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Rebuilding Minden band hopes for merrier with Moore

MINDEN — Jack Moore is back with baton in hand.

The longtime band teacher guided the Adams Central program from 1969-1984 before turning his attention to launching Moore Music in Hastings, which closed after more than 30 years in August 2015. At age 72, he is now back to teaching as head of Minden High School’s band program, replacing John Jacobs, who has assumed the band director role at Grand Island High School.

Moore and his wife, Ruth, have been educating area students for decades. Ruth, who taught piano and was professor of music at Hastings College, was inducted into the college’s newly established Fine Arts Hall of Fame earlier this month.

“My wife and I both have basically good health, so I’m like, ‘Why sit around and do nothing?’ ” he said. “We are still doing stuff and we enjoy doing it, so that’s even better.”

As he readied his troops for the Minden Bandfest Parade over the weekend, Moore acknowledged that 2019 is a rebuilding year for the once-powerhouse Minden program. He finds himself directing a program that poses challenges unfamiliar to him during his first go-around as band director decades ago. Because of low attendance at this year’s band camp, the annual band field show was scrapped to allow the 46-member squad (that number includes seven flag twirlers) to focus on basic movements.

A turn learned this year is perhaps its top achievement to date.

“They’ve done a good job with it,” he said. “Our concentration has been mostly on street marching. It’s a learning process for everybody, not just me.

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Adams Central drum major Tristan Weston leads the band down the parade route Saturday during Minden Bandfest.

“When you do a field show you just about have to do a summer band camp, and we only had about half the kids there. That’s tough to do. We’re going to start next year knowing our music and what we’re doing and get started on the right foot.”

Already his focus is on adding some promising junior high prospects to the mix to start building what he hopes will become a competitive and well-rounded program for years to come. The challenge, as he sees it, will be keeping the students motivated with so many other activities vying for their attention.

“The commitment isn’t there like it used to be,” Moore said. “Students are a lot different than what they were 35 years ago. We’ll be doing a couple other things, like jazz band, (because) a lot of junior high kids say they’re interested in that kind of band. We’ve just got to keep it going.

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Members of the St. Cecilia band march at Minden Bandfest Saturday.

“It’s more difficult now because of the way things are … computer things. I struggle with that, but I’m going to make myself do it whenever I can. As far as keeping the students there, I’m hoping they will see that there are possibilities here with a different director and that maybe we can do something.”

Noting the band director position at Minden has changed hands several times in recent years, Moore said he’s hoping to build on what continuity his most recent predecessor, Jacobs, was able to provide during his time with the program.

“I know Mr. Jacobs did a really nice job,” he said. “My job is to try to keep it going.”

As he readies Minden for its Veteran’s Day concert in November, Moore is optimistic its best music is yet to be played. As was the case with the Centura High School Band he guided in a temporary capacity during its final semester last year, he expects the best will be last with this year’s Whippets squad.

“There are a couple things I’ve got in my head that we may try to do,” he said. “We’ll just see if we can. We had a really good concert in Ventura at the end of the year and I’m thinking that these kids here will be able to match that. I’m pretty sure they will.

“I’m enjoying it. It’s been fun. It’s been a challenge.”

Students meet their match at MentoringWorks event

Adams County youngsters were paired with mentors — some, for the first time, others, for a second go-around — at the MentoringWorks Match Night event Sunday at Hastings Senior High School.

Formerly a Big Brothers, Big Sisters affiliate, the program became MentoringWorks two years ago to enable more specific local control and funding for program activities.

During the annual match event, students in grades K-5 are paired with mentors ages 16-22 for one year to spend quality time together both at school and monthly match events that may include other family members. In all, 35 matches were made during the event.

Mentors meet with students once a week through the school connect program for 30-40 minutes to extend a hand of friendship and a listening ear and share fun activities together. These may include tutoring, games, or simply conversations offering encouragement and affirmation.

For returning matches, the event affords them a chance to enjoy some fun activities with their mentees while re-affirming their commitment to another year of service as peer role models.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Ten-year-old Joe Rodriguez has his hand painted by Hastings High junior Gracyn Chance-Ossowski as she helps with a handprint art project during the Mentoring Works match event Sunday at the school.

For new mentors, it represents the start of what they hope will be a rewarding and eye-opening experience for both themselves and their mentees.

Participants arrived early Sunday to play games, enjoy snacks, and create artwork before their matches were revealed to them. Some mentees dressed in Halloween costumes for the occasion. When the time came for their match to be revealed, students were lined up and asked to close their eyes while their mentors lined up behind them to surprise them, with a countdown marking the final seconds before introductions.

There are 146 matches currently working together in MentoringWorks from area schools in Adams, Clay and Webster counties, including Hastings Public Schools, St. Cecilia, Adams Central, Harvard and Blue Hill.

Cara Kimball, board president for MentoringWorks, said the reveal is a big moment for mentees as they get to see their mentors for the first time in the flesh.

“It’s really exciting,” Kimball said. “You get to see lots of surprise and excitement. They’re thrilled. It’s a fun, new beginning for creating those relationships.

“Our goal is always to have a positive impact and create those relationships with kids so that they have a better chance of success later in life too.”

Victoria Korth, program manager at MentoringWorks, said students typically are paired with mentors between the ages of 16-22 so that they can relate to their matches as peers rather than authority figures.

“They’re more seen as peers, and research supports that it’s easier to talk to somebody who is a peer,” Korth said. “When they’re within that 10-year age gap they’re not quite looked at as a teacher or somebody who could potentially get them in trouble if they were to come to them with something serious in their home life or school as well.”

Rileigh Borrell, 16, is a junior at Hastings Senior High and a first-year mentor. She said she decided to get involved with the program after hearing good things about it from her cousin, Dylan Lemke, a former mentor.

“I just want to help kids and make them feel comfortable,” she said. “I just hope to leave a good impact on them and make their day better and have them become better people by having someone to look up to.”

A basketball player on campus, Borrell’s experience working with youngsters includes work in the YMCA’s after-school program and a coaching position with a YMCA volleyball team for first- and second-graders.

“Watching them grow and learn from things is a good thing to watch,” she said. “Knowing you are a part of that makes you feel better as a person.”

Junior Landon Eckhardt, 16, is a first-year mentor who runs track and cross country at HHS. He said he was drawn to the program after learning some of his friends also would be serving as mentors. Having known friends who benefitted from having mentors in grade school was another motivating factor in his decision to become involved in the program.

An only child himself, he said he was looking forward to meeting his mentee, Brint, whom he knows little about at this point.

“I think it’s a cool system and a cool organization,” he said of MentoringWorks. “I hope to improve my social skills while talking to others and I hope he gains the same thing, knowing more people.

“I hope him and I have fun when we see each other during the week. I hope we both learn things about each other and life.”

Wyatt Tharp, 9, is a third-grader who was awaiting his match Sunday afternoon. The youngest of four children, three of them girls, he said he was looking forward to having an older male peer to toss a football with and assist him in the subjects of math and writing.

He said he hoped his match is someone who “is very helpful and friendly friend.”

Elisha Schreiner, 7, was dressed as Mughead, a game character, as she played board games with family members while waiting to be re-matched with her mentor. She said she has enjoyed playing games and getting a helping hand from her mentor with assignments during her time in the program.

In addition to its work with matching elementary students with high school and college mentors, MentoringWorks also offers CareerWorks, a program connecting high school age students with employers in a career they may be interested in, providing them guidance and insight into that career choice.

Nebraska senators: More revenue could mean property tax cuts

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers who want to lower property taxes and replenish the state’s rainy-day fund could have a slightly easier time accomplishing those goals next year, but many are still worried about the impact of major flooding and the struggling farm economy.

Key lawmakers said they’re hopeful a recent uptick in state tax collections could help them reduce the burden on farmers and homeowners who have complained for years about rising property tax bills.

“It gives us some wiggle room so that maybe we don’t have to scrounge around so hard for money,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee. “We may able to deliver substantial property tax relief.”

Lawmakers will get a better idea about the state’s financial situation Thursday when the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets to update its revenue estimates. Lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts rely on the board’s projections to determine how much money they’ll have available in the coming year.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue reported last week that the state has collected more money than expected since July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Tax revenues were 6.3% higher than projections as of Sept. 30, bringing the state an additional $77 million, the department said.

More than half of that surplus came from corporate income taxes, which can vary widely from month to month. Ricketts said the trend “is setting the state up to do significant property tax relief in the upcoming legislative session.”

Legislative leaders also said they’d like to continue rebuilding the state’s cash reserve fund, which they’ve repeatedly used to balance the state budget in recent years when revenues came in lower than expected.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Sen. John Stinner, chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Stinner said the extra money may help lawmakers pass a property tax package next year, but he urged senators to temper their expectations. Lawmakers may also face pressure to boost funding for job-training programs or the short-staffed corrections department, Stinner said.

“This gives us some room to maneuver, but as far as having all kinds of money to spend, that’s not going to be the case,” said Stinner, of Gering.

Stinner said state revenue could also dip again before the fiscal year ends. He noted that this year’s widespread flooding and President Donald Trump’s trade war with China have hurt agriculture, Nebraska’s largest industry.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said he and many other lawmakers consider property taxes a top priority, and he’d like to pass something early in next year’s session. He said he’d also like to see funding to promote economic development in rural Nebraska, an area that has struggled even as Omaha and Lincoln are doing well.

But Scheer, of Norfolk, said an increase in revenue will probably mean more budget requests from outside groups, such as health care providers or construction contractors, which rely on state funding but haven’t received as much because of tight budgets.

“We’re probably going to see a lot of pent-up demand for a lot of different causes,” he said.

AQueSTT data another tool for Adams County school improvement

The Nebraska Department of Education released 2018-2019 data for schools across the state Oct. 9, giving lower rankings overall for Adams County school districts in their Accountability for a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow (AQueSTT) result.

Each district received its scores in September and will be using the data to focus on where improvements can be made.School officials in Adams County said the data from AQueSTT doesn’t fully capture the quality of the schools, however. Instead, the schools are looking at data gathered for the AQueSTT result as part of continued improvement and putting it alongside other collected data.

“It’s not the only tool that is going to get our focus,” said Lawrence Tunks, Hastings Public Schools director of learning.

The AQueSTT score is a four-level scale that categorizes schools as either excellent, great, good, or needs improvement — in order of decreasing quality. The results are produced by the Nebraska Department of Education The score takes into account statewide tests, improvement on tests scores, individual student growth, four-year graduation and chronic absenteeism, among other measurements.

Silver Lake Public Schools and Kenesaw Public Schools each received a lower score for their individual district. Adams Central Public Schools and the Hastings Public Schools each received similar scores for the 2017-2018 school year. Each individual school in the district received its own score.

The AQueSTT level is largely determined by the Nebraska Student Centered-Assessment System (NSCAS), a test isadministered in the spring to grades three through eight. The NSCAS covers English language arts, math and science.

Kenesaw Superintendent Rick Masters said that while assessments are important, they only provide a snapshot of how students are doing on a specific day and don’t fully reflect the quality of the school. In AQueSTT’s current form, there isn’t a metric for social and emotional characteristics like programs against violence or bullying.

“The assessment piece is one of the major drivers of the score and it should be. But it’s certainly not everything in a quality school,” Masters said.

That’s why school districts will use AQueSTT data in conjunction with other information, like ACT results. The ACT is taken by everyone in the state and NDE even uses that score as part of AQueSTT’s measurements, labeling it as the NSCAS ACT.

“We don’t put a whole lot of stake into AQueSTT, but parts of AQueSTT we put more stake into,” said Shawn Scott, Adams Central superintendent. “The ACT is big for kids so we concentrate there.”

Jeff Schneider, HPS superintendent, said the AQueSTT results do help the district compare itself to other similar schools in the state. Peer schools are determined by factors like percentage of free/reduced-lunch students, student membership and special education rate, among other factors.

