Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It's Important to Remember the "GOOD STUFF"

It's important to remember all of the positive things going on throughout York Public Schools. By nature, we tend to focus on the areas that need improvement (and we should) as we're always striving to get better. However, sometimes it's important to sit back and celebrate just some of the many outstanding initiatives and accomplishments we've had....so, that's what my blog is about this week! We have lots to be excited about while many challenges remain.


York High School implemented a one-of-a-kind work certification program in September 2015 as students can earn high school credit AND work certification through the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in the areas of diversified ag, irrigation technology, and/or chemical application. Business partnerships with Reinke and Central Valley Ag make this possible as all courses are delivered at YHS!

Over 71% of our teachers have a Masters’ Degree. The state average is 52%.

Our 4th graders partner with Nebraska’s Chapter of “Pheasants Forever” each spring to improve several acres of pollinator habitat in York County.

The York Dukes have an average ACT Composite score of 22.5, which is well above the national average of 21.0.
Our students that took biology, chemistry, and physics had an average score of 26.5 on the ACT Science exam

We began an “Entrepreneurship Academy” in July 2015 in collaboration with the York Chamber of Commerce and York County Development Corporation. Our 5th-8th grade students learn about business plan development, create their own products, take out a real loan from a bank, market their products, and sell them!

We have offered a “FREE LUNCH” program each of the past five summers and averaged right around 75 daily meals in June/July 2015.
We’ve seen our percentage of elementary students that qualify for free/reduced lunch increase from 30% in 2000 to almost 60% in 2015.

York High School has partnered with our colleagues at Centennial and Seward High Schools to offer an “Agronomy Academy” through business partnerships with Pioneer, Monsanto, Syngenta, and Mycogen. Students are exposed to career exploration and the science of “corn” in our great state as they meet at a production facility three times a week to gain hands-on experiences not available in the traditional high school.

The York Dukes had an average score of 128.4 on NeSA-Reading while the state average was 120.6
Over 87% of the Dukes performed at/above the proficient level

The York Dukes had an average score of 120.9 on NeSA-Math while the state average was 109.3
Over 84% of the Dukes performed at/above the proficient level

The York Dukes had an average score of 112.3 on NeSA-Science while the state average was 105.7
Over 83% of the Dukes performed at/above the proficient level

Our partnerships with the Buffett Foundation allow us to offer some SixPence programming for 0-3 year olds that is outstanding and includes socialization activities, in-home visits, and coordination of services for those in need. We also partner with the Nebraska Womens’ Prison to provide parenting assistance to inmates that meet certain criteria.

The YHS Class of 2015 earned over $3.4 million in scholarships with $360,000 coming from local sources; which shows the tremendous community support our young people receive.

YHS students earned 938 college credits through our dual credit program in 2014-15!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Telling "Our Story" is More Important Than Ever

Wow! I truly had no idea on January 11th when I sent out my document titled, "When did Public Education Become the Enemy?" that it would hit such a nerve with so many people. I am glad it was printed in the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, Beatrice Daily Sun, York News-Times, Grand Island Independent, Kearney Hub, and others. It spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter. Schools sent it home in newsletters. It was used at staff meetings. All in all, I received over 400 emails, texts, phone calls, and/or social media messages thanking me for the piece. Someone said it had been shared on Facebook over 2,000 times. Somehow, I even heard from folks in South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma that were using it in some fashion. I received positive feedback from multiple state senators. This blog was read over 5,800 times last week.

That's all fine and dandy but that's not what this is about or what the intent is/was.

We need ALL educators and supporters to tell their school's and their district's story. I'm not a conspiracy theorist or a "sky is falling" kind of person but it sure feels like public education is under attack. We haven't done a good enough job of telling our story, sharing our successes, and letting folks know of our passionate pursuit of continued improvement for the most valuable resource our state has; its children!

As public schools, we will NEVER reach a point that we can't continue to improve. We will ALWAYS be a work in progress. We will FOREVER be in pursuit of getting better for our students. ALL winning organizations are like that.

It is my hope that others that support public education will write in and voice their support for what we do every day. We don't need to whine and complain about it. We just need to share our success stories. There are many of them all throughout the state. We're doing more than we've ever done before. Our students and their families need us more than ever. We're delivering and need to continue to do more!

The "funding issue" is one piece of this puzzle but to be honest, the thing that hurts me the most, is the total disdain that many show towards public education. We're not the enemy.

