Category Archives: Updates

The first two weeks of June

The first two weeks of June are the best for a Midwest superintendent. The frenzy represented by the end of a school year (graduations, retirement celebrations and numerous invitations to student and staff events) gives way to a few days of reflecting on the school year, planning summer meetings, and catching up on reading. We know these two weeks also involve some hiring, budget preparation, planning retreats and vacations, but the pace is a bit more relaxed.

Sadly, these two weeks go by entirely too quickly.

The 2015-16 school year was another excellent year at Lincoln Public Schools. One highlight was the opening of The Career Academy with close to 300 students in 13 pathways. A work in progress, this option for students will only get stronger as the word gets out that the graduates of TCA have college credits and internships lined up with our local community partners in business and industry. In fact, we anticipate more than 400 students will enroll next year.

Another highlight has been the work of our Success Schools for students with behavior issues. Like TCA, we know these programs are evolving to help students facing unique challenges find their path to success. These are intense programs that provide a caring environment strongly based upon building supportive relationships, offering alternatives, and searching for what each student needs to be successful, rather than placing students into pre-determined programming. Our end goal is to help them return to their home schools and become productive citizens in our community. As our overall enrollment expands, so does the number of students needing this type of support.

As we look to 2016-17, we anticipate more than 950 new students in our school district. Although we are surprised how dramatically our student growth has been (and likely to continue), we know our community will continue to grow as employment opportunities expand city-wide.

To address some of the challenges posed by crowded schools, the Lincoln Board of Education recently moved to place modest restrictions on transfers into Lincoln North Star High School that will go into effect for the 2017-18 school year.

We are also excited about the opening of Wysong Elementary School this fall. We anticipate Wysong will have more than 300 students on the first day (earlier projections were around 250). The Nuernberger Education Center will also open its doors during the 2016-17 school year.

This year, the instructional technology plan moved aggressively to provide Chromebooks for all 3-6 graders. We are so thankful for the great work of our technology and curriculum staff who have done an amazing job of bringing this transformation to scale. As many know, this is a large undertaking and truly represents second-order change that will require teachers and administrators to learn new skills. I am confident that the incredibly talented staff and leadership of this school district are up to the challenge.

As I write this, the School Board is planning for their annual retreat in which they will review past work with an eye toward moving LPS forward. Many in the community know that we have an excellent board, but many also don’t understand how much time these community servants dedicate to building an excellent support system for each and every one of our students. If you believe that our school district is a national leader in student success, thank them for their service. Their willingness to acquire and allocate resources strategically allows us to align our resources with our strategic goals. That has proven to be an excellent formula for staying focused on the most important work of our schools: the success of ALL students.

Have a great summer,
Steve Joel

Beauty of Fall

The school year is off to a wonderful start. I am always amazed at how eager teachers, students AND parents are for school to begin. I am not sure that is true everywhere.

We are settled in at LPSDO and recently held an open house that had more than 800 guests. WOW!!!. Thanks for all that incredible support. We are indeed fortunate.

I am excited at the work we have upon us this next year. For one, the board will be responding to community recommendations for facility and infrastructure planning. As of today, we have many more needs than available funds brought on by student growth, aging facilities and the need to address security and plan for the looming digital transformation. I don’t envy the work facing our board as they will have to prioritize and narrow the list to an amount that is affordable and equitable. Stay tuned.

The Career Center is moving aggressively forward. We now have a formal agreement with SCC and will soon have the details as to which career pathways/clusters will be the cornerstones of this exciting new delivery concept. The opening of a similar concept in Grand Island has generated statewide enthusiasm for what the future will bring for kids that will be able to engage in purposeful learning that leads to a career.

Finally, we are able to put resources to a technology plan that has been in the works for the last several years. Phase 1 will be laptops for each teacher to begin the training process in digital delivery and management. The existing computers will be re-purposed for student use. Phase 2 will be to ensure that each building has the infrastructure to support what we need and Phase 3 will be curriculum and student access.

As we have settled into new digs, passed an excellent budget that helps us regain our momentum and prepare for yet another stellar student growth number, I am reminded of all the great things that are happening in our schools. Thank you to all for making success for kids happen.

Steve Joel

Whew—Made it through another year!

Whew—Made it through another year. I always say that the last couple of weeks are very challenging and this year was no exception. Kudos go to our staff and leadership for keeping students on track right up to the final day of school. Many thanks to all of our employees for another great academic effort that will be be positively highlighted when the achievement data is released. We continue to be on the right track.

The next couple of months will be fast-moving. In light of our strategic plan, we are rolling out recommendations for technology (digital transformation) and a career high school that we hope to have the board approve. In addition, we begin the move back to a new LPSDO beginning the first week in July. I am so looking forward to having all of our excellent team members under the same roof again.

Looking to next year, we are bracing for an increase in students of between 700 and 900. With the last remnants of the 2006 bond completed, we have to turn our attention to the next ten years. I have appointed an outstanding community advisory committee that will study our numbers, view our needs and provide a recommendation to the board in October.

Withe the local elections now over and our board having reorganized (congratulations to Don Mayhew for being elected and to Ed Zimmer for his great leadership last year), I am looking forward to having our new leadership team working collaboratively with the board to tweak the strategic plan and create goal priorities for 2013-14. With these in place, I believe we will have another exciting year to look forward to.

Until next time,


Bundle of joy for Thanksgiving

I love this time of year. The weather isn’t too cold and football season is still kicking (congratulations Southeast Knights and the ninth Class A football state championship in the school’s history).

I also love the season because there are a couple holidays that provide opportunities to spend quality time with loved ones. On occasion, we are reminded of the importance of family to our well-being and happiness. I had such an experience last Friday with the birth of our second granddaughter, Brooklyn. As I arrived at the hospital, I was presented with this incredible bundle of joy who was not even three hours old.

I was proud that I held my emotions in check, because I was a blubbering embarrassment at the first birth. My thoughts ranged from my role as a father in the creation of the family – to the pride I felt in my daughter and son-in-law – to a sense of how important their educational opportunities will be.

I truly feel blessed this Thanksgiving holiday.

Last night we presented the first reading of the LPS Strategic Plan to the Lincoln Board of Education, and I am looking forward to final approval in December. Many thanks to all who participated and contributed to helping our school district reach this point. I look upon this accomplishment as one of the most significant tasks and responsibilities in my role as superintendent. And I assure you: This plan will not sit on a shelf, but will serve as a living and breathing document that we will use to measure our work.

I would close with a wish for all of you to enjoy the upcoming break and have a happy Thanksgiving.


Community cares about new location for LPSDO

I was surprised at the level of difficulty associated with making the recommendation about the site for building a new Lincoln Public Schools District Office. The number of e-mails and phone calls, not to mention casual conversations, was beyond impressive. The Lincoln community cares where we ultimately land on a location and I can certainly appreciate that.

My decision to make a dual recommendation truly came down to the fact that each of the top sites offered the school district both benefits and challenges. The site near Seacrest Field is situated nicely for a district office and the location is attractive. The available space represents opportunities to improve park landscape, improve Seacrest parking and enhance the corner on “A” Street. The existing site at 5901 O st. is one we are all familiar with in terms of access, neighbors and fairly central location. The land also has an appraised value of more than $6 million. When we look at our list for LPS facility projects, and realize that our resources for those projects are dwindling, that number becomes very attractive.

Truly, any one of the five top sites is workable to construct a new office for our school district. The decision is now in the hands of members of the Lincoln Board of Education who will reflect on the pros and cons and, I’m sure, continue to receive plenty of community feedback.

Meanwhile, once again, LPS has performed beyond admirably on academic measures. The recent release and subsequent media coverage of the State Report Card – highlighting the performance of students across the state on reading, mathematic and writing tests – is one more endorsement of a winning teaching and learning formula. I know I speak for an entire community when I state how appreciative we are for the great work of all of our staff. WAY TO GO.

Our strategic planning process is winding down. I expect that the action plans for our four key areas will be defined and ready for public presentation in mid-November. Despite the setback caused by the fire, our teams have worked diligently to conclude the writing. While the document will represent our focus and direction for the next several years, it will also be a working document that will be modified and adjusted as conditions warrant.


