Without question, the Panhandle of Nebraska is a very special and unique place. One of the things that makes this area so special and unique is the manner in which people, organizations, and communities work together to make things happen that may not have otherwise been possible if it was not for collaboration and partnership. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to work alongside a staff that places partnerships at the forefront of their work.

Shortly after the horrific event that occurred at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in October 2017, the hashtag “vegasstrong” became widely known as it represented how a community pulled together to support one another after this dreadful tragedy. The phrase or hashtag has since been used and replicated by many, many different communities and organizations. The phrase certainly has application and meaning to the Panhandle of Nebraska as well. In the Panhandle, there is a multitude of examples of how agencies, communities, and programs have partnered together to provide an opportunity or deliver a service that would not have been possible by working independently.

ESU 13 serves as the conduit for coordinating, connecting, consorting, and providing many educational opportunities and services to the school districts, teachers, and students we serve. Throughout the 11 counties and 14,000 plus square mile region we serve, our education system in western Nebraska is strengthened by the mere practice of working together. Here are just a few examples of how we are “stronger together.”

Professional Learning

The ESU 13 Professional Learning Department partners with agencies to enhance educational achievement through enrichment and community involvement for area students. Partner agencies include Legacy of the Plains Museum, Wildcat Hills Nature Center, City of Gering, Riverside Discovery Center, Flowerfield Historical School, Dawes County Museum, Scottsbluff National Monument, National Park Service, Agate Fossil Beds, and North Platte Natural Resource District. Furthermore, these learning experiences would not be possible without the assistance of numerous community volunteers. In addition, the Professional Learning Department, as well as several other departments at ESU 13, work closely with Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC) and Chadron State College (CSC) on a variety of projects and programs.

Behavior-Mental Health

The ESU 13 Title IVA consortium is a cohort of eight Panhandle school districts that have agreed to pool Title IV Part A funding to create collaborative mental health programming within their districts. This ESU 13 Behavioral/Mental Health program employs two Licensed Mental Health Therapists who support youth and staff emotional well-being through the provision of direct therapeutic services, consultation, and psycho-education. Additionally, this consortium provides training and technical assistance for enhancing overall mental health and positive school climate within the school as well as engages key stakeholders to enhance school/community connections through the development and implementation of school mental health teams.

Alternative Education

Valley Alternative Learning Transitioning School (VALTS) is a program that offers the same basic curriculum as the “traditional” school but uses alternative delivery methods. Small class size, supportive environment, autonomy, accountability, constant evaluations, opportunities for community involvement and a school environment that is safe are the key characteristics of VALTS. Nine school districts have come together to form a consortium to provide this alternative learning environment for high school students. These districts include Gering, Scottsbluff, Mitchell, Morrill, Minatare, Banner County, Kimball, Bayard, and Bridgeport. Since the inception of VALTS in 1998, there have been 664 graduates.

Early Childhood

Sixpence Sprouting Success is a great example of “stronger together.” Four years ago funds were legislated to increase support for quality child care across the state. Nebraska Children and Families Foundation are the administrators of these braided funds and opened the opportunity to school districts across the state to apply for grants. ESU 13 partnered with three of our Panhandle school districts (Chadron, Gering, and Sidney) to apply for three grants as one application. As a result of this successful application, we have been able to create consortiums in 10 communities throughout the Panhandle to support 24 child care programs in improving their quality. Sixpence utilizes coaching and financial support to navigate the quality rating and improvement system called Step Up to Quality. With the outstanding commitment of our partnering providers and coaching team, our first cohort of providers were all rated at Steps 4 or 5 of the 5 step process after three years in the program.

Special Services

By utilizing service-learning with the greater community the Special Services Department has been successful in helping local youth to learn the importance of giving back. ESU 13’s Transition Program led a partnership of VALTS, LifeLink, and Skipper’s Cupboard to construct 10 dog houses. The dog houses will be donated to anyone who needs shelter for their pet during the winter months.

Title 1C Migrant Education

The Holiday Season can be stressful for some families. Title 1C has been fortunate to partner with Community Organizations such as CAPWN, UNMC and Dr. Tryna Aguirre, and the Seventh Day Adventist Church, to help our families focus on health and family.

ESU 13 proudly fulfills the role of coordinating these programs and services and is truly grateful for the partners we have in providing the best possible education to the youth of our communities.

In closing, I would like to recognize the 12 members of the ESU 13 Board of Education and thank them for their outstanding service to the Panhandle in honor of School Board Recognition Month. Thank you to Mark Sinner (President), Kim Marx (Vice President), Tom Millette (Secretary), Tim Horn, Patricia Jones, Heather Crofutt, Ray Richards, Bill Knapper, Scott Marsh, Diane Coon, Don Egging, and Steve Diemoz for their dedication and commitment.

If you are wanting to learn more about ESU 13, please visit our website at www.esu13.org.

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