Tag Archives: Omaha Public Schools

Homecoming

September 16, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

The origins of the first homecoming celebration are unclear. Baylor University, Southwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri have all made claims, dating back to around 1910, that they originated the concept. 

Regardless of when and where it started at the college level, within a few decades high schools across the country were hosting fall celebrations tied to a football game and dance that welcomed graduates back to visit their alma maters.

Although certain traditional elements like the election of royalty and a pre-game pep rally can be found at nearly all homecomings, among local schools, there’s no one right way to celebrate this event. 

“We do quite a few different things; we’ve made homecoming more into a weeklong celebration rather than a Friday night celebration at a football game,” says Ralston High School Spirit Squads Sponsor Jordan Engel. 

Volleyball and softball games are incorporated, a “Mr. RHS” pageant for male students is a popular tradition, “spirit week” activities, and a pep rally are part of the fun, Engel explains. The middle school hosts its own spirit week concurrently, and in past years the school has organized activities for the residents of Ralston from a recreational fun run to a bonfire with s’mores. “We try to change it up each year for families of the students and the community,” she says. 

Jeremy Maskel, Ralston School District’s director of external relations and engagement, says the community involvement is especially important for the small, close-knit city. 

“I’m not native to the area but when I joined the district it really struck me—the amount of alumni who continue to live in district and send their own children to Ralston [High School],” he says. “That intergenerational pride is something I haven’t seen in any other school community I’ve been connected to. Last year we did our first alumni and family tailgate before the homecoming [football] game and we’re looking for ways we can continue to bring alumni in the community back to really celebrate the district and the high school during that week.”

Westside High School has made its homecoming week a districtwide event, says Meagan Van Gelder, a member of the board of education and immediate past-president of Westside Alumni Association. She was also the 1987 Westside homecoming queen.

“Part of our goal is to keep the connection alive for our graduations, so we have tried to create a pathway for alumni to return home, and one way we do that is [with] a homecoming tailgate the Friday before the football game. In the past we had it in the circular area of the parking lot. Recently we have moved it to the grassy area on the alumni house with a nice buffet dinner. There is a parade in the neighborhood around the high school. There is a pep rally that follows the parade, and [that] is when they announce the homecoming court. There are fireworks after the game.”

Millard School District has three high schools, and each organizes its own homecoming activities. Millard West Principal Greg Tiemann says, “We’ve kept the week relatively the same since the building opened in 1995.” In conjunction with the designated football game, the Millard West Student Council coordinates themed dress-up days, a pep rally, and the elections for junior and senior homecoming royalty. The activities are mainly for the students.

Millard North’s student council also coordinates a homecoming week featuring themed attire days, a dance the week of the football game, and other schoolwide events. This high school, however, has abandoned the practice of electing a homecoming court. 

“As a ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and out of concern for protecting students from being bullied or excluded, Millard North has not recognized royalty since 2010,” says principal Brian Begley. “Instead, they make a concerted effort to engage and involve all students in homecoming activities, including those with special needs.”

Bellevue Public Schools’ two high schools coordinate some activities but most of the festivities are school-specific. Amanda Oliver, the district’s director of communications, says parent and student groups are involved in planning.

“Bellevue East has brought back an old tradition, a homecoming parade, the last two years,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of alumni and former staff, long-time community members.”

Bellevue West now hosts a Unity Rally at the beginning of the school year. Although not technically a homecoming event, “It allows us to feature and highlight all our schools and all our kids, and we’ve seen the community piece behind that,” Oliver says.

Elkhorn also has two high schools that plan homecoming activities independently.

 “We have spirit days, a trivia competition about the school, a powder puff game and pep rally that introduces the homecoming court, the cheerleaders and dance team do a special dance and cheer at halftime together, Pinnacle Bank has a pep rally with hotdogs before the game, and the dance is Saturday night,” says Brooke Blythe, Elkhorn South’s cheer coordinator. She adds. “The middle schoolers always have their own section in the stands at the football game.”

According to Omaha Public Schools Marketing Director Monique Farmer, students at each of the district’s seven high schools organize their own homecoming events—and alumni are invited to them at many schools—and create unique traditions. Benson holds a classroom door decorating contest, Bryan has a pep rally at the stadium, Burke concentrates on targeted inclusion for special education students, and North and Northwest host parades. Last year, J.P. Lord School, an all-ages school for students with a variety of complex needs, hosted what Farmer believes to be its first homecoming dance. Parents were welcome and the evening’s culmination was the coronation of a king and queen. 

“That was pretty neat to see,” Farmer says.

Westside alumni association Immediate Past-president & 1987 Westside homecoming queen


 

Written By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

Photos contributed by Glenwood Opinion-Tribune

Homecoming is a huge celebration for this town of 5,300, which more than doubles in size for one fall weekend each year.

“I’ve been in other school districts, and it’s frequently a presentation of the king and queen at the football game and a dance afterwards. This town, this week, is amazing,” says Glenwood Schools Superintendent Devin Embray.

Beyond the coronation of a king and queen, Glenwood recognizes its 25-year reunion class as the “honor class.” Most of the class members return for this weekend in which they are honored at the pep rally and circle the town square twice during the parade. They are also a part of the Saturday-night coronation ceremony, as the past student body president gives a speech to the senior class that is similar to a graduation speech.

While many homecoming parades feature the high school classes, clubs, and athletics along with a few politicians, Glenwood’s parade includes at least 180 entries, with class floats from kindergarten through seniors; class reunion floats from five-year through 50-year and higher, entries from homeschoolers and special interest groups such as tractor clubs, and more. 

Coronation is open to the public and includes the presentation of pages, scribes, and gift bearers along with the king and queen. The prior year’s king and queen come back and sit in their thrones before turning them over to the newly-crowned monarchs.

“I can’t even explain the coronation—you have to see it to believe it,” says high school principal Richard Hutchinson.

Glenwood’s homecoming also includes the Outcasts, which was started by a group of non-native residents who felt like outsiders. This group now crowns their own king and queen each year, has a float and royalty car in the parade, and holds a separate dinner and dance.

“There’s so many people within the town that play a big part in this,” says Hutchinson. “The band parents have been the ones that oversee the king and queen nominations. There are parents in charge of the coronation. We have [community members] that oversee the parade…It is a community event.”


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Getting a New Sense for Concussions

August 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a linebacker for Omaha Gross High School more than 30 years ago, Stephen Eubanks slammed head-first into an Omaha Westside linebacker.

“I still have a very vivid memory of this,” Eubanks recalls. “It felt like someone opened the top of my scalp and poured warm sand down my neck.”

Eubanks got up and “shook off the cobwebs.”

He couldn’t make sense of the hand signals coaches were giving him as the defensive signal caller. He’s fortunate not to have sustained further damage.

Today, Eubanks is supervisor of athletics for OPS with oversight of sports at seven high schools. It’s in that role that he led a charge last summer to outfit OPS players with Riddell Speedflex helmets—high-tech, data-tracking helmets outfitted with the Riddell InSite Impact Response System.

Inside each helmet is a series of sensor pads that gauge impact. The sensor pads link to hand-held devices that track the number and force of hits players experience—in each practice and game as well as over time. An alert is given when impact exceeds a threshold that is predetermined for each position.

OPS was following the lead of Bellevue West, which started using the helmets in 2016, and Omaha Creighton Prep, which last year purchased the helmets for every player. Prep’s cost was underwritten by alum Jim O’Brien, a former football player for the Junior Jays. Bellevue, which started with 12 helmets, last year was able to purchase one for each member of their teams through the support of donors. 

Whereas Prep had been researching a switch to the helmets for nearly a year, the OPS switch was put into motion in summer 2017. Eubanks (and coaches at other schools) had to learn about the helmets’ technology, their uses, and their cost. Eubanks also worked with the district’s legal team to consider legal implications, and protocols had to be established for what happens when a sensor goes off. He got the input of an OPS sports medicine committee. The sensor-equipped helmets cost up to twice the cost of a standard helmet. Omaha’s Sherwood Foundation paid more than $360,000 for the 800-plus helmets.

Once helmets were received, training was provided to coaches and athletic trainers.

OPS had coaches holding monitors. Prep had its head trainer holding the monitor at varsity games and a coach for other levels. Bellevue had trainers holding monitors. 

Each helmet reports the player’s name, number, and position. A sensor going off does not mean a player has a concussion—only that a force strong enough to cause one has occurred. 

“That first fall it only went off two times,” says Bellevue West head coach Mike Huffman. “Both times it was our running back [current Husker running back Jaylin Bradley] actually running over people. A lot of times its these young men that are bigger, they are faster, they are able to deliver the hits, that cause the sensors to go off.”

Coaches look to see if a player is down or has an observable indicator of a concussion, such as reaching for his head or walking with a wobbly gait. They can call the player to the sidelines and have them go through concussion protocol as outlined by the Concussion Awareness Act that went into effect in July 2012.

So what were results? In OPS it was something of a mixed bag, due in large measure to the compressed timetable in which the helmets were received.

“We wish we had more time on the front end, but we can’t control that or turn back time,” Eubanks says.

Syncing was off between the monitors and the sensors in some helmets. Some had battery issues. A single, malfunctioning helmet went off more than 100 times. 

“There’s some work to do,” Eubanks says. “But we’re very excited, and I think that this next year will be even better.”

Each high school had at least one player whose sensor went off and who, ensuingly, was determined to have sustained a concussion. Other times, sensors went off but no concussion was determined. 

“One time, it went off when a kid was just holding his helmet,” says Huffman.

Overall, sensors went off more frequently for linemen and linebackers—which was expected given the more frequent collisions among those players.

OPS was still pulling numbers at press time, but Eubanks says overall, the number of concussions diagnosed among OPS players was down from the previous year.

At Creighton Prep, Dr. Daniel Schinzel, the schools’ athletic director, couldn’t point to any difference in the number of concussions diagnosed. He did like the cumulative data the helmets give, showing patterns for different positions and for specific individuals.

“If No. 88 has an inordinate number of hits at or near the threshold, you can coach the kid on using proper technique,” Schinzel say. “You can say, ‘Look, your hits are very close to the threshold because you’re not keeping your head up.’”

“It’s definitely a great tool,” says Huffman. “It doesn’t prevent things from happening.”

He continues, “Most of the time, you don’t realize the impact of the head hitting the group. Now, when that device buzzes, it makes you think.”

