Monday, October 24, 2016

Bragging About York Public Schools

For this week's blog, I'm just going to brag about York Public Schools. We have many areas we need to improve in. We're always a "work in progress" but holy cow.....we've got some amazing things going on here too! This will be an incomplete list but it's a credit to the tremendous students, staff, parents, patrons, community, and board of education we have here in good ol' York, Nebraska!

The York Dukes produce some of the state’s best scores on state assessments…
--Over 87% of our students met/exceeded proficiency on 2016 state reading tests
--Over 85% of our students met/exceeded proficiency on 2016 state math tests
--81% of our students met/exceeded proficiency on 2016 state science tests
--Last year's 6th graders had an average score of 140 on the NeSA-Math test, while the state average was 125
--Last year's 8th graders had an average score of 137 on the NeSA-Math test, while the state average was 119
--Last year's 6th graders had an average score of 147 on the NeSA-Reading test, while the state average was 111
--Last year's 8th graders had an average score of 126 on the NeSA-Reading test, while the state average was 105

The York Dukes began game-changing work certification programming at YHS in 2015 through partnerships with Central Valley Ag, Reinke Irrigation, and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA. YHS students can now earn a work certificate from NCTA in the areas of diversified agriculture, irrigation technology, and/or chemical application. We expect to have two members of Class of 2017 earn certification and 10-12 members from the Class of 2018. Workforce preparation is a main goal of YPS!

The York Dukes began a one-of-a-kind Agronomy Academy with Centennial and Seward High Schools through business partnerships with Pioneer, Syngenta, Mycogen, and Monsanto in 2013. This hands-on learning experience takes place at Monsanto and provides numerous real-life opportunities for to learn from agronomy experts.

The York Dukes collaborated with the York Chamber of Commerce, YCDC, and local banking leaders to begin an Entrepreneurship Academy for 5th-8th graders in 2015. We now partner with Gallup to conduct the StrengthsFinder and help our student-entrepreneurs reflect on their personalities and styles.

The York Dukes continue to work hand-in-hand with the City of York on facility usage agreements where we share each other’s resources. We also collaborate on 5th Grade Fitness Fun Day each May and other “Let’s Move York” initiatives in which the City has been, and continues to be, very instrumental.

The York Dukes began grant funded after-school and summer programming in 2011 and enjoy partnerships with the City of York, 4-H Extension Office, York General, and several other private businesses and volunteers to offer programming and support for our students. This program runs until 6:00 PM daily and for six continuous weeks over the summer.

The York Dukes are able to offer YHS student internships in a variety of fields due to partnerships with Truck Center Companies, York General, and other area businesses. Collaborating with our business leaders is a big part of who we are.

The York Dukes, with the help of ESU 6, began Project SEARCH in 2012 (through a partnership with York General Healthcare Facilities) as it serves as a transitional opportunity for young adults with special needs to earn employability skills as they aspire to enter the work force.

The York Dukes host one of the premiere teacher in-service days in the state each January. We expect to have over 480 educators at YHS on January 16th with nationally recognized keynote speakers and multiple breakout sessions for all PreK-12th grade educators.

The York Dukes have added "Math Counts" and "Invention Convention" teams at YES and YMS over the past few years.

The York Dukes have added Robotics Clubs at YMS and YHS over the past few years.

The York Dukes typically earn over 925 dual credits each year with courses offered at YHS. This allows our students to save time and money as they pursue education past high school.

The York Dukes offer numerous "Career Academies" to expose our YHS students to various potential careers and work environments.

The York Dukes have the ultimate "Animal Science Lab" in our high school. Come check it out sometime. It is beyond words!

The York Dukes have also added 3-D printers to our facilities to help maximize student creativity and productivity.

The York Dukes have a state-of-the-art greenhouse thanks to Mike Terpstra. We grow many vegetables in there that we sell to our food service company that we then consume within our food service programs.

The York Dukes have an amazing Birth-to-Five program through Family Foundations and Sixpence. We partner with numerous families and provide multiple services to children long before they come to kindergarten.

The York Dukes have a very robust SPED department that is able to provide many services to students in need.

The York Dukes have one of the strongest Fine Arts departments in Nebraska.

The York Dukes have one of the strongest Athletic departments in Nebraska.

The York Dukes offer many successful extra-curricular programs.

The York Dukes have a "true" middle school concept that focuses on whole child development during the 6th-8th grade years.

The York Dukes have an amazing K-5 elementary that focuses on research-based instructional techniques.

The York Dukes have a new mission statement.....Every Student. Every Day. Find a Way.

The York Dukes will continue to work hard to improve more and more. We're proud of our past and excited about our future.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Things Seem to Always Work Out

I always dreamed of playing big-time college football. In August of 1986, I turned 14-years old and began my freshman year at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida. FHS was a football powerhouse with over 2,000 students and I couldn't wait to be a Wildcat. I was truly in the right place at the right time as I became just the 3rd player in school history to play varsity football as a freshman as I started at tight end. Scot Brantley was the first and he went on to be an All-SEC linebacker at Florida and then played for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Bert Yancey was the 2nd to do so and he played running back at Alabama. I was ready to roll!

