Friday, June 12, 2020

We believe in an inclusive environment that honors diversity, equity, and access


I would like to discuss what we have all witnessed happening in our country and across our community these past few weeks. I’ve been struggling to find the right words and determine how the Papillion La Vista Community Schools can best address this critical issue in the most meaningful way.

The issue of race relations and the recent protests are deeply emotional topics. On one hand, I feel a moral obligation to use my position to say what’s on my heart and embrace how we can change to help this situation. On the other hand, I am cautious because words can so easily me misconstrued, and I don’t want my voice to cause pain or to make the situation worse.
We’ve decided being direct is the best course of action.

Racism in any form is deeply wrong and runs completely contrary to our mission as a public school.

I want to be crystal clear about where the Papillion La Vista Community Schools stand.

1.     PLCS exists for one reason and one reason alone: to serve ALL students and ALL families and support ALL staff regardless of their race or background.
2.     Our top priority has always been and always will be educating ALL students and keeping our students and staff safe both physically and mentally.

We may not be perfect and there may be days that we will fall short of these ideals, but it won’t be for lack of trying.  We understand that we still have listening and learning to do.

I would like our community to know the District has been working on this very issue since last February when we re-started our Strategic Planning process. As part of that process, the District identified a goal relating to staff diversity and training.  The committee also updated our Mission Statement and wrote belief statements that will guide everything we do.  There was a specific belief statement around this issue:

We believe in an inclusive environment that honors diversity, equity, and access.
Moving forward we will form a District Diversity Action team to look deeper into our school district and identify what areas we are doing well and what areas we need improvement. We will implement steps in support of this Diversity goal and make certain we uphold our Mission and beleifs.

As your Superintendent please know that we understand these conversations are vitally important and we are committed to being a part of the solution. In short, we want all staff, students, and families to feel welcome and safe here. We are all part of the same PLCS family and community. Please be gentle with one another and help us to disrupt hate and prejudice whenever and wherever we see it. That is the PLCS way. #PLCSgreat




Tuesday, March 31, 2020

There is so much reason for hope

(A PVH teacher waves at students from a safe distance during a teacher parade)
Greetings, Papillion La Vista Community Schools! I hope this message finds everyone safe and healthy. You and your children’s safety are the District’s top priority.

As all of us adjust to our new normal, it is a good time to reflect on how much our world has changed in just a few short weeks. We are surrounded by an endless stream of disheartening news by the 24-7 media cycle. We find ourselves social distancing, endlessly washing our hands, disinfecting our homes, and in some cases, adjusting to the challenges of working from home and engaging our children. Talk of COVID-19 dominates nearly every conversation.

But there is so much reason for hope. We have seen countless individuals show us what positive leadership looks like. Teachers and parents organizing parades, so our students know that we love them and miss them. Citizens flooding the District with offers of money, support, and assistance. Volunteers offering to help our Food Services Team distribute meals to our families in need. The number of individuals who have stepped forward to serve our community is simply unbelievable.

Every generation of Americans has faced a life-defining experience of some sort; I know this challenge will bring out the very best in our staff, our families, our students, and our community. We owe so much to so many. Our medical professionals who work tirelessly to combat this disease in our clinics and hospitals. Our truck drivers and service industry who selflessly work to keep essential services running. Our first responders who continue to protect us while risking their own personal safety. And of course, our military who safeguard our liberties at home and abroad.

We know you have many questions. Commencement, prom, and preparations for seniors are questions that frankly, we do not have answers for yet. We will do our best to share updated information without jamming up your email inbox. We have hosted two Facebook Live events in the last three weeks and will continue to use this as a way to connect with all of you. Please send us any additional questions you have and we will do the best we can to get all of them answered. We will continue updating the website and District social media sites with new information.

In closing, please know this. The PLCS Family is here to support you as we adjust to these difficult times. Please be gentle with one another. We will emerge from this better, stronger, and more resilient. Thank you for your continued patience and support. Our school district’s best days are ahead of us.

Yours in Education,
Andy

Monday, March 9, 2020

PLCS works to keep schools safe, students healthy

Happy March, Papillion La Vista. We’ve been blessed with a relatively mild winter and spring appears to be just around the corner. Spring is one of the very best times of the year in Nebraska. Our two rescue dogs, Macy and Evie, love to take long walks around Shadow Lake and the Rikli kids are chomping at the bit to spend some quality time outdoors. We’re all looking forward to taking a break from academics with spring break fast approaching.

