amazing public school colleagues all across the state in small, medium, and urban-sized districts. We open our doors for “every student every day” and we “find a way” to create opportunities so all of our students can achieve success and hope for the future. Public education is alive and well in Nebraska and thriving.