OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Westside Community Schools welcomed students back for their first day on Tuesday.
"We are so excited to have students back. Our teachers have been ready for this, all our staff members, whether it’s educational assistants or custodial staff or nutritional staff. This is what we’re all here for, our kids, so to see them, see their joy in their eyes as they walk back in to school this is what makes it all worth it for us," said Brandi Paul, director of communications and engagement for Westside Community Schools.
Students weren't the only ones experiencing firsts on Tuesday. Some new teachers also experienced their first day teaching.
First-time teacher Claire Hofmann, who teaches fifth grade at Prairie Lane Elementary, said she was excited and prepared for the year ahead. Although it was her first time teaching, Hofmann has some experience in District 66. She was a Westside district graduate and student taught there during college.
"I loved going to Westside. My mom taught in the district so she always had a good impression and then going through it. I went to Swanson Elementary School and then the middle and high school and I always really liked the community aspect of Westside," Hofmann says.
Hofmann says she's enjoyed all the steps in her education and now career and is happy she's been at Westside through it all. She says being a part of the district has led to many opportunities.
"It's been really great and I feel like I’ve had a lot of opportunities because I was a Westside graduate. There’s people who are very willing to help me and put in a good word in for me," Hofmann says. "I just felt very supported and you can tell the teachers love teaching in the district because they want to keep you there so that was really cool to see."
She says the support from the district, teacher retention, and community engagement all helped in deciding to start her career in the same place as her education.
Paul says growing their own is important to the district as they begin tackling their new strategic plan and work to address the teacher shortage. She says the district received input from community members, teachers, parents, students, alumni, and more in working to see where the district was heading in the next few years.
"We took all that information and framed four strategic goals, our student achievement, staff engagement, financial stability, our structures and everything we’re doing fiscally and just our community engagement and what you’re seeing today with Ms. Hofmann hits two of those things. Both our student achievement, how well we’re supporting them to help them succeed but also what we’re doing to support our students who want to bring teachers to help bring them back here," Paul says.
Paul says the district is working to ensure they support students who want to become educators and hopefully return to the district to continue their careers.
"We have our Ed Rising program at Westside High School where students and teenagers who think they might want to be teachers, can actually shadow classes and teachers and get that hands-on experience where they can see what it’s really like. We have great communication with our area universities and colleges... to kind of put those pipelines in place," Paul says.
Hofmann says she's ready to tackle the challenging year ahead and she begins her career.
Extended interviews with Hofmann and Paul: