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Incumbents Copsey, Winn seek second school board terms
October 30, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Brian Copsey, first elected in 2010, is seeking a second term on the Gering School Board.

Copsey currently chairs the business committee and is a member of the personnel committee, which acts as the district’s negotiation unit when teacher contracts come up for renewal. Contracts will again be negotiated during this academic year.

“From my viewpoint, it takes a couple of years for a new member to learn about the district,” he said. “It’s a steep learning curve to get up to speed on how the district operates. The school district is actually one of the largest businesses in Gering with a lot of employees and a lot of facilities.”

Copsey said his first term included many educational opportunities as the board interviewed several candidates to be the district’s new superintendent of schools. Sifting through numerous applications, the board chose Bob Hastings of Norfolk for the position.

“Bob comes from a curriculum background, so having him aboard gave us the opportunity to address some those issues,” he said. “We made some changes to language arts, which were needed based on testing scores and feedback from teachers and students.”

In addition to curriculum changes, the board has been working on strategic planning and setting long term goals for the district. Copsey is working with the committee that will address expanded learning opportunities and education options for students.

“I think many times schools focus too much on college preparatory coursework,” he said. “About 63 percent of Gering students will go on to a two or four year college. But what are we doing to serve the rest of the kids?”

Nebraska schools are moving more and more to a “career academy” concept, which focuses both on education basics, and exposes students to other career paths in the trades and other areas.

“A lot of students who study subjects like plumbing and electrical work will be able to enter the workforce right out of high school,” he said. “Many of them will stay in the valley and be a great addition to the community.”

Copsey said the career academy concept has been on the board’s radar for some time and he feels they can implement the concept right away.
He added that the district budget and the state’s funding formula for education are ongoing challenges for any school board. And staff development costs more to send personnel across the state for education seminars. So the school board tries to take advantage of distance learning opportunities whenever possible.

“Our challenges aren’t just monetary,” Copsey said. “We continue to try to adapt for the learning environment kids need today. Finding the necessary space is what we need to address.”

One example he cited was the Freshman Academy, which has been a big success even thought they’re bursting at the seams with students. “The test scores and feedback we get from parents just reinforce the vision we’ve always had for the Freshman Academy,” he said.
Copsey, who has two daughters still in Gering schools, said he’s passionate about Gering kids. “Feedback from my daughters helps me formulate plans and goals for what I envision for the district. I’m always available to listen. I’m motivated to run to do whatever I can to help serve the students, the taxpayers and the district the best I can.”

Mary Winn, who taught in Gering schools for 28 years, is seeking her second term on the Gering School Board.

Teaching English and Speech, she also coached the speech and mock trial teams.

“Even though I was no longer in the classroom, my commitment to education and Gering schools helped me decide to run the first time in 2010,” she said. “I found out there’s a huge learning curve to this job, especially learning what a board member can and can’t do. We can’t just fix everything that’s brought to our attention. The board sets policy and hires the superintendent.”

She added the superintendent has a great deal of power in the day-to-day operation of the school district. So when it came time to hire a new superintendent, she knew it was an important task.

“We actually had two huge tasks to address during my first term on the board,” Winn said. “It was building a new elementary school and hiring a new superintendent.”

The school board was looking for someone who was strongly versed in curriculum and forward thinking. After reviewing numerous applications, the board decided on Bob Hastings, who was from the Norfolk School System. He had a strong curriculum background and also wanted to integrate more technology into delivering education in the district.

Winn said her top three issues that will always need to be addressed are test scores, facilities and budget.

“Our facilities needs are going to be dependent upon our strategic master plan,” she said. “I’m on a committee that’s taking a look at grade level configurations. Rather than updating the high school for its own sake, we need to look at how we can best serve the students.”
She said it would be more efficient to have the freshman at the high school, either integrated into the school or in a freshman academy, currently in the junior high building. That would eliminate the need for teacher travel between the two schools.

“Although it’s a good idea, it has to be driven by curriculum and student needs,” Winn said. “Our every decision needs to be based on what’s best for the kids. That’s become a school board mantra.”
Classroom alignment will in part be determined by the “career academy” concept being implemented by more school districts across the state. It allows students to take their basic educational requirements as freshmen and sophomores, then focus on higher level classes as juniors and seniors. That might include education in trades such as electrical and plumbing.

“We already have some of those in place with our welding and building construction classes,” Winn said. “We have some career academy experiences going on and I’d like to see those expanded. Not all our students will go on to college, so we need to prepare them for the world of work.”

Winn said she has a sense of history with the school district and can see how policy affects the classroom. “At meetings, I can sometimes contribute what happened 30 years ago as a teacher,” she said. “And because I’m retired, I have the luxury of time. When we were interviewing superintendent candidates, I had the time to take them on tours of the district.”

She added she’s been totally committed to Gering schools since she first started teaching in 1980. “I felt like I’d won the lottery when I was hired at Gering,” she said. “It was the premiere district in the western part of the state. I’d really like to help bring that status back.”
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