“I think the technology is great, but technology is only going to be useful as a tool if you have the right people running it,” Schinzel says while praising his school’s head athletic trainer, Bill Kleber. “It just gives him more information as he’s doing his job.”

Another point Huffman made is that costs for these helmets will be ongoing, although the imbedded technology is worth it.

“A helmet is only good for—10 years,” he says, though skeptical of that number. “I keep helmets for about 6. So, starting in two years, I’ll need to start replacing them at about 20 a year.”

Sensors or not, Eubanks says helmets are improved over what he wore when playing. “One-hundred percent,” he says.


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Stephen Eubanks

Superintendent Letters

August 6, 2018 by

The greater Omaha metropolitan area is home to some of the state’s best schools, educators, and students. Superintendents at six of the area’s largest school districts share their thoughts and reflections for the fall.

School Districts

Omaha Public
402-557-2222
students: 53,000 | schools: 81

Archdiocese of Omaha
402-558-3100
students: 20,000 | schools: 71

Bellevue Public
402-293-4000
students: 10,000 | schools: 20

Elkhorn Public
402-289-2579
students: 9,500 | schools: 17

Millard Public
402-715-8200
students: 24,000 | schools: 35

Westside Community
402-390-2100
students: 6,000 | schools: 13


Cheryl J. Logan, Ed. D.

Cheryl J. Logan, Ed.D.
Omaha Public
district.ops.org

Welcome back to a new school year. I hope everyone has had an opportunity to recharge and prepare to hit the ground running.

In July, I officially took the reins as superintendent of Omaha Public Schools. I’m honored to have the privilege to serve our students, their families, and the citizens of Omaha. During my visits to schools and with community organizations and city leaders these past seven months, I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, that OPS is an emerging leader in urban education. I’ve seen it up close and personal. OPS is a gem in this community, and the recent show of support in the passing of the Phase 2 bond is inspiring.

I’m honored and humbled to serve as the superintendent of Omaha Public Schools and look forward to working with the Omaha community to ensure that every student is prepared to excel in college, career, and life.

As I learn more about the district’s strengths and opportunities to grow and build upon our shared vision for the future, I’ve also shared my entry plan, which explains the goals, objectives, and activities of my early work here in Omaha. My four primary areas of focus include: 1) building a positive, collaborative, and productive relationship with the board of education; 2) establishing trust and confidence amongst stakeholder groups; 3) reviewing and studying our fiscal and organizational health; and 4) reviewing and studying curriculum and instructional practices.

The insights that are gained during this process will help the district leadership team make informed decisions, building upon the foundation of excellence that already exists while finding strategic ways to ensure our continuous improvement.

Michael W. Ashton, Ed. D.

Michael W. Ashton, Ed.D.
Archdiocese of Omaha
lovemyschool.com

We are blessed in Omaha to have high support and enrollment in the largest by-choice school system in the state. Nearly 20,000 students across 71 schools enjoy a progressive, Christ-centered environment that remains focused on those subjects most important to our families: faith, discipline, service, and community.

Our schools continue to uphold the tradition of high achievement in academic, creative, and athletic pursuits. Our students continue to exceed the Nebraska average in ACT scores, graduation rates, and college acceptances. An even more pronounced difference is seen when comparing Catholic-educated students of Latino backgrounds or from less resourced households to their non-Catholic-educated peers. But these measures are only significant in the way they contribute to each student’s pursuit of God’s plan for their lives. We endeavor to awaken the greatness that is within each child by engaging the whole family in a supportive community that focuses on each person as a valued creation of God.

Catholic education has what we have always valued—morals, high expectations, rigor, and service—but did you know that each year we enroll more students with disabilities and those from non-English speaking households? Our families, parishes, and other benefactors provide additional resources each year in efforts to provide environments that serve every child. You can also find STEM/STEAM/STREAM labs, fine arts programs, vocational preparation partnerships with local colleges, dual enrollment courses, and a new Dual Language Academy, Omaha’s first bi-literate language opportunity for children as young as preschool-age.

Jeff Rippe, Ed. D.

Jeff Rippe, Ed.D.
Bellevue Public
bellevuepublicschools.org

Here at #TeamBPS, we are eager to kick-off the 2018-19 school year.

BPS and our stakeholders began work on a strategic plan last school year; we’re going through a final review before the plan is presented this fall. Once fully implemented, this roadmap will guide and challenge us towards even greater success. 

We continue to renovate, rehabilitate, and improve existing facilities through our bond program—allowing us to provide students with access to cutting-edge technology, educational and recreational resources, and safe and secure environments where they can learn and grow.

In addition to the many happenings this school year, our focus is #BeKind 

We want to bring awareness to all of our stakeholders on issues our students or staff may face while simultaneously initiating a focus on being kind. Our initiative is not limited to students and staff; we hope to have the entire Bellevue/Offutt community join us in spreading the word about our #BeKind message. 

Our accomplishments in BPS are many. We continue to be fortunate to have a community that supports and values education. Above everything we put our students first. It is the promise of the community and the mission of this school district.

Bary Habrock, Ph.D.

Bary Habrock, Ph.D.
Elkhorn Public
elkhornweb.org

With a renewed sense of excitement and promise, we will open our doors to more than 9,500 students this fall.  We look back with pride on the past achievements and successes accomplished by our students, both in academics and extracurricular activities, while looking forward with enthusiasm to the possibilities open to us in the year to come.  

