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Kearney Public to focus on recruiting, retaining teachers

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KEARNEY — The new Kearney Public Schools strategic plan will focus on providing a high-quality environment for students, faculty and staff.

Kearney Public Schools Board of Education approved the 2022-27 strategic plan at this month’s regular board meeting. The plan has four pillars that will serve as priority components to pursue excellence in education. The pillars include college and career readiness, guaranteed and viable curriculum, staff retention and recruitment and social-emotional learning.

KPS Superintendent Jason Mundorf explained that the plan was derived from a series of surveys given to all stakeholder groups including district administrators, building leaders, teachers, classified staff, parents, students in grades 4-12, community members and business and industry leaders. Once the surveys were gathered, the Nebraska Association of School Boards performed a series of analytic and qualitative checks.

Three of the pillars from the 2017-22 plan — college and career readiness, guaranteed and viable curriculum and social-emotional learning — have been carried over into the 2022-27 plan. A new pillar in the current plan is staff retention and recruitment.

Jason Mundorf

Mundorf

“We have fewer people choosing to work in education. We have fewer people in the teacher colleges enrolling to become teachers. It’s harder to find our classified staff help. Industry is competing in a lot of those jobs. So it’s harder for us to find custodians and food service workers and paraprofessionals,” Mundorf said. “So our goals and efforts as a district are to be thoughtful and intentional in not only how do we recruit new staff as we need it, but how do we keep the existing staff happy and wanting to continue to work for Kearney Public Schools?”

Some solutions they will consider include salary and benefits, but also work conditions and making KPS an organization where people want to work.

With record low-unemployment, focusing on readying students for life after high school is a priority for KPS, and it continues to be a pillar in the new plan. The school aims to give students opportunities to explore different career paths and connect with professionals working in a variety of industries.

“The ability for kids to have work-based learning experiences, dual-credit college courses, just work-based learning apprenticeship, internship, building their skills. Getting them ready for life beyond high school, whether that’s college, could be directly to the workforce, military, whatever that might be. We have them well prepared for it,” Mundorf explained.

As part of the former strategic plan, Kearney High School moved from a four-block day to a five-block day for students to pursue extended education learning opportunities, Mundorf said.

“So a student really could theoretically complete their high school diploma at Kearney High by the midpoint of their junior year if they wanted to, if they were aggressive. And if they don’t, they still have completed enough credits that their senior year they can do a lot of work-based learning experiences, can take some college courses,” he added.

With 15 schools in the district, the guaranteed and viable curriculum pillar focuses on providing all students a similar educational experience.

“The course offerings are similar so that if you’re a student in one elementary school, it’s not a dramatically different experience to another or from one middle school to another or even at the high school, from one teacher teaching algebra one to another teacher teaching algebra one,” Mundorf said.

Social-emotional learning was also a pillar in the previous plan and remains so for the next five years. During 2017-22, KPS added social workers and counselors to help improve social emotional outcomes. The district also implemented a core social emotional learning curriculum for K-12.

“In our district, social emotional learning, again, is building those self-awareness, self-regulation skills, those social interaction skills with peers where kids feel like they can successfully navigate being a teenager and making friends and making good decisions in their interactions with others,” said Mundorf.

KPS administration recently completed a prioritization survey to determine what goals they will tackle first. For Mundorf, the college and career readiness pillar is critically important for students and the community.

“We have great workforce needs in Kearney. To continue to be the premier city that we are, we need to keep our talent. We need to keep our student talent local if possible. So we need to find and get kids into the workforce, but we need to get them in in places where they can be successful and where they’re interested. I hate to see talented students choosing Denver, Omaha or Kansas City or somewhere else when we’d have that opportunity in Kearney, but they weren’t aware of it,” he said.

Teacher retention is another priority for Mundorf.

“We know that there’s going to be a competition for teachers. There’s fewer and fewer. ... To have the best teacher standing and delivering instruction in front of our students, that’s always our goal and to have them we need to be thoughtful on what we’re providing them for a work experience,” he added.

Mundorf and the Board of Education will work together to begin implementing the plan, and he commends the board members for being active and engaged throughout the process.

“I think it gives us a great plan to go after over the next several years to continue to improve incrementally over time. We’re in a great school system, but obviously this is a way that we can, again, continue that incremental growth,” he said.

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