August 2, 2015

School administrators hear about accountability during conference in Kearney

About a thousand school administrators from across Nebraska are hearing about new state accountability measures during a conference in Kearney.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt says there might be a new measuring stick, but the object remains the same.

“In many ways, we are trying to win the hearts and minds of educators to do the right things,” Blomstedt says. “So often they get fixated on what those measures were and how they were being held accountable. We would like to see a change in attitude around, hey look, focus on your students in front of you.”

Blomstedt says the movement toward assessment in the classroom has been strong throughout the country. The new accountability system in Nebraska is named “AQuEST,” the first-ever classification system for public schools which begins this school year.

Blomstedt says the new system classifies schools in four categories:  excellent, great, good, and needs improvement.

“Out of the ‘needs improvement’ category, we have to identify three schools that we would provide some level of intervention and that was required by law,” Blomstedt explains. “That intervention in the priority school designation as a whole is really about us identifying places that are in most need of assistance to improve.”

Brent Weithorn, KXPN, contributed to this story.

Southeast Community College looks to expand into more cities

Southeast Community CollegeLeaders of Southeast Community College are considering establishing learning centers to reach more areas of the school’s 15-county service area in southeast Nebraska.

SCC has main campuses in Beatrice, Milford and Lincoln. College President Paul Illich says possible new locations may include Hebron, Falls City, Nebraska City and Plattsmouth.

“We’re going to look at a 30-mile radius and do everything we can,” Illich says. “We know we can’t put one in every city, but we’re going to try to put it in the best place to help the most people.”

Illich says he and a team are meeting with community leaders throughout the college’s service area to try and determine the ideal spots.

“Initially, we’re thinking of leasing space and maybe having credit, non-credit, contract training, possibly offer some career academies,” Illich says. “These locations will also give us a more permanent home for what we already have, in terms of area coordinators and training solutions folks.”

He says primary factors in deciding where to locate learning centers include geographic coverage, impact on population, industry and employer needs. Also, they want sites that best offer dual credit potential for high school students. Another factor is connectivity, with fiber optic or internet capability.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Nebraska ranks among the top 10 states for health & wellbeing of kids

Kids CountThe latest “Kids Count” survey, which ranks all 50 states for the wellbeing of children, shows Nebraska hasn’t budged in the past year.

Laura Speer, a spokeswoman for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says they look at 16 key criteria, including: education, health, economic wellbeing, and family and community conditions.

“In this year’s Kids Count Data Book, Nebraska was ranked 10th overall in terms of the wellbeing of its children,” Speer says. “Kids and families in Nebraska are doing best in the area of economic wellbeing and in fact, the state ranked 3rd overall for the economic wellbeing of its children.”

Nebraska’s tenth-place overall ranking is the same as the 2014 survey. Minnesota ranked first overall on this year’s report, followed by New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Nebraska remained in the top ten, despite some failures.

“On the family and community domain, and in health, Nebraska is lagging behind the most,” Speer says. “In fact, in the health domain, the state is ranked 26th overall in terms of the wellbeing of its children.”

The report offers one area in which the state saw a dramatic improvement:

“In Nebraska, the teen birthrate went from 36 births per 1,000 teens down to 25 births per 1,000 teens in just five years,” Speer says. “That’s a pretty substantial decline and something that really can have great implications for the future since there will be fewer teen parents in the state.”

The lowest-ranked states on the list are: Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi. See the full report at the Annie E. Casey Foundation website:


School bus riders will need to swipe card to board in Kearney

School BusThe Kearney Public School District is preparing to roll out new technology next year with the goal of helping younger students get on the right school bus and get off at the right stop.

Becky Reier, the district’s transportation director, says a mobility safety program using a swipe card system is being put in place for students who ride the bus.

“It will let the student know they’re on right bus,” Reier says. “If they try to get on the wrong bus, there’s a buzzer that goes off and that can be addressed by the driver and the student. If they’re trying to get off at the wrong stop, it will alert the driver and student. It’s a nice security system for the students, the driver and the district.”

Students carry a card which they’ll swipe through a device on the bus as they board. It provides the bus driver the student’s name, picture and other pertinent data — and can also send parents a text on their phones. It’s hoped the new system will streamline the process of getting kids to and from school.

“It’s relatively new for this area of the state,” Reier says. “They have had some programs of this type in larger school systems, but we have the same challenges in the smaller school system that they do in Omaha and Lincoln. It’s important that we have this onboard before there’s any kind of a problem.”

The technology was designed by a Texas bus driver who saw the need for more enhanced student safety measures. The Kearney schools hope to have the new system in place by mid-year or by next summer.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney


UNL suspends fraternity over alcohol abuse

Alpha Tau Omega house at UNL/Photo courtesy of UNL

Alpha Tau Omega house at UNL/Photo courtesy of UNL

A longtime fraternity on the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska has been suspended.

UNL suspended Alpha Tau Omega for two years, stating the fraternity needs to change its climate and culture on campus.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco says the fraternity violated the university alcohol policy.

“A couple of incidents; one, alcohol was in the house which is against the code of conduct and the university rules and another one was at a gathering off-campus,” Franco tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Franco says the fraternity can shorten the suspension by a year if it adequately addresses the university’s concerns.

“We’re asking the leadership to do a thorough review of the membership and other things that would help the students learn about if they’re going to use alcohol it needs to be done responsibly,” according to Franco.

Alpha Tau Omega has been affiliated with UNL since 1897. The national chapter says it agrees with the sanctions and will expel fraternity members whose actions led to the suspension.

Under the suspension, freshmen will not be allowed to live in the chapter house and the formal affiliation the fraternity has with the university will be severed.