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 at the University of Nebraska on the 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 doctors and other healthcare professionals to alleviate rural Nebraska’s chronic shortage of medical professionals is among the best in the Hub. education story 2022.
“Adding a second health sciences-focused building at UNK creates opportunities for students who want to pursue — and practice — their health careers closer to home, which helps us build a stronger rural workforce, increase access to rural care, and help communities growing, said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, president of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “In short, it will change 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 in upfront costs for the iEXCEL technology. In addition, the Legislature has committed the necessary ongoing operational funds to support faculty and staff. The university has committed to raise $35 million in private funding for construction.
In November, Kearney City Council voted 4-0 to donate $5 million to help construct a new building at UNK. It will be paid over a 15 year period from the city’s special sales tax fund and utilities fund.
University leaders say the goal is to meet the urgent need for health workers in rural Nebraska; 14 counties in the state, for example, do not have primary care doctors.
UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen called the project “fundamental” to rural Nebraska and the survival of many communities.
“Only universities can solve this problem,” he said. “We’re getting close to doing something no one else in the United States is doing, and that’s educating healthcare workers and professionals in rural areas.”
2 newcomers, 1 incumbent sitting on the KPS board
The two new candidates for the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education are the top vote-getters in November’s general election.
Newcomers Paul Hazard and John D. Icenogle were the top vote gainers followed by incumbent Drew Blessing.
Incumbent Wendy Kreis dropped out of the race in August, but she missed the August 1 deadline to withdraw, so her name still appears on ballots. Kreis stated that health and business issues weighed on his decision to withdraw from racing.
The current KPS Board members are Dave Brandt, Steve Gaasch, Kathy Gifford, Alex Straatmann, Blessing and Kreis.
Mundorf appointed a new superintendent of Kearney Public School
In February, the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved Jason Mundorf as the new KPS superintendent.
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 school superintendent.
“Kearney Public Schools is an amazing school system with incredible teachers, parents, students, all the support staff, leadership. We just have a great system,” said Mundorf. “I feel I have been an integral part of much of the leadership here over the last five years and supporting Dr. Edwards. I think that maybe I can continue our stability and some of the progress we have made in various areas, hopefully to move that forward in the next few years.”
One of Mundorf’s focuses is developing a school career technical education internship program to help with the current challenges facing society in the workforce.
“I would love to see as a KPS supervisor to establish a channel with our community where our employers, job leaders, community leaders and business leaders can see our students holistically and at ages and early stages and identify talent and see where some of those children can contribute as members of a thriving and vibrant community going forward,” explains Mundorf.
Other areas he hopes to focus on include enrichment programs for high-ability students in grades K-5 and to continue improving the Hanny Arram Center for Success.
Philosophy major was abolished at UNK
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted in February in favor of eliminating the philosophy department at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The council heard public comments from UNK professors, students and alumni at their meeting, begging the district head to save the department at UNK.
In the fall of 2021, Chancellor Doug Kristensen and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charlie Bicak sent a letter to NU’s Executive Vice President and Provost Jeffrey Gold recommending ending the program due to the low number of students majoring in that field of study. The highest number of graduates from this program was five in 2010. In 2014 and 2021 there were no philosophy graduates. There are three students majoring in fields in the spring.
The council chose to eliminate the major at UNK while emphasizing that philosophy programs and classes would continue at the college. Students can still earn a minor in philosophy.
The Kearney Public Schools Board of Education approves a 5-year strategic plan
Before the 2022-2023 school year began, the KPS school board approved the five-year strategic plan.
The plan has four pillars which will be priority components for the pursuit of excellence in education. These pillars include university and career readiness, a guaranteed and appropriate curriculum, staff retention and recruitment, and social-emotional learning.
The three pillars of the 2017-22 plan — college and career readiness, secure and appropriate curricula and social-emotional learning — have carried over to 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 teacher colleges applying to become teachers. It’s more difficult to find the help of our secret staff. The industry competes in many of those jobs. So it’s more difficult for us to find carers and food service workers and paraprofessionals,” Superintendent Jason Mundorf said.
Some of the solutions they will consider include salary and benefits, but also working 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 board members who were active and engaged throughout the process.
“I think it gives us a good plan to do over the next few years to keep improving incrementally over time. We are in a great school system, but obviously this is a way that we can, again, continue that incremental growth,” he said.
PHOTO: Yanney Heritage Park’s annual Holiday Light Festival