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Education

Which word best describes the mix of school districts, colleges and universities in Greater Omaha?

A. Acclaimed
B. Student-Centered
C. Proud
O! All of the Above

Every year, tens of thousands of parents trust their children—and their children’s futures—to the care of Greater Omaha’s public and private schools. That trust is well placed. Our teachers, professors and administrators work hard every day to challenge, inspire and prepare.

Omaha Public Schools (OPS), Nebraska’s largest school district, educates about 46,000 students every year and is one of the country’s few major urban school districts to maintain state AA accreditation. Test scores exceed the national average for large school districts, and OPS graduates annually receive more than $25 million in scholarship offers.

The Millard School District is also proud of its report card. ACT scores consistently top metro, state and national averages. On the State Report Card, Millard students performed at exemplary levels and far exceeded the state’s average scores.

For more than 60 years, Westside Community School District has embraced the principles of excellence, innovation and community “to meet the unique needs of all learners.“ The result is a nationally-acclaimed public school district in the heart of Omaha.

All three school districts, along with eight other metro-area districts, belong to the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties; a novel, collaborative concept devised by the Nebraska Legislature. Through a system of open enrollment, parents in Douglas and Sarpy counties may apply to send their children to any public elementary, middle or high school in the Learning Community. The goal is greater socioeconomic diversity and improved academic achievement for disadvantaged youth, boosting the health and welfare of the entire metropolitan area. Approximately 37 percent of all public school students in Nebraska attend one of the 11 districts that make up the Learning Community.

Greater Omaha is also home to some of the region’s finest institutes of higher learning—from Creighton University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha to the highly-acclaimed University of Nebraska Medical Center.

We value quality education in Greater Omaha, and we invite you to learn more about the exciting developments energizing our schools!

A listing of Greater Omaha school systems and secondary institutions is available at OmahaChamber.org/pdf/SchoolsWebaddresses.pdf.

Bellevue University

Bellevue University prides itself on developing leaders who are prepared to face today’s dynamic and complex world.

“Our unique, student-centered approach to learning gives adult students the foundation they need to feel empowered, inspired and fulfilled,“ said Mary Hawkins, Ph.D., president, Bellevue University. “Today’s students are busy, working adults who need flexible and convenient learning options.“

Bellevue University recognized this need and was the first accredited university to offer an MBA online. It was also among the first to offer online degree programs. Bellevue University’s online learning classroom has received the coveted 21st Century Best Practices in Distance Learning and Best Teaching Online awards from the U.S. Distance Learning Association.

“Whether adults choose to earn their degrees in class or online, they’ll learn with other professionals who want to move up in their careers,“ Hawkins said. She added that, “’Real Learning for Real Life’ is more than a slogan. At Bellevue University, students gain rich and relevant learning that starts with a curriculum based on today’s latest issues, accentuated by what each class member adds. Our students tell us they apply what they learn to their jobs real-time, and their employers are impressed.“

It is the largest private university in Nebraska and offers the nation’s only Ph.D. in Human Capital Management in addition to 15 career-relevant master’s degree programs. Its MBA program is larger than the MBA programs at all other colleges and universities in the state combined.

“Our graduates find that their Bellevue University degrees are met with recognition and respect from employers around the world,“ said Hawkins.

Enrollment is UP

Annual enrollment continues to increase at Clarkson College, a niche health care college in Midtown Omaha.

“The economy and demand for health care professionals, plus the specific training and increased possibility of employment, seem to play a part in the enrollment increase at Clarkson College,“ said Tony Damewood, vice president of operations at Clarkson College.

Clarkson College offers a variety of programs tailored to fit the needs of potential students.

“The college offers a physical therapist assistant fast-track option for students interested in changing careers or complimenting another degree, such as athletic training,“ explained Damewood. “Most recently, we added another option for nurses interested in advancing their careers with a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia.“

A Banner Time

From fundraising to student philanthropy, it has been a banner time for Omaha’s College of Saint Mary (CSM). In 2009, for the second year in a row, CSM was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll – the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service learning and civic engagement. “At CSM, our students contribute more than 6,440 hours through service-learning courses every year,“ said Dr. Jennifer Reed-Bouley, director of service learning.

