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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.

Call Paul Claus a locksmith if you’d like, but it doesn’t seem to encapsulate the breadth of his job.

Maybe keymaster?

I met Claus when he became a Lincoln Board of Education candidate, but — just for the record — this isn’t about politics or the school board race. This is about the keys.

I’d never considered the keys, or the locks where the keys turn, that are part and parcel of an organization the size of Lincoln Public Schools — or that somebody has to keep track of them and replace them when they break or get lost.

And there are thousands of keys, which Claus tracks and manages from a tiny, crowded office at the back of a nondescript district building. How many keys, exactly?

The head locksmith can’t say for sure, but if you figure somewhere about 1,000 for each high school and 250 for each elementary and middle school, that’s close to 19,000 keys and that’s a pretty conservative estimate that doesn't include the district's other buildings that house things such as buses and food and special programs.

Nor does that number count the cabinets, which all have keys that people lose. Claus tracks them all.

Each key has a code hammered into the metal, so he knows what it opens — what doors in what schools, what cabinets in which rooms. He knows if they're exterior doors or interior ones, if they're doors to English or history classrooms. 

When somebody accidentally flushes a key down the toilet, or leaves one on a bench or drops it in the grass or brushes it off the counter and into the trash, they fill out a report and that goes to Claus. 

Often, he gives them another one and doesn't redo the entire lock system. If there's evidence they were stolen or could be identified, that's different, but it's more likely they ended up in the landfill. 

The district uses fewer keys than it used to because many of the doors now have keyless access that can be activated or deactivated from a computer. But those doors still have metal keys, just in case.

And the keymaster is the one who has kept track of them for four decades in a tiny, cramped office filled from floor to ceiling with keys and locks and every manner of metal parts that make them work.

School rankings 

Four Lincoln elementary schools and one high school — Elliott, Hartley, West Lincoln and Sheridan and Lincoln High — moved up in the state’s classification system that ranks school and district performance.

The state’s accountability system, mandated by state law and created by the Nebraska Department of Education, ranks schools as excellent, great, good and needs improvement.

Elliott, Hartley and Lincoln High moved from “needs improvement” to “good.” West Lincoln went from “good” to “great” and Sheridan from “great” to “excellent.”

Much of the ranking is based on how students perform on state tests. But the system also uses graduation rates and improvement on scores, along with progress toward English proficiency for non-English-speaking students, chronic absenteeism and something called “evidence-based analysis.”

That last item — dubbed EBA — requires schools fill out forms detailing the proven practices they use to help students learn, part of state education officials' efforts to broaden the evaluation of schools beyond test scores, which are significantly affected by the impacts of poverty.

In the ongoing evolution of state accountability, the process has changed.

Initially, school officials were asked to list practices they used to do everything from engaging parents to helping students transition to high school, but critics worried there wasn’t sufficient documentation of those practices to justify changing a school’s ranking.

This year, for schools to have their rankings raised based on EBA, schools had to submit documented evidence of the practices they’d listed. That documentation was then reviewed by a panel of K-12 education experts.

A total of 94 schools submitted paperwork and the state finished the review earlier this month.

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Nebraska Department of Education spokesman David Jespersen said the department hopes to streamline the process so final results will be released earlier in coming years.

New LPS director

LPS officials named Humann Elementary School Principal Gena Licata director of elementary education, a second position added in the last budget.

Cindy Schwaninger also serves as a director of elementary education and officials decided to add a second director to help oversee the 39 elementary schools. 

Former principal Tim Muggy has been acting as interim director.

Before becoming Humann’s principal, Licata was assistant principal and also taught at Huntington Elementary. Before coming to LPS, she taught in the Indianapolis Public Schools.

Hurts Donuts 

Call them butterflies with purpose, sweet confections for a cause.

Doughnuts designed by Moore Middle School students as part of Amber Oligmueller's family and consumer-science class will be on sale at Hurts Donuts on March 24.

Proceeds will go to the school's fundraiser for the district's annual Backpack Extra Mile Walk, which raises money for the Food Bank of Lincoln’s backpack program.

The doughnuts created by Oligmueller's students were judged by the new school resource officer and his top five choices went to the Hurts Donuts folks, who picked the winners.

Ruby Sitzman and Katelyn Obuchowski created the first-place designs — one butterfly frosted yellow like sunshine and the other frosted blue like moonlight. Kalli Rhodes and Hope Gibbons came up with an “under the sea” design for second place.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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