Plattsmouth Public Schools

We now return to the town of Plattsmouth, where right-wing extremists continue to set their sights on the school board in hopes of continuing Terri Cunningham-Swanson’s work of banning books they personally don’t like – and have neither read nor comprehend – from the school libraries.

A volunteer for the Voter Information Project, which is run by just such a person, reached out to all but 4 of the candidates running for school board. Why? Because their Plattsmouth volunteer is none other than Terri Cunningham-Swanson’s bestie, Glennia St. John-Sand, who specifically stated she was intentionally excluding 3 of those 4 candidates due to their involvement in the recall.

 Glennia is biased against candidates

So good job, Voter Information Project, for allowing volunteer bias and the suppression of information. We expected nothing less, considering the the article you wrote favoring Terri Cunningham-Swanson and the so-called “experts” cited.

Once this was called out by a candidate, the Voter Information Project must have decided this didn’t look good for them. Why? Because one of those candidates reached out to let us know that they have now been contacted by another local volunteer for the Voter Information Project – Karla Burke Higgins, who also happens to be a Terri Cunningham-Swanson follower and book banner. This candidate told us the questions they read through were both inappropriate and inapplicable to anyone running for school board, or any other town or county offices, and they are contemplating if or how to respond.

All the BS about the candidates black-listed by the Voter Information Project volunteer aside, we emailed all twelve candidates for the Plattsmouth School District. Four candidates, including the three initially excluded by said Voter Information Project volunteer, responded to our questionnaires. Other candidates may still share their answers by responding to Jade by email.

As previously stated, these posts do not constitute endorsement. For endorsements, we recommend the nonpartisan organization, Nebraskans for Educational Excellence, whose main focus is advocating for public schools, students, and teachers. And, of course, whenever possible, meet or reach out to the candidates for yourself. Campaign Facebook pages for Britteny, Eric, and Keri are linked to their names in the first set of answers.

Why did you decide to run for school board? 

Britteny: I have multiple reasons. I believe I can help bring a unique perspective to the school board that I feel is missing. I am neurodivergent along with my children and spouse.  I also decided to try and keep extremists off the school board. I do not believe my community could handle another recall election of an extremist. 

Diane: We need different people on the board that have kids in the school that have different views points. 

Eric: I decided to run because there were only 3 people signed up to fill 5 spots available.  I also have a blue collar background that could possibly provide a different perspective.

Keri: I chose to run for Plattsmouth Board of education to be of service to my community.  I fell in love with the community and the public school system over the past 20 years and want to be part of the future.  I want to see our community schools be competitive in academics, sports, vocational learning and fine arts.  I want to ensure that we retain our quality teachers who are engaged in the community and think of this as more than just a paycheck.  Finally, I would like for our community to reclaim its’ reputation from the past as a great place to raise & educate children.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

Britteny: If I get elected, I have many things I would like to accomplish, but not something I will make promises on. I would love to encourage and find funding to make classrooms more sensory friendly, provide teacher resources and more individualized learning to the individual student.  Also help our community feel more heard on concerns about our schools. 

Diane: Getting the budget under control and making sure the students are getting the best education they can.

Eric: I would like to try to give a voice for the neurodivergent students.  I also would like to try to cut back on frivolous spending.

Keri:  If elected to Plattsmouth Board of Education I hope to accomplish the following:

(1)   I would rebuild the trust in our community to include students, faculty, administrators and community leaders

(2)   I will work towards obtaining better nutrition for all students by:

(a)    Ensuring access to nutritious food set within federal guidelines.

(b)   Developing programs similar to Covid times where all children received free food.

(3)   I’d seek programs that have menus which are more age appropriate. (Fuel our athletes differently than our kindergartners).

(4)   Provide information for our lower income families who rely on pantries and subsidiaries on how to prepare nutritional meals at home.

(5)   Develop plans to involve community business co-ops without having to increase the cost of hiring full-time teachers (adjunct faculty that can teach a subject of interest).

(6)   Find the technology advances in our community and develop policies to teach AI and and other subjects which can prepare our youth for the work force.

(7)   Review the safety protocols of our students and develop a plan to keep them safe from their home to school, while on school property and back home again.

(8)   work with the community to ensure students have a safe walk home.

(9)   Safe technology access while using school issued technology.

(10)  Seek solutions for bullying. This is a frequent concern of students at Plattsmouth Schools.