As a prime destination for educational excellence, our focus remains on student achievement, and it’s this priority that drives our actions and decisions. Together with our dedicated students, supportive parents, caring teachers and staff, considerate board members, and a community that partners with us to ensure student success, we set an expectation of excellence as a district that has grown from rural roots into a premier educational environment. Our students continually out-score state and national averages, and our high schools maintain outstanding graduation rates.  Our community understands the value of attending schools where the names and needs of students are known and understood, and it is this partnership that allows us to continue to provide our students with the best educational experience available.  

As we move forward in our 31st consecutive year of significant student population growth, our ability to live out our mission remains the same as we “unite students, families, educators, and the community to ensure a challenging and enriching academic environment that inspires students to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners.”

Jim Suftin, Ed. D.

Jim Sutfin, Ed.D.
Millard Public
mpsomaha.org

A new year means a new backpack full of fresh supplies. You can spot the ritual at any of the local stores. The class lists are posted conveniently right as you walk in the door. Along with the required No. 2 yellow pencils, composition notebooks, and folders, we are asking students to tuck one more tool into their backpacks this year. Parents, you’ll like this one. It’s free, it works, and students can keep it for life.

We are asking every student to bring kindness to school this year. You’ve probably already spotted the movement in your community. #BeKind is everywhere. Our neighboring school districts are a part of it. Omaha’s mayor, and the police and fire departments are all part of it. Of all the important lessons our schools can teach, we think this one rises to the top. What you do in this world matters. How you go about it matters even more. Please help us help our students learn how to #BeKind.

Blane McCann, Ph.D.

Blane McCann, Ph.D.
Westside Community
westside66.org

I’ve held many roles in my life: teacher, coach, principal, and now, superintendent. Despite the accolades and awards I’ve been honored to receive throughout my career, nothing will top my most important roles in this world: being a husband and father.

I have devoted my career to public education, yet my proudest moments and fondest memories are those spent with my family. I have been blessed with five wonderful children, several of whom are now adults. I often look back on their younger years and laugh with my wife—how did we do it? How did we survive the sibling rivalry, broken windows, and long car rides on family road trips? The jam-packed schedules. The sleepless nights when they were babies, and the long days when someone was sick.

My wife and I are now empty-nesters. To those who still have little birds at home, I encourage you to enjoy every moment. Soak up the crazy things your children say, and listen when they tell you about their days. Try to remember every day that tomorrow they will be one day closer to adulthood and independence. They need you to listen, to play, to teach them, and to love.

We as educators do our very best to give children all of the tools they need to become happy, productive citizens excelling in their strengths. However, even the best teachers cannot replace your important role as parents and caregivers. And as important as our roles in career and community often seem, nothing can or should compare with family. Your efforts at home make our efforts at school exponentially more powerful and worthwhile.

Here’s to another outstanding school year, and to new summer memories made as a family.


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Joan Standifer

December 22, 2017 by
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits.


Joan Standifer, 75

I’m a fabulous, 75-year-young woman with an attitude that embraces the joy of living.

I’m an Omaha native who raised two now-adult children: Michael, who lives in Omaha, and Monica Baker, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. My legacy continues with granddaughter, Micka, and 8-month-old great-granddaughter, Zaina. I am married to the marvelous love of my life, Stanley Standifer, and enjoy a blended family with his four children and seven grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

My college education culminated with a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in education administration. Over a 30-year span, I held several positions with Omaha Public Schools, retiring as an elementary principal.

Many years of my life were spent as an advocate of social equality and quality education. I consider myself a cultural navigator, dedicated to lifelong learning and discovery of the world and its people. This philosophy has been reinforced by my travels to 75 percent of the world, and in serving on civic, social, and education boards. As a UNO-sponsored Fulbright Scholarship recipient, I traveled to Pakistan, met world leaders, and shared these experiences in presentations. Many honors and awards have been extended to me as a result of sharing my experiences.

Happiness is knowing that my life has been a beacon for my former students and members of my family. It’s rewarding to know that a former fifth-grade student of mine, to this day, regards me as the “greatest teacher ever.” I relish the fact that at this age, I continue to make a difference in the lives of those around me.

Let your light shine so that others can walk in your path toward success in life. Let others discover their value and be willing to share of themselves for the greater good. Be honest and unpretentious in your relationships. Aging becomes less of a factor when you live by faith and have respect for mankind.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Giving Kids 
a ‘Tech-Up’

October 22, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

It’s almost impossible these days to gain employment without some level of technical aptitude and proficiency.

Being able to apply that technical knowledge on-the-job will continue to be required of future high school graduates and subsequent workers to better compete in the 21st century.

And as the most “plugged-in” generation ever, students now and future are eager to learn and apply what they’ve learned in simulated and real-life situations every day.

“Whether they go to college or into a highly-skilled certificate program like manufacturing, transportation, or health care after high school, we want to make them as ready as possible to be successful,” says Ken Spellman, career education coordinator with Omaha Public Schools. “Technology is everywhere and involved with every job in some capacity. We want them prepared to step into any role with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.”

Through the OPS Career Education program, Spellman, along with certified nursing assistant instructor Tiffanie Wright, engage students to think beyond the classroom into future opportunities no matter if a four-year college education is in their future.