Also this year, CSM successfully completed a $25 million fundraising effort, the school’s largest-ever. The substantial sum is funding 15 new endowed scholarships and a number of campus improvements, including a new main entrance, the addition of a new student commons and the modernization of Walsh Hall, the oldest and largest classroom/office building on campus. “The effort has allowed College of Saint Mary to assume its rightful place in the higher education landscape of the region,“ said Dr. Maryanne Stevens, RSM, president of CSM.

Educating the Whole Person

Since 1878, Creighton University, located in Omaha’s resurgent Midtown and North Downtown districts, has been dedicated to educating the whole person: academically, socially and spiritually. With outstanding students and faculty, nationally recognized scholarship and research, a commitment to service and modern campus facilities, Creighton University is one of the preeminent Catholic, Jesuit universities in the U.S.

U.S. News & World Report consistently recognizes Creighton University as the top Midwest masters’ university—and as a “best value“ university. Creighton also has twice been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, student service-learning and civic engagement.

“Academic excellence and service-learning are integral parts of our mission and it is particularly rewarding to be acknowledged by others for these achievements,“ said Creighton president, the Rev. John P. Schlegel, S. J.

With more than 7,000 students enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate, graduate and professional academic programs, the university is also home to an academic medical center. Creighton University Medical Center provides high-quality patient care while conducting lifesaving research and educating the next generation of health care providers.

Vibrant Urban University Continues to Grow

…U-N-O!… U-N-O!… U-N-O!… The cheer echoes through Qwest Center Omaha—a full-throated display of “Maverick mojo“—as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team glides to another playoff win.

Athletically exciting. Academically outstanding.

UNO recently received a first-tier regional best ranking in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 edition of America’s Best Colleges. The university ranked 18th among public masters’ institutions in the Midwest region.

Its bedrock values place students at the center of all the university does; call for the campus to strive for academic excellence; and promote community engagement that improves regional, national and global life.

UNO’s mission provides curricula designed to meet the demand for a prepared workforce and numerous opportunities for internships and community engagement.

In 1996, UNO partnered with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and private companies to found the state-of-the-art University of Nebraska Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI), “a dynamic alliance of education and industry.“ Located on UNO’s Pacific Street campus, PKI is designed to help meet the needs of the nation’s technology and engineering firms by preparing students for careers in information science, technology and engineering. UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology is housed at the facility, along with UNL’s College of Engineering and Technology and The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction.

PKI PROUD

Twenty-one-year-old Renate Keimig is a proud student—and that’s proud with a capital P-K-I. “I’ve had opportunities here I never thought I would have.“

Keimig is a senior at the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI) in Omaha, attending on a prestigious Walter Scott Jr. Scholarship, majoring in computer science. A high school standout in her hometown of Marshall, Minn., Keimig’s Omaha-based cousins turned her on to PKI. “They told me I had to come and check out PKI,“ she said. “It was so different from any place that I’d ever seen.“

The state-of-the-art facility is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Engineering and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology. PKI is located on UNO’s Pacific Street campus.

“I love living on campus,“ said Keimig. “I’ve been really lucky. I ended up finding great roommates. In fact, I didn’t know anyone when I came to Omaha. Now, I’m living with my best friends.“

She said the PKI experience has exceeded her expectations. Highlights, so far, include a semester studying abroad in Norway and an internship/ research project that culminated in a briefing with General Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base. “I never imagined that I would be in the same room, talking with a four-star general.“

Now, in addition to her senior year class load, Keimig is working an IT internship at ConAgra Foods, an experience she hopes will lead to a job offer after she earns her master’s degree in late 2011. What that job could be, Keimig isn’t sure yet. “IT is such a growing field. That job might not even exist yet.“

But, the Minnesota native does know she is looking forward to establishing deeper roots in Omaha. “I love Omaha,“ said Keimig. “There’s always things to do, but it’s not a sprawling mess that’s horrible to drive in.“

Affordable & Innovative

Metropolitan Community College (MCC) serves 50,000 students annually at seven locations, providing affordable, quality education and collaboration with countless businesses and organizations.