We would like to talk about self-care and the coronavirus, in particular. The winter months are always difficult with the common cold and flu causing misery in many of our households. The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has the potential to create even more challenges for our families, so the school district is working closely with our public health officials to minimize any risk to your students and your family.

Here is what we’ve done so far. The District has a pandemic response plan that we are currently reviewing. This plan is a comprehensive document that details how the school district will respond during emergency situations. 

Each disease outbreak is different, of course, so we will work closely with our staff and health experts to make sure our plan adequately meets the need of our schools and your children. The school is also consulting with health officials from across the metro area to assure our plans are in good order and that we have the very best information about the virus. 

Area Superintendents are also collaborating with one another on response plans and communication to parents. A Task Force has been formed and all school districts in the metro-area will have a twice weekly conference call to discuss the latest information and possible responses if the situation grows more concerning. 

Our best advice to parents is to exercise common sense and good hygiene practices. This would include regular hand washing, staying home when you are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. If you would like more specific information, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent website and a list of resources: www.cdc.gov. 

Our schools continue to be safe places to send your children, and we trust our parents to make good decisions for their children. You always have the right to keep your child home if you have concerns about their well-being or are worried that they may be ill. If in doubt, sit them out! 

Thank you for your support and #BeKind.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Reflecting on 2019 and looking forward to 2020

Happy New Year, Papillion La Vista Community Schools!

I hope everyone had a fun and relaxing Winter Break.

The Rikli Family had a restful holiday. We traveled to Grand Island to spend some time with our in-laws and enjoyed some family time with the kids, our two rescue dogs, and of course, Linus. It was a wonderful opportunity to relax, recharge, and reflect on 2019.

The District experienced tremendous success in 2019. Our academic achievement continues to be outstanding with our students consistently scoring above state averages on state and national exams. The District boasts a 95% graduation rate and our most recent Monarch and Titan graduates received almost $30m in scholarships.

Finally, the District received an NSPRA Gold Medal Award for excellence in communication for our bond campaign. The upcoming year is likewise full of promise and potential.

Work continues on voter-approved bond projects with our new elementary school opening next fall and expansions at G. Stanley Hall, Anderson Grove, and PLSHS. We will begin renovation work at PLHS this spring.

School safety and mental health initiatives will continue to play a prominent role as the District prioritizes student and staff well-being. We will re-start our Strategic Planning process this winter to build a future roadmap for the District.

Lastly, we will support our teachers and staff through our new, innovative PLCS Family Fund which provides financial support to employee members experiencing personal hardship. Thank you to our staff, families, students, and community members for continuing to make Papillion La Vista Community Schools such a special place to live and work.

Here’s wishing the entire PLCS family a happy and prosperous 2020.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

PLCS Family Fund helps staff experiencing hardship

Happy December, everyone! We are approaching the end of first semester and the end of 2019. The Rikli Christmas tree went up early, gifts are bought and wrapped, the stockings are hung by the fireplace, and the entire home is overrun with holiday decorations. My son Sam takes great delight waking up every morning to see what mischief Holly and Jolly the Christmas elves have done the previous evening.

The holiday season can also be a challenging time for many of us. School work, final exams, travel, and shopping for that perfect gift can create stressors for all of us. It is easy to lose sight of the purpose of the season. There are so many people across our community and country that are struggling. The holidays are meant to be a fun and relaxing time, but for so many people, the season can also be a reminder of lost friends and families, personal challenges, and financial need.

You may be aware that my wife Amy and I created a program called the PLCS Family Fund. The PLCS Family Fund was created specifically to help PLCS employees who may be experiencing hardship in their lives. Our School District has over 2,000 employees and every day, unforeseen tragedies impact our school family. It may be a serious medical issue, a costly auto repair, or the loss of a family member. Any PLCS employee may confidentially nominate a fellow employee for a gift from the fund. The PLCS Family Fund provides direct financial assistance to support our staff members when they need it most. Special thanks to the Papillion La Vista Schools Foundation and Papillion Sanitation who are providing financial support to the PLCS Family Fund. 

Please click here to visit the District website if you would like more information about supporting our staff.


I hope everyone can spend a bit of time with family and friends reflecting on 2019. We work in a great school district in a wonderful community and live in the greatest country in the world. All of us have so much to be thankful for, and it is my hope that all of us can find a bit of peace and joy in the season. Thanks to everyone for a great first semester and have a fun and relaxing Winter Break. See you in 2020.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Late start a new option for PLCS when it snows


(Students sled at Walnut Creek Elementary during PE class last winter)

Happy Holiday Season, PLCS! The first semester flew by and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The Rikli Family loves the holiday season! My wife Amy and the kids put up a huge Christmas tree, lots of holiday treats are baked, and Burl Ives songs are played on a continuous loop.

The holiday season also brings the possibility of bad weather. Please know we will always make decisions that prioritize student safety above all else. I have three school-age children, and my wife and I both work outside the home. We understand sending children to school when the weather turns ugly can be scary. You always have the right as a parent to keep your children home if you feel conditions are unsafe. We know parents will make good decisions for their families.

Snow day decisions are one of the most difficult decisions we make as school leaders. We are at the mercy of road crews, fickle snow forecasts, and rapidly changing weather conditions. We take school cancellations seriously since many parents work outside the home and calling a snow day often creates hardships for parents who need daycare. We understand the need to communicate with parents as quickly as possible so they can arrange supervision for young children if school is canceled. However, we prefer making the decision the morning of the bad weather rather than canceling the evening before. Snow forecasts are notoriously difficult to predict, and we’ve had situations where we made a snow day call early, the snow didn’t arrive, and parents were frustrated that school was canceled.

The District does not have a formal policy for bad weather cancellations. In general, if we receive 4-5 inches of snow or if the sustained windchill is -25 or colder, we will likely cancel school. Timing is everything. Heavy snow predicted at 3:00 a.m. makes for an easier decision than bad weather later in the day, for example. 

I typically wake up (obscenely!) early and personally drive as many city streets and school parking lots as possible so we can have a decision by 5:00 a.m. We do have conversations with other school districts to see how the weather may impact their decisions and consult with the National Weather Service and Offutt Air Base to get the latest weather updates.

In response to last year’s difficult winter (we had seven snow days!) the District has decided to explore Late Starts. We may or may not use the Late Start protocol depending on the conditions and the timing of the weather. The information has been sent to parents and staff about possibly starting school two (2) hours late if bad weather is anticipated. 

The District has no plans for early dismissals; we are uncomfortable with the possibility of young students walking home to unsupervised homes. 

Please follow me on Twitter @AndrewRikli if you’d like to get an early jump on school closure information. 

Thanks to everyone for making PLCS such a special place and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

PLCS supports mental health needs for students, families


Happy Fall, everyone! Autumn has officially arrived, and the end of the first quarter of the school year is rapidly approaching. I hope everyone’s year is off to a positive start. The Rikli family loves the chill in the air, fall sports, and trips to Vala’s pumpkin patch. Linus is getting ready for his first snow day decision, but that is a blog for another day…

I would like to discuss an issue that is very important to me personally, namely mental health for our students and families. We know that many people in our community struggle with mental health challenges, and the school district wants to be part of the solution.

The District has launched several programs to support mental health needs for our students and families. PLCS has partnered with Project Harmony and its Connections program to support families where there is suspected trauma. Trained therapists from CRCC will be embedded at both high schools to support students with mental health needs. A countywide mental health problem-solving team has been formed to better equip our staff with supports and resources. A new Social-Emotional Learning curriculum is being implemented at the elementary and middle level. Lastly, the District is now offering a Crisis Hotline (531-444-CARE) through its PLV Cares initiative.

PLV Cares is a collaboration between the school district, the cities of Papillion and La Vista, and community partners. The group serves as a gathering place for information on community resources to help those looking for ways to receive assistance in Papillion and La Vista. The PLV Cares program is intended to be a model of support, outreach, and communications to allow the surrounding community to identify the needs of young people and connect those needs with resources in the area.

You may have seen PLV Cares representatives from the group at high school athletic contests or seen PLV Cares signs posted in front of PLCS buildings. You will see the group’s logo along with the Crisis Hotline phone number. It is never too early or too late to ask for help, regardless of what you and your family are going through. For more information, please visit the website at www.plvcares.org. Thanks for all you do to make this a great community and let us know how we can help.