Because skilled labor positions require as much, if not more, specialized technological expertise, training and experience do not end with high school graduation.

If anything, they are just beginning, and OPS wants to make sure its students are on the right track when they do don their caps and gowns and pick up their diplomas.

“Technology is constantly changing, and while CNA job training still tends to be heavily on the physical side (lifting, cleaning, etc.), as a prelude to a career in nursing or health care, being able to use the machines and software needed for patient care is equally, if not more, important,” Wright says.

“Six of the local colleges we work with require CNA certification as a stepping stone to get into nursing. CNAs and nurses are in incredibly high demand, so we want to make sure when our students graduate, they are prepared not only for their current roles but future opportunities.”

Similarly, the Westside School District empowers its students at all levels through its Center for Advanced Professional Studies, with its four strands funded by a Youth Career Connect Grant.

Using science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as a basis, the four strands include architecture, health science, emerging technology, and business solutions. 

Dawn Nizzi, director of Westside’s CAPS, says the program not only prepares students for future technology in the workplace, but also encourages them to think and connect beyond the actual software and devices that they have had in their lives since they were little.

“We want them to realize that technology isn’t a guy in a basement surrounded by computers and monitors; we want them to realize that technology connects people from all professions and walks of life,” she says. “We don’t silo our students. It’s important that they know how to work and communicate together.

“We want them to leave with vision, and the ability to think critically and collaboratively. Part of being a CAPS is to instill an entrepreneurial mindset—to think innovatively. It’s bigger than just the application.”

Last year, a group of Westside students went to St. Louis to experience and observe a Hackathon, where teams from various schools come together to solve technology problems.

Not only did it put their technological skills to the test, but it also stretched their leadership and critical thinking capabilities. Students decided they would like to host something similar among Omaha’s school districts in the future.

In the Millard Public Schools, students are taught technological competencies at very young ages —starting in the elementary school years—with each step building toward making them more accomplished and ready once they reach high school.

Using One-to-One deployment (in which every student gets a computer for their personal and school use) the Millard Educational Program helps students meet the college and career readiness skills of citizenship, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity to better compete in the 21st century. By using technology, teachers will transform the way students learn by augmenting, modifying, and redefining instruction.

Whatever these future students’ career paths may take as they mature and learn, they will be prepared to not only use technology as it evolves but also work together, whether locally or internationally, to advance that technology even further.

“It’s not so much about the tools as much as it is about seeing students learn through enhanced teaching so they are prepared for the future,” says Ken Kingston Ed.D., Millard School District executive director of technology “We set out on a plan more than four years ago as part of our strategic planning process to enhance teaching and learning. Part of that process is providing choices for teachers and students and making sure they think and act creatively and critically, and can work with one another.”

Bottom line for all school districts in Metro Omaha is that students are more prepared than ever for their future pursuits—no matter what career path they take.

“We’re not only preparing our students, but we’re also preparing our teachers so they can give students the best guidance and instruction,” says Curtis Case Ed.D. Millard Public Schools director of digital learning “Not all teaching is about technology. We leave it up to our teachers to use as much as they want in their instruction. But we make sure that they understand how to use technology to best prepare students to use it as well.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

(from left) Curtis Case, Ed.D, & Kent Kingston, Ed.D

Tracking the Controversy

June 23, 2016 by and
Illustration by Jimm Wagner

America’s culture war has entered the most private of public spaces. Enactment of North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill—House Bill 2 (HB2), aka the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act—corresponded to a rash of similar proposals across the U.S.

The controversy is tangled in the history of federal anti-discrimination laws, Title IX, and local city ordinances. Supporters of gender-restrictive bathroom mandates have cited defense of women (especially girls in school locker rooms) as justification. Opponents of HB2 (and similar proposals) see a government-sanctioned affront to those who do not identify with their gender assigned at birth; they argue that transgender individuals have a right to use the restroom most closely aligned with their gender identity.

Omaha Public Schools told Omaha Magazine that the local school district remains determined to keep their schools safe for all students, including students of different genders. “Although this has come up on a national level, it certainly is not new to our schools. Our district has been responsive to our students for many years,” says Sharif Liwaru, director of OPS Office of Equity and Diversity.

TIMELINE

1964: The federal Civil Rights Act is implemented to stop workplace discrimination based on sex, religion, race, color, or national origin.

1972: Title IX—part of the U.S. Education Amendment of 1972—extends federal anti-discrimination requirements to public education and federally assisted programs

October 2010: Omaha fails to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to a list of protected classes.

March 13, 2012: Omaha City Council approves (by vote of 4-3) a controversial ordinance introduced by Councilman Ben Gray that makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

April 29, 2014: The U.S. Department of Education publishes a 53-page guidance for complying to Title IX. The document states: “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity” and “the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”

November 3, 2015: Charlotte elects a new mayor, Jennifer Roberts, who supports LGBTQ-inclusive changes to local anti-discrimination ordinances.

Feb. 22: Charlotte City Council adds LGBTQ protections to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

Feb. 23: North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore calls for legislative action in response to the “bathroom piece” of Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance.