Planting Early Seeds

I love the fall. The beauty is reflected with leaves falling, cooler climate and less lawn mowing.

I use September to plant seeds that will, hopefully, germinate into grass in the spring when the cold moves away. I have learned through the years that proper timing of planting, fertilizing and watering is the path to a successful lawn. Whenever I take shortcuts (for example, planting seed in the late spring or early summer), the results are not as good.

This metaphor can be applied to our work as educators. Society has historically measured school success by number of graduates, ACT scores and winning sports teams. Many school districts meet goals by addressing weaknesses, developing interventions during the school years when we identify visible evidence of pending failure. Though definitely necessary, this has always seemed “too little too late.”

However, I sense a sea change happening in education. And I believe the beginning of that change is evident in the investment in programs like our new Educare facility: serving our neediest children in the first-of-a-kind all day, everyday, year round pre-school. Our partnership – with Lincoln Public Schools, the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska Foundation, Community Action Network and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund – will allow us to begin planting those success seeds early in the educational cycle. And that means positively altering the academic growth cycle for our children. While we won’t see the fruits of the harvest for at least 13 years, I believe the results will demonstrate to our policymakers the importance of increasing our investment in early childhood. (The groundbreaking for the Educare project will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the future site of the new program next to Belmont Elementary School, 3425 N. 14th St.)

Planning also continues on the rebuilding of LPS District Offices. On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Lincoln Board of Education will select the site for a new facility, and the construction process will commence. I know many of our LPSDO team members are anxious to see the rebuilding begin. For me, it is important to move this project forward so we can continue our important work in some of the most significant issues in our school district: securing sustainable funding for the Community Learning Centers, addressing the rapid student growth (read Journal Star Editorial, October 12th) and adopting and implementing a district-wide strategic plan. There is plenty of productive work ahead.

I continue to enjoy visiting our schools, gaining an appreciation for the great work taking place in our classrooms. Thanks for all you do.


A gift of hope

One of the greatest gifts we receive as educators is when our kids do and create something amazing. As we officially unveiled the new Student Serve initiative for Lincoln Public Schools today I had the opportunity to speak about the powerful leadership of Hope Edwards – a senior at Lincoln Southeast High School – and her team of energetic friends.

Student Serve is a community service program at LPS set for Saturday, Oct. 1, a program imagined, developed and led by Hope. And as I listened to this young woman talk about the importance of making a difference in the lives of others, and the significance of giving back to the community, I teared up several times. Her inspiration and passion are infectious.

LPStudent Serve encourages and urges all 36,000-plus LPS students to participate in a project that will improve the quality of life in Lincoln. WOW….

Meanwhile, in school business, our Lincoln Board of Education continues to work through the options for determining the site for a new LPS District Office building. As of this week we have narrowed the original list of 31 proposals to a field of nine, and we will further narrow that list at the next School Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27. I am amazed at the work of Scott Wieskamp – director of Facilities and Maintenance at LPS – and his fine team in their comprehensive evaluation of each and every site. Our planning timeline calls for approval of the final site at the School Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25th. However, at that point, the hard work will really begin as we analyze, determine and develop what the new LPSDO will include.

As the weather begins to change and turn to autumn, I want to remind all of you about the need to take care of yourselves. Each year the flu season seems more and more pronounced, and the experts tell us that much of it can be mitigated by practicing healthy living habits. For me, I know exercise works. So take a walk this week, bike or jog. And enjoy the beauty of a Nebraska fall.

Have a great next couple weeks.

Tests, football and good-byes

The 2011-12 school year is in full swing.

The release of the most recent Nebraska-wide reading and math testing results (NeSA or Nebraska State Accountability) started off this week in grand fashion. The aggregate scores are quite impressive as are the individual buildings and grade levels. We scored well above state averages. I have spoken many times publicly about our school improvement initiatives and how we work to improve learning for ALL students. Thank you to our schools for all you do. (For NeSA results, go to our website,

I had a great visit to Lincoln North Star High School today and loved the energy of the staff and students. We have about 35 school visits scheduled this year, one of my favorite parts of this job.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the final day for Linda Pappas, executive assistant to the Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent and the Lincoln Board of Education. Her more than 25 years at LPS included breaking in three superintendents. I guess I was a bit too much for her. We wish her well on her well-deserved retirement. Laura Maxwell has been appointed to the position and begins the new job on Thursday.