By the time my sophomore year rolled around, I was getting recruitment letters from big-time programs. I will never forget my first letter ever in June 1987....from the University of Alabama. Soon after, one came from Michigan and I was enamored with how Coach Schembechler signed it in just big letters that said BO at the bottom. That summer and fall, the letters came in by the dozens. Florida State, Nebraska, Stanford, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Texas, Penn State, Duke, Navy, North Carolina, Miami, Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and more.

My sophomore football season was probably my favorite year as a kid. We had an awesome team that won another district title and battled into the state playoffs before losing 21-15 to Jacksonville Raines. I had become a 2-way starter at tight end and inside linebacker. Believe it or not, I also returned punts because even though we had so many guys on the team that were much faster than I, they couldn't catch them!

Going into my junior year, I really caught the bug bad that I was going to be playing in front of 80,000 fans on Saturdays once I left high school. 1988 was another good season. We lost in the district championship but won many games and lots of college coaches came through town. I made the All Big Sun Team. Invites started pouring in for football camps that summer. The University of Florida sent my mama flowers on Mother's Day. Life was great!

As my senior year began in 1989, there was so much excitement. We were loaded and ready for another district title run. I was named one of the top 50 high school football players in the state by several newspapers. Coaches were calling all of the time, stopping by school, watching practices, etc. I took official visits to Florida State and the University of Florida that September. I also took unofficial visits to both places for additional games. I was planning to visit Stanford, Alabama, and Michigan after the season ended.

Then, the adversity came; my initial shoulder injury. It was a "mild" separation but it hurt real bad. I played through the pain and finished that game and prepared for the next week at Jacksonville Wolfson. My team needed me and I wasn't going to not play so I tried to tough it out. Late in the game, down by a touchdown, I fielded a punt and was immediately buried by several defenders that forced me to land directly on my right exploded...I heard it, I felt the intense heat running down my was bad. I finished the last few minutes of the game playing with one arm for the most part. We were unable to rally and lost.

The next week, we played what was essentially the district championship game vs. Gainesville Bucholz. My shoulder was wrapped. I had taken some cortisone. We did all we could do. I was unable to move it very well. I was a non-factor in the game and we lost. It was a long and painful night.

I then sat out the only game I ever missed in high school the following week when Gainesville High came to town. I was in tears on the sidelines knowing I couldn't play and help my teammates. It was the longest 2.5 hours of my life up to that point.

The next week was our last game since we didn't qualify for the playoffs. It was against our bitter, cross-town rival, Vanguard, and I played tight end. I couldn't play linebacker because I couldn't lift my right arm. I did catch a couple of punts, somehow. I made some blocks but had no receptions. We beat those suckers 37-24 and it was a great way to end a painful and disappointing season.

With the season over, I went in to get my shoulder properly checked out and learned that it was decimated. I had to have reconstructive surgery and lost almost all of my strength in it. As the college coaches began to hear of this, the phone didn't ring as often. I was still invited to the Florida State/Florida game that year in Gainesville but I didn't get all of the attention from the coaches I used to get before the injury. December came and went and no other official visits were offered. FSU "liked" me as a player but now needed to "wait and see." Florida "thought" I could help them at tight end but was waiting on the new coaching staff (Steve Spurrier) to get to town. Over the next four years, I went on to see Billie Glenn from Daytona Seabreeze, who we played and beat and I went head to head with, go to FSU and start for three years and win a national title. I saw Vanguard's Shawn Nunn go to Florida and start for three years as well. I had played both of those guys several times and always beat them as a team and in one-on-one match-ups. Oh well.

My dreams of playing big-time college football were gone. I then began to hear from Eastern Kentucky, Troy State, Georgia Southern, Citadel, Western Carolina, and others but none of those panned out due to concerns over my shoulder.

Right before signing day, I took a visit to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. They said I could walk-on if I wanted to but they didn't have any scholarship money for me. I was mad. I was sad. I was upset. I couldn't believe this was happening.

The University of Richmond called and said they would call me back on signing day if they had an offer. The phone never rang.

That February, I ended up signing a small scholarship offer from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. I wasn't going to play in front of 80,000 fans. Heck, I wasn't going to play in front of 10,000 fans like we had at my high school games. I was going to play in front of 2,000 fans in small towns in the midwest against teams nobody has ever heard of.

By the time I got to Benedictine in the fall of 1990, I was beat up and washed up for the most part. I had a good career there...I started a few games at linebacker, came in on various situational packages, and started at tight end my senior year before a major ankle injury cut it short for me in the 4th game of the year. My heart wasn't into it like it had been in high school. I made some great friends, learned some real tough "life lessons," and met my wife at BC.

I learned at Benedictine that when your heart isn't into something 110%, you typically have regrets and aren't as successful as you wanted to be. You're either "all in" or out, right? I wasn't "all in" and I can't take that back now.

I have no regrets, however. Going through the shoulder and ankle injuries, dealing with disappointment, etc. made me a better person. Developing lifelong relationships at Benedictine with guys like Bill Utz, Ken McGibney, and others made a lasting impression. Meeting my wife there was a true blessing. Earning my BA in elementary education and my MA in educational leadership there opened doors for me.