Here in York, we've had to talk over the years about "controlling what we can control" and that is our effort, enthusiasm, passion, work ethic, and desire to be the best we can be. We can't control all the things that go on in "politics" but we can control our professionalism and willingness to remain student-centered.

These are tough times for public education but I can promise you this.....we will "find a way" to make great things happen for our students day in and day out. We will continue to provide ALL of our students with outstanding opportunities. We won't ever give up. That's what public education is all about!

Monday, January 11, 2016

When Did Public Schools Become the Enemy?

I have sat back over the last two years or so and watched and listened to public education take a beating from folks around our great state and I can’t take it anymore. I’ve seen and heard organizations like the Platte Institute, Farm Bureau, and even the State Chamber of Commerce take some cheap shots at us for spending and “under-delivering.” Heck, even some of our elected officials in the Capitol view public education as a burden.

As a career educator that didn’t grow up in Nebraska but has been here since 2000, I have come to love and appreciate what our great public school system offers.

Did you know that over 86% of Nebraska Public High School students took the ACT in 2014? Their average composite score of 21.7 is the HIGHEST IN THE NATION for states that had 80% or more of their students taking the ACT!

Did you know that Nebraska has one of the best high school graduation rates in the nation, with nearly 90% of our seniors graduating?

Now, we hear about how our spending is “out of control” and we’re the culprit for obscenely high property taxes. Well, we have spending lids and tax levy lids that we are mandated to adhere by. Many of our districts absolutely do have an overreliance on local property taxes and you would have to think that one of the main reasons is that Nebraska ranks #49 in the nation for the percentage of its state budget that goes towards K-12 public education.

In 1998-99, right at 32% of the state’s general fund was spent on K-12 educational aid. During this 2015-16 fiscal year, that percentage has plummeted to 27.6%. It is projected to be even lower in 2016-17. If K-12 aid made up the same percentage of the budget today as it did in 1999, the state’s general fund support would be over $187 million more than it is.

Most states provide significantly more state aid to K-12 schools. In fact, Nebraska would have to increase state aid to K-12 education by more than $700 million just to reach the national average.

Here in York, we’ve seen our state aid go from $3.7 million a few years ago to $1.56 million this year. We are projected to lose another million for 2016-17 and receive just $560,000 in state aid. All the while, our total revenue, which includes state aid, federal monies, special education reimbursement, etc. has only increased by an annual average of just over 2%. We HAVE to increase local property taxes just to make up for the huge losses in state aid.

Local school districts are very wary of their spending. They have public board meetings every month where their bills are discussed and approved. Here in York, our spending is so “out of control” that it has grown by an average of 1.8% over the last six years. What other organizations, businesses, and institutes can say the same? Right at 33% of our spending increase has been for grant funded programming that we’ve added over the past six years for pre-school, children living in poverty, and before/after school programming. If we didn’t have these student needs, we wouldn’t have increased our spending!

We have lots of room for improvement in every public school district in this state. We will always be a “work in progress.” It just sickens me that people that have never walked a step in the shoes of our dedicated teachers, support staff, and administrators get to continually put us down.

Come visit a high needs special education room and help care for severely disabled students that can’t go to the bathroom on their own. Come visit a pre-school or kindergarten room and help provide meaningful instruction for youngsters that haven’t eaten anything since they left your classroom at 3:15 yesterday. Come deal with the mental health issues we have in our middle and high schools. Come deal with more and more unfunded mandates and school accountability. Come spend a day with your local school administrator and deal with the chaos that often begins before 7:00 AM and ends around 10:00 PM. We do it every day and love it and can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!

What services do they want us to cut? What are we providing for our students that is so out of line?

We’ll hear an awful lot this legislative session about how under-performing our state’s public schools are. Folks will be pushing charter schools and vouchers, spending lids, and all kinds of measures that paint public education as the enemy. We’re not. Come visit us and see for yourselves!

Mike Lucas
York, Nebraska

Monday, January 4, 2016

It's Time

We're back! Second Semester is underway and 2016 is off and running. I always feel like January and February pose the biggest challenges to any school year...it is sometimes known as "Angry Adult Season." For whatever reason, the first two months of the new year can often bring out the worst in people....maybe it's because we spent too much money on Christmas....maybe it's because we spent too much time with our family....who knows?

We're going to do everything in our power to make THIS January and February the best it can be. We're going to attack the winter doldrums with enthusiasm and excitement. I hope you join us and do the same!

Don't dread January and February - make them awesome.