(11)  Evaluate the safety policies for our teachers and staff. – Teachers should not be subject to abusive behaviors from our students and should feel comfortable in their job.

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your local public schools?

Britteny: Lack of funding is the biggest challenge I tend to see. Though it could be argued as a budgeting issue. This does cause other big issues we see in public schools. 

Diane:  Budget is out of hand and people are forgetting how diverse our school is. 

Eric: The biggest issues that I’m aware of is decreased funding and teacher retention.

Keri: I believe the biggest challenge facing our public schools at this time is having a safe quality program and activities for all youth while maintaining a balanced budget.

  1. How will you ensure inclusiveness for all students? 

Britteny: I will try my hardest to ensure inclusiveness. The biggest way to ensure would be to listen to the different groups within our community. Hear what they say we are doing well and what needs improvement. Then critically think about changes, share ideas, and get feedback from those groups. 

Diane: In the real world companies are celebrating people’s of differences and are learning how to have people with disabilities work for them. It’s time to start finding ways to teach kids without either pushing them through the school system without them learning or holding them back because they aren’t in the right teaching environment. 

Eric: This is a really complex issue.  There are many layers to this question that I don’t have a good answer for, but will keep this in mind as things move forward.

Keri: All students deserve to be educated, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical handicaps.  I believe in policies that ensure all students are being treated inclusively and that the school clubs and organizations are not being exclusive.

  1. Do you advocate for traditional learning vs accommodating learning? 

Britteny: I believe in finding the best way to teach each individual student. We cannot expect a fish to learn to fly or expect a gorilla to become a fish. So why do we do it to our kids?

Diane:  Accommodate. Every child deserves to be able to learn. 

Eric: I am more in favor of accommodating learning; each student has their own individual needs and learning style.

Keri: I am a fan of traditional learning, but know that one style of learning may not always work for certain children.  I believe there can be adaptations made to make a child successful, but I feel traditional methods tend to work well.  We as a community need to prepare our youth to be successful when they graduate our schools, whether that be going on to high education, a trade school, or directly into the workforce.  We need to set them up for success but not coddle them so they are afraid to fail.

  1. How do you feel about classroom sizes? What and how would you change this?

Britteny: I feel that to do more individual teaching we need smaller classes. I would like to find ways to encourage new teachers to our community and also funding to provide resources that are often lacking. Also advocate for more resources to be available to help create a more inclusive environment for everyone. 

Diane: Getting more teachers would be nice so they aren’t overwhelmed and the kids will have more 1 on 1 time. 

Eric: In my opinion, most classrooms are on the larger size across the board.  Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a good way to fix it.  The easiest would probably be to have more paras or aids in all classrooms. 

Keri: I believe Plattsmouth has done a great job in maintaining the classroom sizes of our youth.  As our district grows and finances decrease this will be a struggle to maintain a classroom size conducive to learning.  As more teachers leave the district, we as a district will have to figure out how to hire qualified individuals to fill the shortages in order to maintain our student / teacher ratio.  This can be accomplished by hiring adjunct teachers who maybe come in for a few hours a week.

  1. How do you feel about standardized tests? Do you feel there is a better way to assess what the students learned?

Britteny: I honestly hate standardized testing.  Most don’t actually prove what kids learn. I feel there are better ways to see what the kids learn, such as critical thinking projects. 

Diane: Not everyone tests well and not everyone can focus on turning in homework on time. Let’s actually hear from the ones doing the interaction with the students aka the teachers and come up with a better way to assess the students’ knowledge. 

Eric: I don’t think that standardized testing is the way to go.  Its like grading a fish, a monkey, and an elephant on their ability to climb a tree.  I don’t know what is better, but there has to be a better way to do it.

Keri: I am not a fan of standardize testing.  I understand that states use these numbers to finance schools, however there are better ways of assessing what the students have learned.  Kids may know things and be able to do an aptitude test with critical thinking and analogy to gain a better understanding of what they have learned versus filling in circles.  I believe there should be a high-school test at the end in order to graduate high-school but this should not just be fill in a circle.

  1. What do you think a school board member’s job is? 

Britteny: While I would love to say they can make all the changes I would love to see, that is not their job. To me a board member’s job is to make sure the administration of the school does their job, that the budget gets balanced, policies are fair, clear, and non-discriminatory, and handle any major complaints that could come up. 

Diane: To handle the budget, make sure the employees are doing their job. Making sure we are in compliance of the state and federal laws and rules. Listen to the concerns of the staff, students and parents.

Eric: The job of the school board members is to oversee the policies of the school district.  They are to divide up the power of the administration so that no 1 person has complete say on big issues/purchases.

Keri: I feel a school board member’s job is to review and upgrade the policies that are in force for their district.  I also believe that their job is to work closely with the administration, teachers, parents, and students to make their district competitive among other schools in the state.  School board members should attend events in the district they represent and talk to the people to find out what the real problems are.  By educating themselves, they can make better suggestions to changes of policy if a change needs to happen.

  1. How do you feel about the arts? Sports? 

Britteny: I believe both sports and arts are important. Though each has their place. I do feel that many schools put more focus and funding into sports and destroy the arts. 

Diane: Arts and sports are great but there needs to be a balance.

Eric:  I think that the arts could use more attention and support.  Sports are fine and all, but they’re not everything.  How many students would thrive if the arts received the same attention and support that sports do?

Keri: I am an avid supporter of both arts and sports.  As a mother of 4 children who have been involved in both, I feel there are many things taught on the field or through the love of arts that youth cannot gain in a classroom.  Sports and Arts teach children the soft-skills that are needed to be successful in the real world. 

  1. What do you feel should be the focus of your school? 

Britteny: For me, I believe schools should educate students. Yet I know my opinion of what an education looks like is different from others. For me, it is not memorizing facts, but knowing how to problem solve and connect dots. Innovation happens by questioning the world around us and then connecting dots of information to make something new. 

Diane: Being more diverse, having teachers that understand not all kids learn the same and are open to different teaching ways. 

Eric: Helping and encouraging the students to thrive.

Keri: The focus of our school should be to provide a safe learning environment for all youth, staff and administrators that promotes an education full of experiences and real-world situations.

  1. What do you feel your local public school is doing well?

Britteny: This is a hard question for me to answer. A few years ago, I could have given many different answers. It seems within the last few years our school system has gone downhill. I can state that we do have a good number of teachers who care for their kids and try their hardest, even with budget obstacles, to provide the best education possible. I know from personal experience of teachers that are trying hard to be inclusive and open to learning new ideas. I know for my high schoolers in history, they have discussed many different events that other schools do not cover. 

Diane: They do start off well with preschool/head start, a lot of interactions and willingness to help families learn to grow with each other. I think that the teachers in the other buildings are getting more put on their plates and it’s taking away from them being able to help the parents understand how their child is learning. 

Eric: Our school offers a wide variety of classes that allow the students to explore different interests.

Keri: Our public school is great at having youth involved in many activities.  We also have a great program in our high school that focus on careers.  We have amazing facilities for our sports.  We have multiple outdoor classrooms that are utilized for hands on learning.

  1. What do you feel your public school should improve? Any ideas on how?

Britteny: I believe our public schools could improve to be more inclusive, more of a teamwork attitude, and community involvement. I have many ideas, not all are going to be feasible at this time, but I will share what I think could be done. To be more inclusive, make classrooms more sensory friendly. This can easily be giving students a choice between a normal chair and fidget chair. (This actually has been proven to increase focus in both neurodivergence and neurotypical students.)

A more of a teamwork attitude would be working with administrators to set up times during the school day once a week that teachers of subjects across the grade or high school can meet and brainstorm ideas for lessons. This would also allow teachers to talk about what is working with individual classes and what is not. 

To improve community involvement, better communication. As a parent, I find the website (outside of Infinite Campus) harder to navigate then it should be. It is not intuitive to find information. It has improved a bit in the past year or so, yet could be so much easier to use. Emails to parents/guardians that include information, such as from the Superintendent, should either have the information in the email or a direct link to the information.  Not just a link to the school district website and parents/guardians have to go and search. 

I also believe a School Board Facebook, that has comments turned off, would be beneficial. Using it to post agendas, decisions, and information of the goings on, the board could reach more of the community. 

Diane: I would like to see surveys go out to the parents and students about how well the teachers they interact with are doing. Yes it’s work, but shouldn’t they have a say on the teachers reviews?

Eric: The career paths are a good idea to help students towards their potential career.  Unfortunately it has the potential to close students off from the chance to explore others.