The fact I wasn't the key contributor I could have been on the BC football team has driven me to this day to work hard and to never put myself in the position to be looked at as "average." That motivation drives me every day as a school leader.

The most valuable things we learn don't often come from books...they come from tough, real-life experiences.

If I hadn't gone to BC, I wouldn't have met Liesl Dean from Omaha, Nebraska. I wouldn't have the four children I'm lucky enough to have that I love, admire, and respect with all of my heart. I wouldn't be in public education in Nebraska.

You see, things seem to always work out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Social Media Safety and Digital Citizenship

We are excited to announce that Bobby Truhe, a school attorney, will be back in York on Monday, October 24th for a 6:00-6:45 PM presentation for parents and adults on "social media issues and digital citizenship."

Bobby put on a presentation for our 5th-12th graders earlier this fall where he went over the potential pitfalls and legalities dealing with social media threats, bullying, etc. We feel it is very important for our young people to be constantly reminded how important it is that they exercise good judgment when using social media. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and others can all be extremely fun, educational, and safe. However, they can all be horribly difficult, divisive, and outright dangerous as well. It depends on how they're used.

This special presentation for parents and adults will be in the YHS cafeteria. Everyone is invited.

YHS will also host a YMS/YHS choir concert that same evening at 7:00 PM.

We hope to see lots of parents and adults at both activities at YHS on October 24th.

Please help spread the word.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Chris Keiser - A Special Friend

Chris Keiser is a special friend of mine. I've known him since 8th grade back in Ocala, FL at Osceola Middle School. Chris has special needs. He has developmental delays and functions at a low cognitive level. He was in mild to severe Special Education classes his entire K-12 life.

I began kindergarten in the fall of 1977 and I can remember when special needs students were literally placed in custodial closets and isolated from their "regular" education peers. I vividly remember walking to recess one day when I was in 4th or 5th grade and seeing a wheel-chair bound student staring at us from a closet with a wishful look that they too could go to recess and have some fun.

My lifelong friendship with Chris Keiser began under sad circumstances. By my 8th grade year, 1985-86, special education students had begun to be more mainstreamed and Chris was part of our PE class. I walked into the locker room one day to see another student named Divencey beating Chris up and shoving him in a locker. I was enraged that someone would pick on Chris so I quickly put an end to it and threw Divencey around a little bit and made sure everyone knew they better never mess with Chris again.

We became buddies after that. Once we both went to Forest High School that August, we became better friends. Forest was a big place with lots of students and multiple student lunches to accommodate all of the kids. I found out that Chris and I had the same lunch (5-D, I think) so I made sure we sat by each other every day. We talked about his classes, me playing varsity football, pretty girls, etc. I was dating a gal named Caroline that year and us three were always together.

Chris went to dances with us. He and I went to some movies. I just enjoyed being around someone that was so "real" and not fake. Chris told you like it was. He didn't stab you in the back. He didn't try to tear you down so he could build himself up. He was, and still is, a true friend.

I spent more time with Chris in high school than any other single person. Girlfriends came and went but Chris was always there. I continued to take him to dances all four years. We saw lots of movies together on Saturday afternoons. He became our team manager for football and baseball so I rode lots of miles with him on yellow buses too. He would get picked on from time to time and it really made him sad. I tried to be there for him but couldn't be with him all of the time.

I am lucky to still have some friends from high school I stay in touch with but none more than Chris. He came to visit us in West Point, Nebraska in 2002. He came to my Masters' Graduation in Kansas in 1998. He's been a true friend for many years.

I spoke to Chris last night...we typically talk to each other 6-7 times a year. He is SO excited that he has a job at Wal-Mart from 11:00 PM until 7:00 AM four days a week. He helps stock shelves. He's had dish-washing jobs in the past but Wal-Mart has always been great to him and for that, I am so thankful. Chris is happy. He "gets" to work each week. He is an inspiration to me. Life has not been, and is not easy for him. He can't drive very well. He gets confused. His face has some abnormalities. But, you know what? He is happy. He is hard-working. He is grateful. He is loyal.

Over the years, I've had a lot of people tell me how "nice" it is that I'm friends with Chris. I'm the one that should be thankful....every time I speak to him, it is a reminder of how much I miss him and how much I pray for his happiness. It reminds me of all that I should be thankful for. My life is super easy compared to his. He's the real winner. I'm lucky to know him and be his friend...not the other way around!

I worry about what his life will be like when his mama passes away. He lost his dad many years ago. I worry about others treating him well and being respectful. I feel guilty for not getting down to Florida to see him for too many years.

I guess the message of my blog this week is for EVERYONE to treat others with respect and dignity. Some people look at a guy like Chris Keiser and they make fun of him. They pick on him. They go out of their way to make him sad. I detest these kind of people that must be so miserable with their own lives that they try to ruin the lives of others. EVERYONE deserves respect. EVERYONE can be treated kindly and fairly. We don't all have to be best friends but we can all co-exist.

I wish you had the chance to meet Chris. He would brighten your day. He would shake your hand, make you laugh, and feel good about yourself. Chris Keiser is special.