Norris leader shares spotlight with first lady

2013-03-23T02:45:00Z Norris leader shares spotlight with first ladyBy MARGARET REIST / Lincoln Journal Star

Norris Public Schools Superintendent John Skretta is a healthy school celebrity these days -- at least enough so that he found himself on a call-in panel with Michelle Obama this week.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Skretta said. “You’re standing there holding the phone and hearing her speak and knowing you’re on another line -- and you all care about the same things. It becomes pretty easy to deliver that message when you’re surrounded by people at that level.”

Skretta was one of six people asked to speak on a live conference call-in program to help the first lady launch “Let’s Move! Active Schools” initiative to bring physical activity back to America’s schools.

In addition to Obama -- and Skretta -- speakers included Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools; Sam Kass, who works with the first lady; Jill Wynns, a San Francisco Board of Education; and an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education.

On Tuesday, they spoke to about 250 school leaders from around the country who called into the conference call.

Skretta got three minutes to talk about efforts Norris has made to keep kids active: piping music through loudspeakers at various points through the day; using the Wii Dance Revolution or YouTube videos to get kids moving in before- and after-school programs; making good use of walking paths.

Maybe Obama -- or someone she works with -- read about Skretta a couple of years ago when he was featured in Fitness magazine as one of 10 people given a Champions of Health and Fitness Award.

Norris also has worked with the national non-profit organization called the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for six years, and it was someone from the alliance who called and asked if he’d be interested in participating in the call-in panel.

“Initially I was pretty sure I was going to become the victim of an elaborate prank,” Skretta said.

But then someone from the White House called -- saying he needed security clearance before he could be on the panel.

“You can’t even get on a conference call without going through a security background check,” he said.

Skretta said he’s happy to be a steward for programs that help young people find a connection between health and academic performance, but stressed that the reason he’s able to do that is because Norris staff have embraced the idea and made it an integral part of the school.

The district has focused as much on nutrition as fitness, adding healthier choices to meals and offering fresh fruits and vegetable snacks in the elementary school and a healthy “grab and go” breakfast in the middle school. The latter won third place in the Nebraska School Breakfast Challenge sponsored by Hunger Free Heartland and the state of Nebraska’s Department of Education nutrition services.

Skretta said being able to be a spokesperson at a national level speaks well of both Norris and the state.

“Nebraska is a leader in many of these things,” he said. “There are lots of ways in which Nebraska schools find ways to accomplish things with limited resources that get good results and attract attention nationally.”

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or

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