March 23: The North Carolina General Assembly passes HB2 (“the bathroom bill”). Gov. Pat McCrory signs the bill into law. HB2 restricts usage of public restroom facilities to people based on the gender listed on their birth certificates and prevents local anti-discrimination ordinances from protecting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

March 28: The ACLU files a federal lawsuit to overturn HB2 because of its unconstitutionality (failure to uphold the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment) and its violation of Title IX.

April 8: Bruce Springsteen cancels his concert in Greensboro, North Carolina. Springsteen’s protest against HB2 is mirrored in several other entertainers canceling North Carolina events to protest HB2.

April 12: Responding to criticism of HB2, Gov. McCrory signs an executive order preventing state employees from being disciplined or fired for being gay or transgender.

April 19: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which also presides over North Carolina, rules in favor of Virginia high school student Gavin Grimm. The transgender student—who was born female—sued the Gloucester County School Board for violating his Title IX right to use the boys’ bathroom facilities.

April 21: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says North Carolina must change HB2 for the league to hold its 2017 all-star game in Charlotte as scheduled.

April 27: NCAA Board of Governors adopts a new anti-discrimination process for all sites hosting, or bidding to host, NCAA events in order to “provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination.”

May 9: Gov. McCrory files a lawsuit asking federal courts to declare that HB2 is not discriminatory.

May 9: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announces that the Department of Justice is filing a civil rights complaint against North Carolina because of anti-LGBTQ language in HB2.

May 13: The Obama Administration and U.S. Department of Education issue guidelines insisting that public schools allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity.

May 15: Delegates to the Nebraska Republican Convention adopt a resolution calling for a Nebraska bathroom law akin to North Carolina’s HB2.

May 17: Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson objects to the Obama Administration’s (May 13) bathroom guidelines. In his letter, Peterson promises that his office will do “everything in its power to resist any attempt to unconstitutionally expand Title IX requirements.”

May 18: More than 200 corporations sign an open letter condemning HB2. North Carolina loses 400 potential future jobs when one signatory, Paypal, withdraws its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte.

*Update after press deadline

June 21: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools revised its policy to protect transgender students in the classroom and comply with Title IX, in defiance of the state law, HB2.

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Against Transphobia

Facts and Figures of Marginalization

RISK FOR SUICIDE

Trans people suffer from an elevated risk of bullying, homelessness, and attempted suicide. According to a 2014 report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 41 percent of trans people have tried to kill themselves at some point in their lives—compared to 4.6 percent of the total adult U.S. population.

SEX OR GENDER?

According to the World Health Organization, “Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”

INTERSEX INFANTS

Most newborns receive gender assignments at birth. But not all. Newborns with ambiguous genitalia are deemed “intersex.” Sometimes intersex conditions do not become apparent until later in life, often around the time of puberty. According to the American Psychological Association, “experts estimate that as many as 1 in every 1,500 babies is born with genitals that cannot easily be classified as male or female.”

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To read more about the spectrum of gender identity in Omaha, see the current issue of Omaha Magazine: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/06/engendering-identity/. The author of the article, Dr. Jay Irwin, was profiled in the January/February issue of Omaha Magazine: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/01/trans-logic/

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Dr. Antoinette Turnquist

May 27, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus.

She’s been described as “Dynamite.” “Amazing.” “Unique.” “A Living Legend.”

These are just some of the words Dr. Antoinette Turnquist’s former students use to describe her and the difference she has made in their lives.

What makes one teacher stand out among so many others, and make such an impact on his or her students…an impact felt even years later? It might be her basic teaching philosophy: “Every student matters; every student can learn,” as she puts it. Or, her “great joy in watching them learn…watching them discover things.” Whatever the reason, these glowing remarks are about someone, surprisingly, who never even wanted to be a teacher.

Dr. Turnquist, a teacher in the Omaha Public School System for 39 years (1964-2003), says she had planned to go directly to graduate school for a Master of Fine Arts degree. “I wanted to become a producing artist,” she explains, “but I took just enough education courses to be certified as a kind of insurance policy.”

That, of course, was before she ever stepped into a classroom. “I did my first semester of student teaching,“ she recalls, “and fell in love with it…with the kids, with the process, with the whole concept of public education.” She adds, “I myself was a product of public education, but I had never fully comprehended the significance of it until I stood there in front of all those waiting faces.”

Her long and illustrious teaching career began with three years of teaching in both the old Monroe Junior High and McMillan Junior High schools and ended at Omaha South High School, where she taught for 36 years. And though her teaching days are over, (she admits she misses her students), she is still indirectly impacting them…52,000 of them, to be exact.

In 2003, her dedication to public education led her, quite naturally, to the Omaha Public Schools district office, where she served as Coordinator of Business Services. In 2008, she was named Director of Business Services, and today, she is the Executive Director of District Operational Services, responsible for the many support services for all district students.

Todd Andrews, who works with her as communications director at the district office, says, “At 50-plus years with OPS, Dr. Turnquist is one of the living legends of the district. She has humbly and energetically dedicated her entire professional life to educational excellence. The district is extremely fortunate to have her.”

Looking back on her teaching days, Dr. Turnquist fondly recalls that “one of the first things I discovered at South High was their wonderful diversity, which included Hispanic and Latino as well as Caucasian students, and the whole philosophy at South, which was to implement programs for every student.”

She started out as an art teacher, serving as department chair for the Visual Arts department. One of her former students, Jeff Koterba, a 1979 South High graduate, also recalls those days: “I took Toni’s art classes, and if not for her, I wouldn’t be the artist I am, but more importantly, the man I am,” says Koterba, the longtime editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald. “Because of her belief in me, her patience and her wisdom, I found a better path, the path I was meant to follow.”

Eventually, she chaired the newly-created Fine Arts department, which included Visual Arts, Theater, Drama, Vocal Music, Instrumental Music, and Humanities, giving students many new opportunities, including working at Opera Omaha on local productions.

“It was an exciting time to be a teacher,” she recalls, “as we looked for new avenues of education for our students.” That goal, in fact, led to her and another teacher creating a new course for young women, so they could see what opportunities were available to them, and also to learn about their own history. They called it “Women’s Studies,” and “it proved to be a very popular class.”

Another former student, in fact, can personally attest to that. Lenli Corbett, a 2001 South High graduate, says, “Dr. Turnquist’s Womens’ Studies class was incredibly important to me, to my development as a woman and as a future professional. She brings out the best in you…not every teacher is able to do that.”

When asked if she considers herself successful (her list of achievements include Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers (1994), among many others), Dr. Turnquist quoted Lee Iacocca, who said, ‘Your legacy should be that you made it better than it was when you got it.’ Thus, I would say yes, I think I have been successful both as a teacher and as a central office administrator. What anyone else might think about my success along that line is anyone else’s call, not mine, and I am quite comfortable with that.”

Turnquist says she has no plans to retire anytime soon, either from OPS or her 50-plus years of working as a visual artist. “Some may think it’s strange,” she says, “but I still like getting up every day, getting dressed, and trying to make a difference.”

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Brothers & Sisters

February 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Meeting Gene Haynes in a crowded breakfast place turned out to be a bit of a mistake. After all, the gregarious North High School principal had to begin his morning by making the rounds, chatting it up with table after table of familiar faces.

The onset of the interview was further delayed when, during the usual introductory niceties, the 47-year veteran of the Omaha Public Schools system queried, “Brother Williams, we already know each other…but from where?” The writer’s daughter, you see, had gone to North for her senior year. That was a distant 15 years ago. Out of the many thousands of students and parents that Haynes had encountered over that span of time, he could still instantly make out the face of a parent who a decade-and-a-half ago had been a North High Viking for one brief term, the equivalent of a cup of coffee.

“It brightens my day whenever I can reconnect with a parent of a former student and athlete [the writer’s daughter was a swimmer],” the former athletic director says. “These kinds of connections are what make being an educator in Omaha Public Schools such a great reward. And they’re also the kind of connections that make Omaha such a great city.”

Haynes, who began his career at the long-defunct Tech High School in 1967, was enshrined in the Omaha Public Schools Hall of Fame in September. Adding to his recent honors, the stretch of 36th Street abutting North High has been renamed Gene R. Haynes Street.

He was raised in the Mississippi of the Deep South at the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. “I vividly remember Emmett Till’s body being found in the Tallahatchie River,” Haynes says of the 14-year-old African-American teen who was brutally tortured and murdered by whites in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a young white woman. “Later, when an attempt was made to integrate the University of Mississippi, I remember seeing federal marshals on every corner as our school bus passed by. Those were troubled times, but—and this may seem strange—it made me a better person. I was blessed to have had great teachers, the kind that were called ‘Negro’ at the time. They saw and understood the world around us. They taught that you had to do more with less. They taught that you had to persevere. They stressed that the only way up was through education.”

He and his wife, Annie, a retired OPS teacher, became college sweethearts when they met at Rust College, a historically black institution in Holly Springs, Miss. Mirroring his parent’s pattern, son Jerel, now 38 and working as a producer in Los Angeles, courted the Hayne’s future daughter-in-law, Erin, now herself an educator, when the pair attended North when Haynes was vice-principal. He and Annie have two young grandchildren, Kaleb (6) and Jacob (almost 3). The couple recently celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.

Haynes has been at North since 1987, but his reach also extends broadly across the community through his work with the Urban League of Nebraska, the NAACP, the Butler-Gast YMCA, and numerous other organizations. He and Annie worship at Salem Baptist Church.

“This has been my life,” Haynes says of his service to students, parents, faith, and the community. “Being an educator, by definition, means that you must also be involved in the community. You can’t see what’s going on inside a school if you don’t what’s happening outside of it. Educators who can’t do that, who can’t see a community’s dynamics at a high level, are the ones who struggle—the ones destined to be short-termers.”

And what is this most youthful-looking of 70-year-old’s timeline for retirement?

“I figure I still have at least of couple good years left in me,” Haynes says with his ever-present smile. “My philosophy at school, in the community, in sports, anything in life, has always been to give 110 percent. I’ll know it’ll be time to go when I can only give, say, 109 percent.”

The interview had continued in fits and starts as Haynes occasionally paused to greet or bid adieu to others in the coffee shop, addressing one and all as “Sister” or “Brother” so-and-so. It’s the same style he uses with students in the halls of North High School, where the use of the “Brother” or “Sister” appellation preceding a last name suggests a union of the familiar and the formal.

“It recognizes their identity,” Haynes says. “It recognizes that they matter, that they are a person who deserves and is worthy of your respect. Besides, last names are a whole lot easier to remember after almost a half century in education.”