Part of the reason the AQueSTT results don’t get a stronger look is because the data is six months old.

“There’s so much that has happened since we took those tests and now we’re on to the next year,” Schneider said.

The data also doesn’t compare the same group of kids year-to-year.

“You really want to concentrate on ‘Did this kid grow?’ and you should be able to look at kid-by-kid growth,” Scott said.

Smaller schools like Silver Lake simply benefit more from other tests. Josh Cumpston, Silver Lake superintendent, said they get more information from the MAP Growth test that students take fall and spring to measure individual student growth. The test also provides results in days, rather than months, and instruction can be adjusted quickly. HPS, Adams Central and Kenesaw also do MAP testing.

“For us, we find that data much more valuable in helping our students learn. We’ve had really good growth because we’re able to use that data and turn it around so quickly,” Cumpston said.

Cumpston also said a smaller school sees a small change have a larger impact. If 10 students take the ACT and seven students meet the benchmark one year and six meet the benchmark the next year, that score drops by 10%. If 100 student take a test and one fewer student meets the bench mark than the year prior, the score drops 1%.

AQueSTT also doesn’t get a large amount of attention from schools because the scoring for each level is incomplete. The measurements considered by AQueSTT fall into one of six tenets that NDE says makes an ideal school; however, three of the tenets aren’t included in the results, because they haven’t applied a measurement and are “intended for future use,” according to the AQueSTT classification business rules as of Sept. 24. Those missing tenets are: positive partnerships, relationships and student success; college and career ready; and educator effectiveness.

“I believe that when all the tenets are in place, that is going to be more reflective of what a quality school is. Because a quality school is not just test scores,” Masters said.

Each superintendent said they are looking at the data to find out what their strengths are and where they can improve.

“That’s our focus, how do we use that and turn that into student learning in the classroom?” Cumpston said.

The HPS district stayed at a good rating. All the Hastings schools stayed at a good rating, except for Hawthorne, which went up from a good rating to a great rating and Lincoln, which stayed at needs improvement.

The Adams Central school district stayed at a great rating. In 2017-2018, the Adams Central Elementary school didn’t exist, but the three elementary schools that did all had great ratings, the same as the elementary did for 2018-2019. The high school went from excellent to great and the middle school stayed at good.

Kenesaw went down from an excellent rating to a great rating. The elementary school went down from great to good. The high school kept its excellent rating but the middle school went down from excellent to good.

Silver Lake went down from a great rating to a good rating. The elementary school went down from great to good. The high school went down from excellent to great and the middle school went down from great to needs improvement.

NDE released a statement Wednesday afternoon stating that Nebraska has the third highest percentage of students meeting science and reading benchmarks and the fourth highest for ACT English and math benchmarks, compared to 15 other states that had 100% of graduates take the ACT.

The fact that almost every junior takes the ACT is important, because states where fewer students take the ACT generally have higher averages; students not on a college course-taking track have lower averages, the release said. It also means almost every junior at each school in the district takes the ACT.

Adams Central, Kenesaw and Silver Lake overall have higher ACT scores than the rest of the state. The state average proficiency for English language arts, math and science are 51%, 52% and 53%, respectively. That means just over half of all students in Nebraska meet the ACT benchmark — an 18 or higher for English and math, and a 19 or higher for science on a 36-point scale.

All of Adam Central’s scores — 71%, 78% and 67% — are down from 2017-2018.

Kenesaw’s scores are 71%, 67% and 67%. Its scores for math and science were down from 2017-2018 and the English score stayed the same.

Silver Lake had too few students take the ACT for the information to be public. In 2017-2018, Silver Lake had 69% of students proficient for English language arts on the ACT.

HPS has a lower average than the state, with proficiency levels at 42%, 42% and 44%. Its math scores went up by 2% but English and science scores went down by 1% each.

According to AQueSST, attendance improved by 1% in the county. Attendance at HPS went up by 1%. Attendance at Kenesaw went up by 2% and is now at 99%. Adams Central and Silver Lake attendance rates stayed the same. The county attendance rate of 97% is also higher than than the state average of 94%.