Last week the Board of Education approved the 2011-12 budget, but we aren’t pausing for a moment. With that budget in the books, we are already turning our attention to 2012-13. One of our primary tasks this year will be to make our case legislatively for additional state aid. The LPS budget also would benefit if our economy begins to show signs of picking up.

In lighter news last week, I couldn’t wait for Friday night to arrive. I love the atmosphere of the first football game and the Lincoln Southeast vs. Lincoln Southwest game had it all. More than 8,000 fans packed the stadium and enjoyed a great game between a couple excellent programs. I was able to take my 2-year old granddaughter to her very first game and she was absolutely awestruck. When we got home, she excitedly told her mom about the game. Sadly for me, she seemed more impressed with the school buses she saw in front of the stadium than she was with the actual game inside the stadium.

I encourage all of you to attend a high school football game this fall, or any LPS athletic competition. Perhaps I’ll see you there.


Steadfast and strong

Superintendent Steve Joel talks with a student on the first day of school at Lincoln Northeast High School.

While the week didn’t start off very well in light of the announcement of the arrest related to the fire at LPS District Offices, it sure felt like a great week in our classrooms. Each member of the executive team visited about a dozen schools. I had a chance to see education in action at Northeast High School, Lincoln High, Mickle and Schoo middle schools, and Pershing, Huntington. Kahoa, Kooser, Campbell, Riley and Hartley elementary schools. It was a joy to see the energized educators and excited students. I REALLY needed this week to get out of boardrooms and into classrooms. This will be a great year.

The Monday arrest announcement was one more occasion for each of us to re-live the night of the fire. While I cannot comprehend what might cause a person to commit such a heinous act, I know the justice system will take time for the case to be resolved. I encourage all of us to remain steadfast and strong as we go about our work and interact with the public. If the allegations prove true, it is important we understand that this catastrophe is the result of an individual – and not a system. It is okay to be sad and angry, but it is not okay to accept blame or keep wondering “what if?” We are about looking to the future, and not dwelling in the past.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln School Board continues to work through the Data Center re-location and will soon begin narrowing down LPSDO options. Our negotiations with the insurance company continue and we are confident the ultimate resolution will be workable for our planning.

Keep up the great work and positive momentum.

The Sound of Music

The morning sound of music coming from a high school football field is a good indicator that school is soon to begin. Thursday morning, I began my day on the fields with the Southeast Marching Band where I had an opportunity to begin the school fight song with a couple bangs on a drum. It was so enjoyable to be around kids again, especially the kind of kids who have worked all summer to get ready for their performance season. We were on the field to tape my first-quarter video message for Lincoln Public Schools employees, and I hope you enjoy the results: welcoming our excellent staff back to another exciting year. We will send you the link as soon as the piece is edited and Doug Dickeson – a master at video production – can make me look like an accomplished musician (probably impossible).

The countdown continues to the first day of school next week, and I can’t wait for Tuesday when I already have a great schedule of school visits planned.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Board of Education has been working hard to keep our recovery plan moving forward. Last Tuesday we had a first reading on a new Data Center for LPS, and I have learned much about computer racks and tiers and storage. Our IT people have done incredible work this summer getting ready for our future challenges.

School Board members have also completed my first-year evaluation. While I have always been evaluated in my past positions, this Board has done the most comprehensive work. We are clearly on the same page in terms of priorities and future planning. As I am sure you know, each Board member puts in 20-40 hours per month attending Board and Board committee meetings, civic functions and school-related activities. Their willingness to participate makes a tremendous difference in terms of their knowledge of our work. If you have the occasion, drop them a line of “thanks.”

As I close, I want to reiterate what I said in the staff video we taped this week: Thank you to all members of the LPS team for your commitment to our students and their excellent educational opportunities. I wish all of you a wonderful start to what should be an exciting year.