MCC’s growth has spurred new initiatives in sustainability and high-demand job training. Sustainability-focused programs include an EPA partnership to teach the Energy Star program for commercial building and an IBM partnership to develop the internationally recognized green data center management degree in Fremont. In information technology, MCC has emphasized health information management—an area President Obama has prioritized during his term. This year also marked the official unveiling of the state-of-the-art Institute for the Culinary Arts facility and the student-led Sage Student Bistro.

MCC reaches out to high school students by offering half-price tuition through partnerships with secondary schools. Starting this fall, MCC will become a Gateway to College site with partner Omaha Public Schools, providing high school dropouts a path to a diploma while simultaneously earning credits toward an associate’s degree.

Other Choices in Higher Education

Small class sizes. Vocational/technical training. Faith-filled learning. Whatever the desire, students will find a wealth of choice in Greater Omaha as they pursue higher education and prepare for successful careers. In addition to our large universities, a host of smaller institutions cater to the individual needs of a wide variety of students.

ITT Technical Institute, one of the area’s trade schools, teaches skills and knowledge that can be used to begin careers in our global technology-driven culture. Operating in Omaha since 1991, ITT Tech encompasses five schools: Information Technology, Electronics Technology, Drafting and Design, Criminal Justice and Nursing. Programs at Vatterott College include business, medical, technical, trades, court reporting and culinary arts.

Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa, offers 84 different vocational/technical programs and Arts and Sciences majors. Current enrollment is around 5,500 students with another almost 43,000 enrollments in continuing education classes each year.

Students who prefer a small, nurturing environment and biblically-based education have options including Grace University in one of Omaha’s oldest neighborhoods and Nebraska Christian College at its campus in Papillion.

Midland University also provides a chance to enjoy small class sizes in a faith-infused learning environment. Located in Fremont, about 35 miles from Omaha, Midland offers more than 50 majors and pre-professional programs and participation opportunities in more than 50 student organizations.

A Beacon of Hope

Boys Town is a beacon of hope for hurting children and families, offering the right care at the right time since its founding by Father Edward Flanagan in 1917. Now a nationwide organization, Boys Town changes the way America cares for children, families and communities through its research-proven programs.

The Village of Boys Town is Nebraska’s only National Historic Landmark District, and visitors are always welcome to experience the spirit of Boys Town’s mission. All attractions are free, making Boys Town a popular destination for families that want to enjoy a tour of the village or walk through its award-winning Hall of History.

Seeing & Feeling The Rewards

For Gladys Haynes, executive director of Omaha’s two Educare Centers, there are rewards she can see—and rewards she can feel. “We have had some of our children going to kindergarten who score above the national average on tests,“ she said. “The most rewarding thing for me has been seeing how well the children have been able to do. I feel like they have entered kindergarten ready to learn and excel.“

Omaha’s Educare Centers—one in North Omaha, the other in South Omaha—offer an educational embrace to a combined 374 low-income children, ages 14-days to five-years-old. Programs are especially designed to boost language and literacy skills and social-emotional development. “The data really shows that by the time our kids are going to kindergarten they are scoring well within the average, almost exactly on the mean in terms of where you would expect typically developing kids to be scoring,“ said Haynes.

There is no charge for the six-hour learning day; free-to-low cost before/after care is also available, allowing parents to attend school or work at least 30 hours a week, an Educare requirement. “We also focus on the parents,“ explained Haynes. “A big piece of what we do is helping parents understand and realize the influence and importance of their role in terms of their child’s school success.“

The program this year served 46 children of teen parents. “We know that if we can keep our moms in school and get their children a high quality education, we’re much more likely to see the benefits of that down the road.“

Educare boasts a teacher-child ratio of 3-to-17 in its pre-school program and a 3-to-8 ratio in its infant and toddler program. There is no shortage of families desiring entry. More than 400 children are currently on the infant/toddler waiting list; almost 100 more on the preschool waiting list.

The Educare Centers are funded by a mix of sources, including federal Head Start/Early Head Start, The Buffett Early Childhood Fund and Omaha Public Schools. If additional federal funding is secured, Haynes said she could foresee a third center in Omaha.

Partnering For Success

The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) is proud of its numerous partnerships and how they are positively impacting the lives—and futures—of so many students. OPS is an enthusiastic supporter of Building Bright Futures, a landmark philanthropic effort aimed at improving academic performance, raising graduation rates, increasing civic and community responsibility and ensuring that all students are prepared for post-secondary education.

“Building Bright Futures offers valuable educational support and opportunities for young people to enhance and expand the classroom learning experience beyond the school and school day,“ said OPS Superintendent John Mackiel.

Founded in 2006, Building Bright Futures was the idea of some of Omaha’s most influential citizens, including former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, Richard Holland, Michael Yanney, Susie Buffett, Andy Holland, Wally and Barbara Weitz and Dianne Lozier. At the present time, this nonprofit program is working directly with a number of OPS schools to boost school attendance and prevent truancy. A unique incentive program offers age-appropriate rewards for strong attendance.

“The investment of time, expertise and personal interest by all involved with Building Bright Futures is outstanding. It is helping young people maintain regular school attendance and understand and appreciate the value in what they are learning,“ said Mackiel.

OPS partnerships, working in concert with dedicated educators and innovative curriculum techniques, are fueling positive momentum district-wide. OPS student achievement data highlights dramatic increases in student academic progress against the backdrop of rapid demographic changes over the past ten years. “These results demonstrate that OPS has adapted to meet the needs of its changing and richly diverse student body,“ said Mackiel.

OPS educates approximately 49,000 students a year—pre-k through 12th grade—from all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. OPS belongs to the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation School Improvement and is one of the country’s few major urban districts to maintain state AA accreditation.

Forging Strong, Meaningful Partnerships

The Millard School District continues to collect accolades for its dedication to the success of its students. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman honored the district with the 2009 Parental Involvement Award, recognizing Millard’s efforts to forge effective partnerships between parents and teachers to help children and strengthen families.

Supporting the district’s push is the 40 Developmental Assets Program, a research-based framework developed by the Search Institute. It identifies 40 key, common sense traits considered essential to the success of young people. The list includes using time wisely, following clear rules at home and at school, feeling safe and respected and having support from families and friends. “Research has clearly shown that the more assets children possess, the more successful they will be in school and, of course, in life,“ said Superintendent Keith Lutz.

At all levels, service to others is considered the most important asset. It teaches what the Search Institute calls “the power of one“—the ability of one individual to make a difference. Millard students, parents and staff participate in many community service projects throughout the year.“

Millard has expanded the 40 Developmental Assets Program’s reach to a five-county area by establishing the Greater Omaha Healthy Community/Healthy Youth Coalition. The organization is made up of parents, community agencies, school districts, businesses, faith-based organizations, judges and juvenile workers.

The Millard School District serves 21,500 students in its three high schools, six middle schools and 25 elementary schools. Additional programs of choice include Millard’s Core Academy (a highly structured environment for elementary students), as well as Montessori and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Elementary and middle school Montessori allows students to develop individual interests while progressing academically at their own pace. IB students complete a challenging curriculum with an international studies focus. For providing these programs of choice, Millard has received a national Magna Award from the American School Board Journal.

A District of "Firsts"

Westside Community Schools prides itself on being a school district of “firsts.“ Home to Nebraska’s first special education program, Westside was the first to receive national recognition for its full-inclusion approach for students with special needs. It was the first in the state to implement full-day kindergarten, elementary foreign language and preschool programs in elementary schools. In 2004, Westside was among the first in the country to provide all high school students with a laptop computer, and, in 2008, the program was expanded to include eighth grade students.

“Our innovative educational system enables us to serve the unique needs of all learners,“ said Jacquie Estee, superintendent of Westside Community Schools.

Westside’s approach to staff compensation is also distinctive. Merit pay for teachers has been a part of the compensation system since 1971. The district also pays tuition costs for graduate work and requires that all teachers earn a master’s degree within the first 10 years of employment.

Community is the heart of Westside Community Schools. Ten neighborhood elementary schools, one middle school and one high school serve more than 6,000 students, many of them second and third generation Westside graduates. Approximately one-third of those students live outside the school district boundaries.

Westside students and teachers frequently receive local, state and national awards. Westside High School is traditionally a state leader in the percentage of its graduates recognized as National Merit Scholars. Westside’s rich history and continued commitment to excellence, innovation and community provide the foundation for its students to be internationally competitive.

“The community provides us with a tremendous amount of support. Our partnership with the board of education, parents, students, staff and community represents the ’we’ in Westside,“ said Estee.

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