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Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel’s priorities for the coming year include increasing the graduation rate, sustaining after-school programs and keeping up with the district’s technology needs.

Joel and the school board come up with a set of goals each year at a retreat, and it guides the work of the district. The board will discuss the goals at its meeting Tuesday.

“I like the goals,” Joel said. “The board owns them as well. ... It’s a way to get us all on the same page so we put time and energy on the same things.”

The first goal is reaching a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2019, a continuation of an earlier goal. In 2014, LPS’ graduation rate was 87.2 percent, by its calculations. The state, which includes students who transfer into the district after their freshman year, measured the LPS graduation rate at 83.7 percent. The 90 percent goal is based on the way LPS calculates the rate.

The other goals are, essentially, aimed at helping make sure the district can reach the 90 percent mark. 

That includes figuring out how to maintain after-school programs known as Community Learning Centers.

“CLCs are a valuable part of the educational quality in the Lincoln community,” Joel said. “When people (in other parts of the country) ask me how we have such a high graduation rate with such a high poverty rate, the answer I always come up with is CLCs. They’re making a big difference.”’

The CLCs are funded by numerous sources including federal grants, the city, the district and providers such as Family Services and the YMCA, which run programs at 25 LPS schools, primarily high-poverty elementary and middle schools. Last year, 43 percent of LPS students lived in poverty.

In recent years, federal grant money to support the programs has been decreasing, and city and school officials have been trying to figure out how to maintain the programs.

The federal grants for each site begin to taper off after the first three years, said CLC Director LeAnn Johnson, and the money for the 25 programs is expected to dry up completely by 2020, though that could change depending on state and federal grant rules.

This year, those programs will get $772,700, she said, about 20 percent of the funding for all the sites.

Johnson said she and the CLC partners are working on an analysis to get a better gauge of how much it costs to run each site, and a formula for determining LPS' in-kind costs for providing space. Nine other agencies, including the city’s parks and recreation department, run the 25 sites and each agency, and they shoulder over half the cost of the programs, she said.

Joel said the work being done by the CLC board will help provide a matrix of what the programs do to be successful and what programming is most effective.

The technology goal essentially means making sure the recently approved technology plan is implemented, or modified as necessary to keep up with changing technology. 

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“We have a plan today that we love and we have it funded." Joel said. "What’s planned today might not be such a good plan tomorrow. Anyone who knows anything about technology knows you have to be flexible.”

Finally, the goals call for comprehensive reviews of the special education, alternative education and enrichment programs over the next three years.

The biggest review will be of the district’s special education program, he said, and will likely involve hiring an outside consultant. 

“It’s time to do a deep dive into the pockets of the organization that have grown larger and larger and we’ve added lots of staff,” he said. “Special education rises to the top. It’s fraught with litigation, and it's also an area where we’re being asked to provide more and more and more.”

In 2013-14, LPS spent $59.1 million on special education, about $8 million of which was federal money. Those figures don't include transportation costs. 

The reviews of alternative education and enrichment programs will likely be internal reviews, he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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