KEARNEY – In August, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the program statement and construction budget for Phase II of the UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.
Construction of the $85 million facility is expected to begin in September 2023, with projected completion in July 2025. The 100,000-square-foot facility that will train physicians and other health care professionals to ease rural Nebraska’s chronic shortage of medical professionals is the Hub’s top education story for 2022.
“Adding a second health science-focused building at UNK creates opportunities for students who want to both pursue — and practice — their health careers closer to home, which help us build a stronger rural workforce, increase access to rural care and help communities thrive,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “In short, it will transform lives for generations.”
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Thanks to approval from the state Legislature, the proposed facility received $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for capital construction, plus $10 million for iEXCEL technology startup costs. Furthermore, the Legislature has committed the necessary sustainable operational funds to support faculty and staff. The university has committed to raising $35 million in private funding for construction.
In November, the Kearney City Council voted 4-0 to contribute $5 million to help with the construction of the new building at UNK. It will be paid over a 15-year period from the city’s special sales tax fund and utility fund.
University leaders say the goal is to address urgent needs in rural Nebraska’s health care workforce; 14 counties in the state, for example, do not have a primary care physician.
UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen called the project “fundamental” to rural Nebraska and the survival of many communities.
“Only the university can solve this problem,” he said. “We’re on the verge of doing something that nobody else in the United States is doing, and that’s educating health care workers and professionals in rural areas.”
2 newcomers, 1 incumbent to sit on KPS board
Two new candidates for the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education were the top vote getters in November’s general election.
Newcomers Paul Hazard and John D. Icenogle were the top vote getters followed by incumbent Drew Blessing.
Incumbent Wendy Kreis dropped out of the race in August, but she missed the deadline of Aug. 1 to withdraw, resulting in her name still appearing on the ballot. Kreis stated that health and business matters weighed into her decision to withdraw from the race.
Current members of the KPS Board are Dave Brandt, Steve Gaasch, Kathy Gifford, Alex Straatmann, Blessing and Kreis.
Mundorf named Kearney Public Schools new superintendent
In February, the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved Jason Mundorf as the new superintendent for KPS.
Dr. Kent Edwards retired in June after six years in the position. Mundorf has been with Kearney Public Schools since 2017. He previously served as the school’s associate superintendent.
“Kearney Public Schools is a tremendous school system with fantastic teachers, parents, students, all the support staff, the leadership. We just have a great system in place,” Mundorf said. “I felt like I had been integral in a lot of pieces of leadership here throughout the last five years and supporting Dr. Edwards. I thought that maybe I could continue our stability and some of the progress we’ve made in various areas, moving it forward over hopefully the next several years.”
One of Mundorf’s focuses is to develop the school’s career technical education apprenticeship program to aid the current challenges the community faces in the workforce.
“I would love to see as a superintendent for KPS to build a pipeline with our community where our employers, our work leaders, our community leaders and business leaders get to see our students across the board and at an early age and stage and identifying talent and seeing where some of those kids can be contributing members of a growing, vibrant community going forward,” Mundorf explained.
Other aspects he hopes to focus on include enrichment programs for high-ability learners in grades K-5 and to continue to enhance the Hanny Arram Center for Success.
Philosophy major eliminated at UNK
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted in February in favor of eliminating the philosophy major at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The board heard public comment from UNK professors, students and alumni at their meeting, imploring the regents to save the major at UNK.
In fall 2021, Chancellor Doug Kristensen and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charlie Bicak sent letters to NU Executive Vice President and Provost Jeffrey Gold recommending the discontinuation of the program because of a low number of students majoring in the field of study. The highest number of graduates from the program was five in 2010. In 2014 and 2021, there were no philosophy graduates. There were three students majoring in the field in the spring.
The board voted to eliminate the major at UNK while emphasizing that the philosophy program and classes would still continue at the college. Students can still obtain a minor in philosophy.
Kearney Public Schools Board of Education approve 5-year strategic plan
Before the start of the 2022-23 school year, the KPS school board approved the five-year strategic plan.
The plan has four pillars that will serve as priority components to pursue excellence in education. The pillars include college and career readiness, guaranteed and viable curriculum, staff retention and recruitment and social-emotional learning.
Three of the pillars from the 2017-22 plan — college and career readiness, guaranteed and viable curriculum and social-emotional learning — have been carried over into the 2022-27 plan. A new pillar in the current plan is staff retention and recruitment.
“We have fewer people choosing to work in education. We have fewer people in the teacher colleges enrolling to become teachers. It’s harder to find our classified staff help. Industry is competing in a lot of those jobs. So it’s harder for us to find custodians and food service workers and paraprofessionals,” said Superintendent Jason Mundorf.
Some solutions they will consider include salary and benefits, but also work conditions and making KPS an organization where people want to work.
Mundorf and the Board of Education will work together to begin implementing the plan, and he commends the board members for being active and engaged throughout the process.
“I think it gives us a great plan to go after over the next several years to continue to improve incrementally over time. We’re in a great school system, but obviously this is a way that we can, again, continue that incremental growth,” he said.
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