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Rose Baker

January 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rose Baker is a graduate of Monroe Elementary School.

That’s not a typo.

Monroe Elementary became Monroe Middle School in 1956. Baker doesn’t need much of an excuse to return to her alma mater. She’s there over 20 weeks a year on Saturday mornings giving swimming lessons in the school’s pool.

“My dad made sure everybody in the family knew how to swim,” Baker explains. “And I decided I kind of liked it.” She went on to a stint as a lifeguard at a now defunct neighborhood pool. She graduated from (the also now defunct) Tech High School before enrolling at Omaha University (now the University of Nebraska-Omaha), where she won two events at the first Nebraska College Invitational swim meet in 1964.

But by then, Baker was already five years into her work as a swimming instructor, which she began in 1959.

That, too, is not a typo…1959.

Ike was in the White House. Buddy Holly’s plane went down in an Iowa cornfield. Bridget Bardot was the hottest thing on two wheels. Bobby Dain crooned about menace named “Mack the Knife.”

Baker, now a retired Omaha Public Schools physical education teacher, is known for a firm-but-gentle teaching style that has become familiar to generations of Omaha families.

“My recollection of Rose is that she didn’t take anything from anybody,” says Brian Neu, who is now 33 years old. “Her no-nonsense style is the key to her success. We started our daughters (Reese, 5, and Morgan, 8) in lessons elsewhere and we didn’t seem to make much progress. Then I learned that Rose was still teaching and now my kids are with the same woman that taught me how to swim. Their progress with Rose has been just remarkable.”

“Swimming is for everybody,” says Baker, who was recently recognized with a place of honor in the Omaha Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’ve also done a lot of classroom water safety work, but the pool is where it’s at. I want to be in the water. And so do the kids.”

What she calls her “tough love” approach is legendary in this city and, after more than a half century of splashing around in the water, she is equally taciturn in talking about the “why” of it all.

“Sure, it’s fun and rewarding and all of that,” she says, “but the main reason I do this, the main reason this is so important to me, is pretty simple. I don’t want to ever have to read about a kid in the paper…a kid who drowned because he didn’t know how to swim.”

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Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue

October 27, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Beth Ostdiek Smith was working at her old job and was amazed to hear about the amount of healthy meals and snacks that were being thrown out at the end of the day. She knew of an organization in Arizona called Waste Not, a perishable food rescue that was run by one of her sister’s friends. She thought Omaha could use something similar to address the city’s hunger problem.

Smith, who had been involved with local businessman Jerry Hoberman’s Winners Circle program and later in Partnership 4 Kids, both of which helped students in the Omaha Public Schools system, was looking for a new venture. Late in 2012, she met with members of the Hunger Free Heartland, which included the Food Bank, three of the city’s largest pantries, and some members of former Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s staff to explore the need for a perishable food rescue. She says all agreed this would fill a niche not being met in the community.

Smith traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., in February 2013 to meet with the head of Waste Not.

Smith gathered information about how the company picked up food donations from different restaurants, caterers, and other food purveyors, and then delivered them to local nonprofits that feed the needy. She came back to Omaha and went about raising funds and building partnerships to create what would become Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery.

“We do not have a food problem in Omaha but a food connection problem,” Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace, says. “Saving Grace’s perishable food pipeline addresses that issue.”

One of the first partners was Akin’s Natural Foods, which was just coming to Omaha. Company officials agreed to donate food. Now Saving Grace has 10 regularly scheduled donors, including Trader Joe’s, Greenberg Fruit, three Pizza Ranch locations, and Attitude on Food.

One of the biggest purchases that Saving Grace needed to get running was a refrigerated truck so workers could collect and deliver perishable food such as dairy, produce, meats, prepared foods, and grains. Saving Grace does not have a warehouse, and all pick-ups and donations are done on the same day, Smith says. A good truck, therefore, is a must.

Several years ago, Smith had met former Precision Industries CEO Dennis Circo (featured on the cover of this month’s issue of our sister publication, B2B magazine) through Omaha businessman Willie Thiessen, and decided to approach Circo about helping fund her new venture. Circo said he wasn’t sure it would work, but took a leap of faith and agreed to buy the refrigerated truck. He also donated office space to the nonprofit at his new Enterprise Center on 96th and L streets.

Saving Grace delivers food to 10 nonprofit groups, including the Bethlehem House, Heart Ministries, Hope Center for Kids, Open Door Mission and Siena/Francis House. Food rescue and delivery operations started last September.

Smith said the goal for Saving Grace was to deliver 300 pounds of food a day for the first three months, then add an additional 200 pounds of food a day every three months. After nine months of delivering, 152,842 pounds of food have been delivered to the needy. Smith said that besides the partnerships her group has made with donors and financial backers, Saving Grace has been successful because she and others have met with all the recipients to determine what their food needs are. The less those organizations must worry about where their food will be coming from, she says, the more time they will have to help meet the other needs of their clientele, like finding jobs and repairing broken lives.

“I see this as a movement, really,” Smith says. “People want to know where their food goes, and I think we’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg [of this venture’s potential].”

Smith hopes to purchase another truck and continue to grow the number of recipients, donors, and financial partners. Educating the public on how they can help feed the hungry while saving landfills by getting the word out on Saving Grace are also big priorities moving forward.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org for more information on Saving Grace.

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