Tag Archives: Westside Community Schools

Downtown to Westside

September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A sense of community drives Erin Vik. In choosing where to live or work, he looks for a specific feel to drive his decision.

Beginning his career in the food and beverage industry at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Omaha, he appreciated that the hotel was owned by the city at the time. Later, during a stint at Metropolitan Community College, he managed the catering and horticulture programs, where he had a hands-on approach to supporting the school’s culinary program.

While at Metro, Vik became acquainted with his predecessor at Westside, Diane Zipay. Little did he know—as they discussed working together on projects—a year later he’d be replacing her as she headed into retirement.

Today, in his fifth year as the director of Westside Schools’ nutrition program, he has expanded the program’s emphasis on providing healthier food options for students. Vik says that each move has been guided by that feel of community.

“I’m not a politician,” Vik says. “But I want to be involved with things around me.”

His dedication and interest is evident to those who work with him. Westside Superintendent Mike Lucas says he is a huge fan of what Vik does.

“Erin has a tremendous passion for food service,” Lucas says. “He has wonderful experience outside of education and that has translated very well to providing nutritious, sustainable meals for our students.”

Vik relishes the sense of community that Westside has in working with local organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands and Food Bank for the Heartland. The district uses a contract kitchen to cater meals for these organizations, as well as other schools outside the district, and elementary schools and select meals (i.e. gluten-free) within the district.

“I find it enriching, what we do in the city,” Vik says.

Vik and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 11 years and have an 8-year-old daughter, Isabel. Though they knew they wanted to be involved with their child’s school, when the Viks bought their house in the Westside district they had no idea he’d end up running the nutrition department. So, their move ended up being doubly positive for the whole family.

Living in the school district where he works, Vik says he expects neighbors to discuss concerns with him, adding that neighborhood kids are quick to let him know when they like the menu and when they don’t.

“He’s a parent in our school district, and he’s very accessible, very open-minded,” Lucas says.  “[He] does a  great job of communicating with staff, parents, and community.”

Vik says he enjoys receiving feedback from people, because it helps in managing the 80-plus employees he oversees, which is no small feat.

According to Lucas, the department serves about 5,000 student meals a day within the district, and an additional 6,200-plus meals outside the Westside district. “So Erin is overseeing over 11,000 meals a day,” Lucas says. “He’s very organized.”

At home, the self-professed foodie is a little looser when it comes to planning meals. Vik says he enjoys creating dishes, but neither he nor Jennifer have a favorite meal, so they enjoy experimenting in the kitchen.

“I’m like, ‘What do you feel like having tonight?’” he says. And they go from there.

Vik’s foodie style does make its way into the office. While Westside previously offered fresh salads, Vik has expanded the Westside district’s program to encourage more diverse healthy dining options for students. This includes working with local farmers and distributors to provide locally sourced fruits and vegetables, as well as creating dishes such as pasta and lasagna from scratch. He encourages chefs and cooks to be creative with meal planning.

“We started a ramen bar,” Vik says. “I was a little scared. Some of the folks in the kitchen realized it was a new concept. They visited [ramen places] and saw what the products looked like in the restaurants. And they did a really good job.”

Visit westside66.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Erin Vik, Director, Nutrition Services, Westside

Erin Vik, Director, Nutrition Services at Westside Community Schools is photographed at Westside High School.

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
students: 53,000 | schools: 81

Archdiocese of Omaha
students: 20,000 | schools: 71

Bellevue Public
students: 10,000 | schools: 20

Elkhorn Public
students: 9,500 | schools: 17

Millard Public
students: 24,000 | schools: 35

Westside Community
students: 6,000 | schools: 13

Cheryl J. Logan, Ed. D.

Cheryl J. Logan, Ed.D.
Omaha Public

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Lorraine Chang

December 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lorraine Chang is all about sticking it out—whether it’s winning over skeptical constituents at their doorstep, reorganizing inefficient corporate and government bureaucracy, or even just making it through the 90th minute of a hot yoga class.

Chang currently sits as Chairperson for the Learning Community Coordinating Council’s 3rd District. Entering her third election, Chang said she’s thought about stepping aside, “But given where we are right now, there’s still so much more I want to be a part of getting done,” she says. “It means too much. I really do love what I’m doing and find it very, very rewarding.”

While sitting in a Women’s Fund of Omaha Ready to Run meeting in 2007, a Westside Community Schools board member informed the group about upcoming elections for the newly formed Learning Community. “I found myself writing the pros and cons as she was talking,” Chang said. “It was this automatic reflex of interest.”

Developed during a contentious time in Omaha’s evolving education landscape, Chang said the Learning Community was met with intense skepticism she’s still trying to quell.

“When I would walk door to door, people would say, ‘I don’t want it to be taking over my school and telling my district what to do! They’re doing a great job, what’s the Learning Community going to do that’s going to be better? You’re going to take my tax dollars!’ They had all kinds of imaginative things they came up with, so I’d say, ‘We haven’t even started! This group hasn’t even met yet, so tell me what you want it to be because the possibilities are so great and we can make this something that’s really beneficial to the district.’”

Six years later, Chang says change has been slow, but still effective. The Learning Community has developed a more definitive purpose and mission and is taking aim at closing the learning and achievement gaps across socio-economic landscapes.

“We have contracts with Lutheran Family Services to provide family support workers who are in the schools and work with principals and teachers. If there is a child identified as absent a certain amount of days or who is struggling with some other sort of issue, or academics, those are a sign that there’s something going on. And if it’s something outside the school, like a family situation, like transport, or the family’s having the kid babysit, or whatever it may be, the social worker can help identify what the issues are and get the family the help they need,” Chang adds.

Chang said things are starting to click with the Learning Community. “I think we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of the Learning Community, and that’s the greatest benefit over time.”