During the 20 years she’s served on the Lincoln Board of Education, Kathy Danek has often said she gets paid in hugs and smiles from the children she meets.
In the past year, however, she says her pay has gone down to “double negative zero” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing and face masks becoming the norm.
“In touring schools, body language is so important,” the District 1 school board candidate said Wednesday. “At least I can see their eyes, and see smiles in their eyes.”
Making those connections with children and their parents is the best part of her position, Danek said. In this latest campaign, she has been walking door-to-door to speak with her neighbors in northeast Lincoln about what matters to them in terms of their children’s education. Naturally, the topic of learning during a pandemic has been a priority for them, she said.
At the beginning of this school year, Danek decided it was her responsibility as president of the board to visit every Lincoln Public Schools building for at least an hour to see how things were going with the unprecedented changes faced by educators and students because of the pandemic. She would tour the schools with principals and speak with students and teachers about their perspectives.
Danek was most impressed with the innovation educators showed while incorporating hybrid learning — some students in-person, other remote — into their curriculum.
“When we started implementing technology into the curriculum, we viewed it as an aid, not as the means of delivery,” she said.
Though Danek admits she wishes the school board had communicated quicker with parents and students at the height of the pandemic, she said she is very proud of the way the board handled the chaos.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “The science was changing fast because the pandemic was moving fast. We probably could have done a better job communicating, but there was no playbook for this. We were writing it.”
Danek said the school board now has a 600-page document in place for the next public health emergency, so that if something of this magnitude happens again, it doesn’t have to start from scratch.
“It helps to know we can survive just about anything,” she said.
To critics of the board who wish schools had reopened fully and sooner, Danek said she feels confident in the decisions the board was making, as they were led by science.
“Bringing students back was based on science, not feelings,” she said. “One of the blessings we have on our board is ... a public health doctor (Bob Rauner) who helped us mitigate that information. We also didn’t want to have students in and out like a yo-yo. We wanted to provide the stability that students and staff needed.”
Among Danek’s other priorities if reelected are focusing on the budget following the loss of some state aid last year and strengthening early college and career opportunities “to keep a talented workforce in our city.”
“If honored to serve again, I appreciate the investment of northeast Lincoln in me, and if not, I am honored to have served for 20 years,” she said. “The reality is that this is public service at its highest. And though it’s unpaid, I look forward to the day I can collect my smiles and hugs again.”
Watch Now: Voter's Guide for the Lincoln city general election on May 4
The Lincoln Journal Star posed questions for candidates on the May 4 general election ballot. Read the responses and watch the videos from Lincoln City Council, Lincoln Board of Education and Lincoln Airport Authority candidates.
Learn about the candidates' positions on the issues before voting in the May 4 general election.