Kickoff 2018

LPS welcome back rally resonates with theme of ‘every child, every day’

“Every child, every day, gets the best of what we have.”

And with those inspiring words from Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel, LPS kicked off the 2018-19 school year at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Monday morning. Roughly 4,500 LPS teachers and staff gathered for the school district’s Welcome Back Celebration, which featured music from marching bands, shout-outs to schools and buildings, and words of support and encouragement for the new school year from LPS officials.

“Welcome to the 2018-19 best school year ever,” said Lincoln Board of Education President Connie Duncan, a former LPS teacher for 17 years. “I can feel the energy in the room.”

That’s for sure. The first day of school for most students is Aug. 13, but LPS employees - from schools and LPS buildings - were already brimming with excitement Monday as they responded to their shout-outs with their own rallying calls in unison. There were pompons, noisemakers, school mascots and, in the case of Lincoln Southeast High School, a well-choreographed response that began with the student marching band playing the Superman theme song and ended with Southeast Principal Brent Toalson dressed in a muscle-bound Superman costume.

“I’ve never seen the Haymarket so alive at 8 o’clock in the morning,” said Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. “It’s an amazing thought to me how many kids are going to be influenced during your time with the school district.”

Monday’s event also featured a keynote address by Derreck Kayongo, whose family fled a civil war in Uganda when he was only 11 years old. Now a successful entrepreneur, Kayongo is a renowned expert in environmental sustainability and global health. He's the founder of the Global Soap Project, which takes donated, melted, purified and reprocessed hotel soap and redistributes it to vulnerable populations around the world.

Besides telling his personal story, Kayongo stressed the importance of education: “If you’re an educator, never doubt the power of your contribution to the marketplace, because without that contribution, mathematics is not possible, chemistry is not possible - innovation is not possible.”

Also speaking on Monday:

  • 2017 Nebraska Teacher of the Year Amber Vlasnik of Lincoln High School: “There’s something truly special about being in the room with a group of people who want to change the world one student at a time.”
  • Rita Bennett, president of the Lincoln Education Association, who told the story of her two children. They both faced challenges in school but ultimately thrived because of great teachers. “So it really isn’t, ‘Oh, here we go again,’ it’s that you’re going to do it, again and again again, for thousands of kids like Katie and Michael and all the kids in between. I couldn’t be prouder to stand among you.”

Superintendent Joel left the audience with a reminder of the importance of their work as educators.

“All means all. That’s the power of public education. It’s what separates us from so many other debates in America right now. At the end of the day, if public education doesn’t work, America fails. And we can never take that lightly.”

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