Early Monday morning, Jeff Edwards left Nebraska City and made the nearly two and a half hour drive to Grand Island for his first day as superintendent of Northwest Public Schools.
Edwards left Nebraska City after serving as its superintendent for the past 11 years. He succeeds Matt Fisher, who resigned his position to pursue another career opportunity.
“It has been a good learning experience,” Edwards said of his first two days. “I got here yesterday (Monday) and we are not quite moved out here yet, so I drove out Monday morning. I left Nebraska City bright and early. I am just becoming acclimated, starting to dig into files, learn people’s names, and put names and faces together. I am excited to be here; the learning curve has begun.”
Edwards said his first two days of his superintendency were spent getting to know the Northwest Public Schools staff.
“One of the key parts in education is building relationships,” he said. “One of my first goals is to touch base with the administrative staff, sit down, have some conversations and get to know them and the office staff here. I am just learning some of the traditions and some of the protocols that have occurred. I want to see what my experiences can bring, how they mesh, learn the way things are done and get a feel for the district.”
Edwards said his first goal is to learn how things operate within Northwest Public Schools and to get to know people so that when school starts in August, “we are ready to go.” Last week, he said he attended a Professional Learning Communities (PLC) conference with Director of Special Services Ryan O’Grady, Northwest music teacher Cindy Coe and new staff members.
“I got to meet several of the new teachers that are just coming on board and start building those relationships,” Edwards said. “I got to learn which buildings they are going to be at, what they will bring to the table and their experiences. The PLCs piece is that those educators were consistently learning. So having that opportunity to meet in groups and teams, set goals and have that opportunity is key to our roles as we improve classroom instruction.”
One thing Edwards said what excites him about the job is having the ability to step out of his office and roam the halls of the high school that is in the same building as the district office.
“In Nebraska City, my office was in a separate building, so in order to get around to students and teachers on a daily basis, I had to get in the car and drive,” he said. “The duties of the job can get you stuck behind a desk very quickly. One of the things I am really looking forward to is being able to hop out that door, see kids going down the hall and having that daily interaction.”
An important aspect, Edwards said, is to be present in the Grand Island community and at school activities. He encouraged any group who wants him to attend an activity to reach out.
“Schools are not just about athletics. Schools are about fine arts and opportunities for students,” Edwards said. “One of my tweets yesterday (Monday) said I am excited to see the band because to me, that is opportunity for that kid who is not an athlete to get involved in something and have a connection to the school outside of the classroom.”
Edwards said he is active on Twitter at @Dr_Jeff_Edwards and plans to use it to promote Northwest and its happenings as superintendent. He added he has an open-door policy for anyone who has questions to address to him.
When it comes to issues facing Northwest, Edwards said he is gathering information on background and discussion that occurred regarding a middle school structure for the district. He added he wants to get “up to speed” on the topic so that he can be “an active participant” in future conversations.
Edwards said he had some experience with option enrollment in Nebraska City, but not to the extent of Northwest.
“We didn’t have option students at Nebraska City to the extent that we do here,” he said. “In the smaller districts around Nebraska City, the same number of students optioned out that optioned in. In the eastern part of the state, Conestoga has a four-day school week, so some of the families were intrigued to opt out. The district there is 190 square miles, so it was pretty spread out. If parents worked in Omaha, going to Conestoga or Plattsmouth might be easier for them.”
Edwards said he understands the issue of property taxes and how they affect school funding for school districts across the state, As Northwest superintendent, he said he plans to contact local state senators and to encourage the Northwest Board of Education to have Northwest be part of the Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education (STANCE) group, of which Nebraska City is a member.
“We met on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Sometimes we would meet in Lincoln and sometimes we would meet via technology using Zoom,” Edwards said. “We would just have conversations about what legislation is out there. Northwest has not been a part of that, but that may be a conversation we have with the board here in the next couple months about whether that is a group to get involved with.”
As he gets acclimated to his new role, Edwards said he wants to continue the district’s tradition of excellence.
“Northwest has had a great tradition and is well-known across the state,” he said. “I am excited to be a part of that, getting to know what makes them so great, what opportunities kids are given here and see how we can improve on them or make things better.”