Advocates on Board

State Board of Education Support Vital to Public Education

Four members of the Nebraska State Board of Education took the oath of office during the first full week of January.

The election of Robin Stevens of Gothenburg and Deborah Neary of Omaha, and the re-election of Maureen Nickels of Chapman and Pat Timm of Beatrice, gave the board a full eight members who are supportive of public schools and public education.  

“This board represents the best of Nebraska and the best opportunity for Nebraska teachers to be heard – and listened to – on issues that affect PK-12 education,” said NSEA President Jenni Benson.

Also serving on the board are John Witzel, Omaha, board president; Rachel Wise, Oakland; Patsy Koch Johns, Lincoln; and Lisa Fricke, Omaha. Nickels is vice president.

Nickels, Koch Johns, Wise, Fricke and Timm are former teachers. Stevens was a teacher and administrator, most recently superintendent at Gothenburg.

NSEA Organizational Specialist Cindy Copich attends state board meetings and represents PK-12 interests on behalf of NSEA members.

“I believe this state board passionately supports public education and truly wants what is best for students in the state,” said Copich. “I have high hopes that this new group will work well together as a collaborative team to advance student and teacher initiatives that improve education across the state.”

Equity Lens

At the January board meeting, Copich said board members engaged in a lengthy discussion about the implementation of an “equity lens” to guide board decision making. Koch Johns is leading that effort, and has met with a diverse constituency group to develop a board philosophy and direction. A draft will be presented to the full board for consideration in February.

Copich noted that social studies standards are up for review and possible revision over the next year. A diverse team of teachers representing both urban and rural students are on the committee.

Meanwhile, outgoing state board member Molly O’Holleran, North Platte, lauded the board’s goals regarding social studies standards.

“In order to be civic ready, students need to have an intellectual understanding of our country’s founding principles,” she said. “An emotional connection to our nation will help graduates become responsible citizens who are prepared to preserve, protect, and defend our country’s freedom and democracy.”

‘Tipping Point’ in 2019?

O’Holleran also said 2019 could be a “tipping point” for public education in Nebraska.

“Retaining high-quality teachers and recruiting new teachers will be a crucial factor in preparing our students for high-demand, high-wage jobs,” she said.

The board must also continue to lead and support educator effectiveness, must collaborate with higher education and workforce/economic development leaders to build a pipeline for better jobs, increased salaries and employable graduates.

Finally, she said Nebraska must continue to deliver high-quality education at a fiscally-responsible cost.

“Increasing opportunities for high school and college graduates to remain in Nebraska while earning a good wage is essential. More people must be channeled into high-demand, high-wage jobs by diversifying our economy to lower the burden on our agriculture industry. In particular we need to eliminate barriers to rural economic development such as housing and childcare shortages, and inadequate technology infrastructure.

O’Holleran has joined the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation Board to support children, young adults, and at-risk families with the goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential.