Friday, December 20, 2013

My end of semester note to our teachers

Happy semester break, everyone!
  • Thanks for working diligently to ensure every child learns; we saw lots of evidence today of teachers' patience and persistence in pushing kids to the limits of the time available to get work in, get requirements done, and master essential material. The all-out effort requires an 'all hands on deck' mentality and lots of teamwork to coordinate. 
  • Thanks for providing fun and inviting learning opportunities like your assemblies and the other end of semester ceremonies and recognition events.  Positive school cultures celebrate and recognize exceptional performance and great effort. Recognition and inclusion of students is the way they internalize that value.
  • Thanks most of all for instilling a spirit of caring and compassion by modeling how we give back.  Whether through food bank donations, fundraising efforts, or individual outreach, you have taught by example and our students will be better citizens and kinder people because of it.
Thanks for all you accomplished first semester and we'll see everyone in '14!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 2013 Norris Superintendent's Report

The December 2013 Superintendent's Report to our Norris Team is posted here - happy holidays! Thanks to all who exhibit the spirit of giving this season and demonstrate outreach toward those who need it most.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Norris Intermediate Open House dedication speech

Norris Intermediate Open House dedication speech

August 4, 2013

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for this wonderful celebration of the opening of Norris Intermediate School. This is 65,000 square feet and another 12 acres of awesomeness joining one of the most beautiful developed campuses in the state to support great k-12 education for our students.

I'm Dr. John Skretta, Superintendent of the Norris School District and it is my pleasure to welcome you here today for our ribbon-cutting and campus-wide open house.

Norris Board members & district partners from DLR and Hausmann 
join principal Dr. Bob Brandt in cutting the ribbon opening Norris Intermediate School
While many of you parents here today were probably hoping we'd actually start classes immediately and you could drop your kids off now and leave them with us, you'll have to wait about 10 days yet. The first actual student day is not until August 14, and you'll notice in walking about the building and around our grounds here that not absolutely everything is done just yet. We still have a few details to tend to – laying some sod down, putting wood chips on the play area over on the playground. But we're getting much closer every day, and we're so excited to share this new building with you!

The Norris Intermediate school marks the completion of the largest infrastructure addition in campus history, funded by the passage of a $14 million bond issue in the spring of 2012. The support of our patrons and the commitment of our constituents provides the resources that have enabled this district to excel.

There are some folks who need to be mentioned specifically here for their contributions to the success of this project. It starts with our School Board, Patty Bentzinger, Larry Grosshans, Tony Glenn, Jim Kruger, Craig Gana, and Jim Craig. An outstanding Board that has provided the public with the vision and the stewardship to sustain excellence for our students. I would also like to thank our design partners DLR, who did a great job in taking input and feedback from all of us, especially teachers conducting school visitations and identifying things they needed to see in classrooms, and working to tailor a design that met our needs. Thank you, Mike and Pat and your team at DLR.

We thank Hausmann Construction, the Construction Manager for this awesome project. Joey & Matt, thanks for the passion and the knowledge you have brought to this project and your sound management. Ted Shively, you are the ninja master of site superintendents, capable of juggling a lot of tasks at once and never getting flustered. No matter what the situation presents, you have a great solution.

There are many project partners who helped us a ton to make sure this thing came off without a hitch, from Scott Wieskamp's helpful consultation, to Doyle Petersen's engineering skills through Benesch to Kaser painting and their excellent work throughout the facility. And so many others, especially Dr. Bob Brandt and his faculty and staff. Bob is our veteran building principal who has committed so much time and energy getting everything set up for our students.

We have some other dignitaries who helped lay the foundation for all of this, because the foundation of a great district is about a lot more than bricks and mortar. It's about the people who commit their livelihoods to the service of students. Roy Baker, former Norris Superintendent, who has finally gotten rid of that Beatrice gear he was wearing for a while, and other former administrators including Galen Boldt, Randy Bates, and Barry Stark.

We would also like to recognize that our friend Nate is here today from Congressman Fortenberry's office; Nate thank you for your support throughout the project and our good state senator and former Norris board member Sen. Norm Wallman representing our legislative district thank you for being here.

It is my pleasure now to introduce you to Norris Board of Education President Patty Bentzinger.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Titans' Facilities Fund press conference comments from Dr. Skretta

Good morning! Welcome, and thanks for joining us this morning for the Creation of Domination Titans' Facilities Fund kickoff.

My name is John Skretta, I'm Superintendent of the Norris School District & today I have the pleasure of introducing the Norris School Board members who've served on the ad hoc committee for facilities development to steer this project.

We have here today Board members Jim Kruger, Craig Gana and Jim Craig.

I want to thank them and the entire Norris school board for its aggressiveness and opportunism in setting forth the vision for this great project.

Over two years ago as the district was planning for its bond issue that subsequently resulted in the successful passage of a $14 million bond resolution for our new intermediate school and high school renovations the Board at that time undertook a comprehensive analysis of facilities needs.

We conducted comparability studies looking at other, similar sites districts and evaluated the status of the resources we have for our programs. What we realized is that we have some needs in the athletics realm and that we want to address them, together. We looked at the total depth and breadth of services and resources provided to students.

It is widely acknowledged that activities involvement is one of the best means of engaging students and ensuring their academic success while also preparing them for a lifetime of success. Students who are active and engaged, students who are members of the team and experience that sense of unity and shared commitment have a deep bond with their school. Norris has a long tradition of strong activities involvement from our wonderful student body as well as having a long-standing practice of community access and use of our facilities for youth groups and youth sports teams.

Today we establish the Titans facilities fund for the development of enhanced athletics facilities here on campus including expanded fitness center for strength training and aerobic conditioning, artificial turf field, baseball diamond, and tennis courts. The Titans facilities fund is a donor driven initiative, and it is the intent of the Norris district to solicit donations from friends and patrons of the Titans in order to accomplish this ambitious plan.

To communicate the plan, we have developed literature and published a website that provides accessible and accurate information:

The customized website also provides an easy means of donating through the click to give page that gives you that instant gratification from giving back & I'll show you just how easy it is.

Folks, we need these facilities, and we believe in the generosity of our parents and patrons and our community’s willingness to support the school. We have an exciting lead donation announcement that will be made by our Athletic Director Greg Hardin. I'd like to turn it over to Greg now to share that information, after which Greg will introduce some program coaches who can convey to you the importance and urgency of Norris accomplishing this project.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Our letter to the editor on State Aid

Please take a minute to read and review our perspective on state aid and the Norris District, published in yesterday's Voice News.

A Chalk Talk on State Aid from Doc Skretta

A couple days ago I posted this YouTube vid explaining the coming cut in State Aid for the Norris School District and how we believe it reflects some fundamental formula problems and imbalances that, if left unchecked, will result in big problems in school finance for the state of Nebraska over time.  Some problems with the current formula:

  • More money is going to fewer districts, mostly large metros
  • A two-tiered system is being created that shows an over-reliance on local property tax base in districts that have a strong agricultural element
  • More tinkering with allowances and adjustments creates arbitrary and capricious ups and downs for districts that invite 'gaming' instead of fair play and equitable distribution.
Norris wants to be part of the solution in emphasizing equitable distribution of state revenue to schools across Nebraska and a better balance between state and local resources. 

Thanks for checking out the video!

Monday, March 18, 2013

LB 447 testimony for Nebraska Healthy Kids Fund

[Testimony delivered to the Revenue Committee of the Nebraska State Legislature on March 15, 2013 in support of LB 447]

Good afternoon, Senators:

I am Dr. John Skretta [spell name, first and last] and I am Superintendent of the Norris school district.

I am here this afternoon to provide proponent testimony for Senator Avery's LB447. I want to thank you in advance for your service on the revenue committee. I can only intuit the challenge you face daily; the unsavory task of sifting through various and sundry proposals for use of our great state’s limited resources for a vast array of initiatives, some good, many meritorious, others questionable. As a school superintendent of a district that strives for high achievement while conserving costs, I empathize with the dilemmas encountered when considering the coinage.

I am here today to share with you some of what we believe becomes possible, probable and attainable for school districts in Nebraska should LB447 be adopted. 447 grabs its gusto by making a prudent public-health decision in order to provide resources that are needed for combating the public health epidemic of childhood obesity.

Coordinated school health initiatives have a practical impact in increasing the quality of the climate and environment within schools, encouraging fitness for a lifetime, and also and most importantly correlating to improved academic outcomes across content areas.

That is why our State Board of Education several years ago now adopted a Coordinated School Health Policy.

Unfortunately, heretofore there have thus far been no commensurate resources attached to the compliance dictates of a sound Coordinated School Health policy which "strongly encourages" schools to adopt its edicts.

The facts are:

Schools that wish to integrate physical activity routines in their classrooms must provide sustained professional development in order to coach teachers on these high efficacy strategies that work and that are easy to institute. Especially to provide help for those teachers who start out ambivalent or reluctant about the process. Resources are required for professional development.

Schools that wish to institute fitness testing in order to quantify student achievement in this key area and to assist students in developing meaningful personal fitness goals need resources to acquire the testing and training of teachers in its effective administration.  Fitness testing software and the effective use of it require resources.

Schools that strive to institute best practices in nutrition services must build their knowledge and expertise in order to realize the lofty goals that are incorporated in the school lunch program reauthorization and its attendant regulations. Our nutrition services personnel need the training in how to radically reconceptualize school lunch programs to offer truly delicious and nutritious choices for students that still manage the bottom line effectively. Acquiring that sort of expertise takes resources.

Physical education teachers in our great state who wish to modify their instructional practices in order to move away from a competitive team sports – based methodology and instead use a more participatory model that engages and promotes the physical activity of all kids need the opportunity to share strategies with their colleagues at the state and national levels and learn from one another. It takes resources to get teachers together across districts for workshops, conferences and other collaborative meetings.

For these and many other reasons, I strongly encourage you to give LB 447 your careful consideration. Please resist the urge to reject it out right on the basis of questionable claims when the resources which 447 would proactively channel to schools and public health offices would result in a tremendous positive impact for our state.

For what it's worth, in conclusion I just want to add that I personally don't think that lifting the tax-free status of soda pop would do much to deter the dedicated consumer - or even for that matter the impulse buyer. I can assure you that I would still make my ritualistic visits to the wonderful Rocket Fizz stores in Lincoln in order to acquire the pure cane original Dr Pepper straight out of Texas, and I'm pretty sure other cola connoisseurs would do much the same, the only variation being that which reflects the particular preferences of their palate. 

Thanks again for listening today and I'd be happy to take any questions at this time.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tips for thriving in the brave new world of Ed Tech

How what we are doing is working for Norris - in Chromebook integration and wireless accessibility.  A proud google school!

  • Technology integration is a core component of School Improvement and sustained Professional Development. Stay the course and keep your commitments!
  • We believe that accessibility is a core value and teaching appropriate use standards is a higher value than banning and a better use of our time than policing and depriving; we are not a techno police state!  We emphasize teaching developmentally appropriate use.
  • Create a solution that works for you, don’t worry about replicating others or copying buzzwords.  
  • Free yourself from the constraints of conformity (it’s not about one particular device or one piece of equipment that is a magic bullet; there’s no such thing).
  • Begin with the end in mind (consider sustainable solutions or you’ll flounder).
  • It’s not about hardware - the equipment will be different 5 years out - probably very different.
  • It’s not about programmatic initiatives = today’s cool web-based application will be played out in 6 months.  Stay sharp.
  • The hardware will change and the software will evolve; be adaptively creative.
  • The foundation of staying power is relationships.  Technology is no different.  We evolve readily because we have great trust in and leadership from Noel and Jim.
  • With good technology support and a clear vision that is conveyed, you can accomplish tremendous things for student learners.
  • Always understand and accept that people are on a continuum of readiness for change and initiative to change, and plan accordingly. (Offer differentiated professional development for teachers).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In support of Career Academies: LB47 testimony

January 29, 2013

Good afternoon, Senators:

My name is John Skretta and I am the Superintendent of the Norris school district. I first want to thank you for your service here on the Education committee and your service to the state of Nebraska.

Today, I would like to encourage your consideration and hear the case for our affirmation of LB 47. We inhabit southern Lancaster County as well as the northern part of Gage County and a sliver of Otoe. I provided you with copy of our Annual Report so that you have a quick contextual overview of our school district – I am here today speaking on behalf of LB47.

Norris has been a charter member of the Southeast Nebraska Career Academy Program. As such, we have had dozens of students over the last several years participate in intensive career academy experiences on our own campus outside of Firth and in Lincoln on the SCC campus as well as out in various local businesses. These experiences are almost uniformly hailed by our students as some of the most exciting and engaging educational experiences they have benefited from, experiences which have equipped them with job skills in the areas of health, business, info tech and education.

Career academies are not some old-school retro version of dismissing the duds and banishing students from campus. Yet, that is a common stereotypical misconception about career academy experiences that continues to linger. I want to utterly refute that notion by equipping you with some basic data. Norris students perennially outperform state and national ACT averages – and a higher percentage of our students are college ready in the areas of math, science, and English than elsewhere even in our great state. Amazingly enough, the students who seem to do the very best are the students who have career concentration areas – wherein they have taken multiple courses both beginning and advanced within a career sector that is of interest to them. When you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense: students who are engaged in their education and view their classroom experiences as relevant are more likely to really invest themselves in
their learning. It seems the best way to ensure a student will perform at a peak level in science, technology, engineering or mathematics is to provide that student with quality career academy experiences which allow them to apply their more abstract learning in these areas.

LB47 makes good sense. The partnership configurations stipulated by LB47 are logical and coherent. They reflect a structure that has proven functional and mutually beneficial for K-12 districts and community colleges – our experience in career and technical education has demonstrated the efficacy of this sort of arrangement. 

I conclude my remarks this afternoon by issuing a good-natured, yet very real challenge to you: our educational policy leaders outside this room in our state- have for several years now repeatedly and insistently asserted the importance of P – 16initiatives in education that connect us to college and career readiness. The goals of this noble initiative included increasing college admissions and retention, furthering the future prosperity of our youngest Nebraskans who are entering the workforce, and battling the brain drain by retaining the best and brightest as lifelong citizens of our great state. I would humbly suggest to you that one possible means of actualizing our theoretical commitment to P -16 education is to place resources where needed through the adoption of LB 47.  

The reality is, providing students with these unique uniquely tailored educational experiences that mesh with their identified career pathways is not an inexpensive endeavor. There are real costs attached to providing the students these resources – including things as basic as allowing students to obtain their Career Safe OSHA certification or providing the transportation for students in small groups to get from our campus into Lincoln for those job site experiences.

Again, I want to thank you for your careful attention to this bill and to assure you that the Norris Board of Education and district would put the resources promised in LB47 to great use in continuing to promote college and career readiness for all students and in ensuring that we meet our mission of helping each student thrive as a productive citizen and lifelong learner.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I hate about cold weather running & why I keep doing it, anyway

If you're just (insanely?) dedicated to distance running or you're already training for the local favorite Lincoln marathon, then odds are you have encountered the abysmal reality that cold weather running is a necessary precondition for putting the required training time in for those spring marathons and summer road races.  Here's a short list of some of the things I find to be persistently pestering about cold weather training - those December - March Nebraska runs that require you braving bitterly cold conditions:

1. Frozen eyelashes.  Betsy Barent pointed this one out the other day.  So true.  The eyebrows freeze and the moisture from your eyes eventually seals your eyelids shut...making it oh so much harder to, well, see.  Not to sound like a running snob, but, well, seeing is one of those things that really helps to facilitate the running experience.
This many pairs of gloves and
I still can't feel my fingers?
2. First, when your fingers go numb. And then, when your fingers start to throb.  Eventually, though, if you can run through that....your fingers won't hurt again until you warm up and try to get back to 'room temp' post-run.  Then you will experience several minutes of excruciating pain.
3. Layering.  Lots of layering is necessary when the temps are bitterly cold.  So you pile on the layers, get hot, then . . . turn to head back and feel those 3-4 layers freeze into a crusty captured container of chilled sweat while you become a human+fabric ice cube.  Don't tell me about all the great gear available to combat this. The Nebraska winds laugh in the face of the niftiest wick away "keeps the heat in while lifting the sweat away" thermal running gear out there.
4. Treacherous trails.  There are stretches of the path (and also the Rock Island Trail) I typically run right now that I have affectionately begun referring to as "ankle breakers."  Obviously some of our fair citizens have assumed that their civic duty is to create extreme trail run conditions on the frozen tundra that, prior to snowfall, served as a...sidewalk.  The snowpack is so hard and the ice beneath so thick and glistening that you must gingery step across it in order to nimbly avoid twisting an ankle or wrenching a knee.
5. Numb jaw.  The numb jaw becomes a clenched-frozen-in-place jaw.  The lockjaw / icejaw thing is not a big problem, except that runners know that you always want to 'stay loose.'  Once the jaw is tight, you can feel the neck tighten; subsequently, the trapezius, the shoulders, the arms, pretty soon - you are a frozen shuffling running zombie.
6. Ice-Jaw Part 2: You come up behind some bundled up walkers on the trail and, in an attempt to show proper trail use etiquette and dignify their presence, you'll announce yours and your intent to pass.  Except, because your jaw if frozen and your lips and chin are numb, it comes out like "Wunnuh on your weft" in some sort of bizarre parody of Elmer Fudd - or it is even more incoherent!
7. Other runners who appear to be unfazed by the elements.  These shiny happy people are entirely too perky and appear to be bouncing and bounding along the trail, gallivanting over the ice without a care in the world, able to pipe a sing-song "good morning, fellow runner!" in a joyful, chipper tone.  I usually encounter these people just after I've faceplanted about an eighth of a mile back and am wondering if both of the lenses are still in my glasses.
Running in cold weather might suck, but it's not the dreadmill!
8. No real sense of pace.  I'm sorry, but I lose a sense of pace-per-mile when I am climbing over snowbanks at every intersection and skating down a sheet of ice on the trail head at 14th and Old Cheney in order to climb down from the pedestrian bridge.

What are some of the things you find most challenging or the setbacks you have to battle through for cold weather workouts?

Despite all of the above, you know what the very best thing is about cold weather running, and the one thing that makes it absolutely all worth while for those of us who love to run?  It's not the treadmill!  Hooray, we are running outdoors, in the elements, getting that visceral experience, rather than stuck like a rodent on the wheel in his cage.

By the way, when I say cold weather running, I'm not talking about temps below 50.  At the start of this morning's 15 miler, it was 9. 9 degrees. Of course, it was a "dry" cold - not a lot of wind added to it!