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From the classroom: A curtain call for Lincoln Southwest's Theater Department

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LSW Kinky Boots

Lincoln Southwest students perform the Cyndi Lauper musical “Kinky Boots” last December. Southwest was invited to perform the musical on the main stage of the International Thespian Festival in Bloomington, Ind.

K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

Take a bow, Silver Hawks.

After reviving its production of Cyndi Lauper's musical "Kinky Boots" for four more performances, Lincoln Southwest's Theater Department raised more than $18,000 for the Trevor Project, the suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.

That's more than five times the amount the musical raised during its performances last winter.

"It's pretty cool," said Bob Henrichs, the longtime theater director at Southwest.

Last June, students held two benefit performances in Lincoln before hitting the road to take the main stage at the International Thespian Festival in Bloomington, Indiana.

They earned a Cyndi Lauper shoutout. Now, Southwest's 'Kinky Boots' cast is headed to national stage

At the benefit concerts, they doubled the initial $3,000 they had raised last winter and raised more money at a Nebraska high school theater festival. But it was at the prestigious high school theater festival in Indiana that they raised even more — $8,000 in two shows.

"It's mainly those kids from the festival who said, 'Yes, we want to support that,'" Henrichs said.

Southwest chose to raise money for the Trevor Project partly because of the LGBTQ themes in "Kinky Boots," which tells the story of a failing shoe factory saved by the ingenuity of drag queens who make high-heeled boots.

But it was also a way to show support to LGBTQ students in Lincoln who've experienced discrimination and hate, Henrichs said.

"They were in need of the message of this show," he said.

The philanthropy also earned Southwest a shoutout from Lauper herself.

So, what's on the playbill this year?

"White Christmas" this winter and "The Beauty and the Beast" in the spring, two of Henrichs' favorite shows. Which is fitting, because this will be his last year at Southwest, where he's served as theater director since the school opened in 2003.

Before that, he was at Lincoln Southeast for two years and at Hastings for eight.

"There's never a good year to retire because there's always great kids coming up," said Henrichs, 55.

The show must go on first, of course.

This week, Southwest's Theater Department is kicking off the year with its annual Cabaret talent show, featuring singing, acting and dance performances.

Thursday was the first night, but there are still two shows left — on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Lincoln Southwest. You can buy tickets online at showtix4u.com/event-details/66483.

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Gausman faces chamber

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman has had to make plenty of introductions in his first three months on the job.

On Tuesday, it was business leaders that Gausman got acquainted with at the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce's "Face The Chamber" luncheon at the Country Club of Lincoln.

His presentation ran the gamut, from personal anecdotes to pedagogical musings with plenty of comedic levity thrown in. Having a good sense of humor is key in his job.

Gausman also gave some potential insight into the sorts of things the district may target in its next strategic plan, from investing in early childhood education and preschool to increasing career- and college-readiness pathways for high school students.

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He also pointed to the need for more lesson plan time, saying that in the U.S., teachers use about 20% of their day to plan, while in other countries that figure is more like 50%.

"It's something I think we're going to have to pay attention to," he said.

Asked about the ongoing teacher shortage, Gausman reiterated his view that Lincoln is better positioned than other districts but not immune from staffing challenges.

He said LPS needs to look outward to organizations and agencies that help connect the district with a diverse pool of applicants, while also looking internally to show children the value of a career in education.

"The solution is in our third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms right now," he said.

Now hiring

Speaking of staffing shortages, LPS is still struggling to fill its ranks in classified positions, especially paraeducators.

A district spokesperson said there are roughly 150 classified positions that need to be filled, from bus drivers to nutrition service workers.

LPS will hold its first of two upcoming interview fairs on Sept. 26 to fill those positions.

The fair will take place at the Don Clifton Professional Learning Center at 710 Hill St. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Things you'll need to bring: email address, Social Security number and driver's license, as well as three references and work history. Background checks are also conducted.

Positions open include bus drivers, transportation paras, health technicians, cooks, custodians and more.

LPS will hold another fair Oct. 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Culler Middle School.

For more info, go to home.lps.org/hr/fair/.

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Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @HammackLJS

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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