Keri:  We need to utilize technology in a safe manner and educate our youth to use technology effectively.  This can be done by making sure safeguards are in place for technology that are given to our youth.  One way of doing this is to make sure that technology is used at school and maybe not sent home. 

  1. We need to update our fine arts facilities to better accommodate all individuals so that we can be more competitive in our district.  Many times, when budgets are cut, the arts are the first to go.  We need to increase the allotted time for music and physical education in our district, but we also need to find grants and such too upgrade our art facilities.
  2. We also need to do a better job of protecting our staff and our students.  This could be done by implementing policies that protect our staff.  It could also look like a collaboration between the school and the community to have numerous people placed throughout the walking area around the school to report trouble and have follow-through discipline for those students that are causing problems.
  1. Do you think religion should be in your school?

Britteny: The only way religion should at all be included in school is in social studies, that is talking about how a culture is influenced by the religion(s) found in the area. Or how a religion influenced a historical event.  Anything else is not needed. I do believe if you want to teach one religion, you need to teach all. 

Diane:  There can be clubs for religion and even a class offered about different religions but we can not put one religion above the other. 

Eric: For a public school, No, religion shouldn’t be in the school.  If it does become part of the school, then it should be ALL religions.

Keri: As a public school, I do not feel that the school should do organized prayer, but if there is a club or organization that wants to be religious, I have no problem with that.  I love that our district has FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) for both the middle and the high school.  I love that our students are able to express their religious beliefs (if that means praying before a game or praying at the flag pole).  We as a district have to accept all youth where they are and if there are clubs and groups that they can belong to, then let them find something in common with other students. However, our district is composed of many faiths.  We need policies in place that respect that fact.  Additionally, public schools are not charged with caring for a student’s spiritual needs, that is entirely the responsibility of the parent.

  1. Do you think your beliefs should be leading your local school?

Britteny: No one person’s or one group’s beliefs should be deciding or leading our PUBLIC schools. You want your beliefs or anyone else’s to lead your school, choose a private school. 

Diane: Religious beliefs, no. Everyone deserves to have their beliefs. We should be making unbiased decisions and based on what is fair to all. 

Eric:  No, I don’t think my religion or that of others should be leading the local school.

Keri: My own personal beliefs do have a weight in how I look at issues before making a decision but it is not the only thing I look at.  I pride myself in doing the research to see what would be in the best interest of those involved, even if it goes against my personal beliefs.  If elected I will evaluate the positives and negatives of each plan and make a decision based on the best outcome for all involved.

  1. How do you handle differences of opinions/beliefs on a subject?

Britteny: I tend to be more open minded on differences. I am willing to discuss things. The biggest caveat when it comes to me is when you claim something as fact, you’ve got to be able to back it up. I will 100% call you out when you are stating your opinion as fact. I have been known to become hardheaded or even downright unmovable, when I can tell the other person/people are refusing to actually listen (reactive listening vs. active listening) or not willing to compromise. 

Diane: Everyone is entitled to different opinions and should be heard with an open ear. Decisions should be made that are fair for everyone. 

Eric: I try to be laid back and see their side of things.  Unfortunately if the other starts getting hostile, I have a tendency to as well.

Keri: I handle conflict of opinion by doing research on all sides.  A wise woman once told me there are two sides to every story and that you have to look at all sides before making a decision.  I am not afraid to look at all sides and research what would be the best solution.  In my research I look at written data, I speak to people and I weigh out the positives and negatives of the problem.  I try to make a decision that is not biased, but we all have a little bit of bias based on our beliefs and how we were raised.

  1. Do you have kids in school? Do they attend the school district of the board you are running for?

Britteny: Yes, I do. I have 3 wonderful children that currently attend Plattsmouth Public Schools. 

Diane: Yes I do have 3 kids in the school district, high school, early childhood, and the birth to 3 program offered by early childhood.

Eric:  Yes, I have children in school attending the same district that I’m running for.

Keri:  I currently have 2 children in the district I am running for.  One is a sophomore in high school, the other in 6th grade.  I also have two older children who have graduated from this district.  When I moved to this town 20 years ago, I fell in love with the schools, teachers, administrators and this town.  I hope by being elected to serve on this board that I can bring our public schools to the next chapter and keep them going strong for the future.

More about Nico Emerson

Nicolette "Nico" L. Emerson is an observer of politics in small town Nebraska, especially as it pertains to education, school boards, and adults who want to decide the direction of the next generation.