First quarter at LPS brings growth, planning – and Betsy DeVos

Lincoln Public Schools recently announced an additional 830 students were enrolled in our schools this year, a number consistent with what we have projected – and consistent with the growth we have experienced over the past five to six years.  The good news is that our city continues to draw people from all over the country and world, people who are seeking employment and a high quality living experience.  One needs to only drive around the perimeter of the city (constantly expanding) to view the residential structures being built on all edges of our community.  And many of those residential developments are kid-friendly, which means we will need additional schools in those areas – soon.  As many cities in the country are stagnating, it is refreshing to live in Lincoln, Nebraska, a robust and progressive community. I often say that we have been a well-kept secret, but people are now starting to discover this gem of a city.

In fact, I believe that high-quality public schools are the linchpin behind great communities.  At LPS we take that accountability very seriously and realize that we, like our society, must continue to evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing population.  While I believe we perform admirably on most academic and systemic measures, there is always room for improvement. Currently we are involved in a community-wide strategic planning process designed to set the standards and guide our path to improvement for the next five years – envisioning what will be necessary to ensure our students are college, career and life ready as we reach to attain a 90 percent on-time graduation goal. This fall, the Lincoln Board of Education is continuing their work in developing this updated strategic plan, based on the input of several thousand community and staff participants.

Concurrent with the strategic plan work, our Community High School Task Force is up and running this school year.  More than 80 individuals have been charged with studying options for handling our dramatically growing high school student population. With educational delivery beginning to look different due to societal changes, the timing for this discussion is perfect as we imagine and plan for what high school will look like in the next several decades.   Thank you to our Task Force members who have accepted this challenge.

We also are already looking ahead to next year’s budget, knowing that our state economy will continue to be tight in coming years.  Although state aid to education for LPS remained flat for this year- despite our growth of 850 to 1,000 students per year – we remain prudent in considering our community taxpayers. With close to 90 percent of our budget funding people – LPS employees – we will strive to be cautious and meticulous in expanding our employee base until such time that the economics of Nebraska improve.

Finally, a note of gratitude to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who last month visited our Zoo School (Science Focus Program). We found her to be engaged and interested in how our students were learning – how are teachers were teaching – and the variety of choices available at LPS. By all measures, the visit was a success and Secretary DeVos was highly complimentary of our work.   The students, however, stole the show with their enthusiasm for their school and teachers.   At the end of the day we felt that LPS was representing all of public education across America, and I believe we told the story of public education with conviction, passion and purpose.

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Stephen Joel

About Stephen Joel

Dr. Steve Joel is the Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools. A native of Long Island, New York, with degrees from Doane College, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Kansas State, Dr. Joel has extensive experience as a superintendent in Kansas and Nebraska. Prior to coming to Lincoln, he served for ten years as superintendent in Grand Island and eight years in Beatrice.