All Hands on Deck: Standards and opportunity soar as enrollment at Cedar Bluffs spikes

All Hands on Deck: Standards and opportunity soar as enrollment at Cedar Bluffs spikes

By Tyler Dahlgren

NCSA Communications Specialist

The clock just ticked past 9:30 on Monday morning, and already Kevin Janssen is a busy man.

About an hour ago, the morning bell rang through the halls of Cedar Bluffs and sent over 360 students scurrying to their desks.

Five years ago, that number was just 168. The hallways were less vibrant, and the demands of the job likely less strenuous.

But what fun is that?

Rapid growth is only half of Cedar Bluff’s story. The teachers, administrators and students there are writing the rest every day.

Janssen returns to his office after walking an elementary student to her classroom. The K-12 principal at Cedar Bluffs, he has played a large role in helping his school adapt to the quick expansion. When given the chance to talk about his building of Wildcats, he brims with pride.

“We are one big family here, and that’s how we treat one another,” said Janssen. “We help each other out whenever we get into a pinch, whether we are short a substitute teacher or a classroom, or something of that nature. "We just work very well together as a staff, and I think that's what helps make our growth feasible and great for our community,.”

Nestled between East Main and Elm Streets in the Saunders County village of slightly over 600 people, the school has seen drastic change in a short amount of time. A vast implementation of programs suited to enhance each student’s academic experience has helped ease that transition, all the while making Cedar Bluffs an increasingly appealing place to be.

It takes all hands on deck to handle an enrollment spike like that.

“Great teamwork by my teaching staff,” Janssen answered when asked just how they did it. “We have weekly staff meetings for communication purposes as well as emails, of course, and an amazing staff that all works together. We collaborate often, and it’s not just at our elementary, or our high school, or our middle school. It’s everybody.”

The list of new programs is equally extensive and impressive, highlighted by Teammates and a mentoring program within the school, a bagged food program that provides 70 families with grocery items each Friday, and the DARE program for fifth-graders. Every month, Cedar Bluffs brings in a speaker to talk to students about pressing matters such as bullying, the proper ways to use social media, drugs and alcohol, etc.

“We have our 21st Century grant, which has been great for our afterschool program for our elementary kids,” Janssen said. “We have breakfast in the mornings and a snack after lunch as well, so I think that involves our kids quite a bit, too.”

The grant is important, but so is the unwavering support from the Cedar Bluffs school board, which Janssen calls “amazing.”

“They work very well with our teachers, and we’ve invited them into the building several times,” he said. “We are very open in our public meetings, and they are just phenomenal to work with.”

Cedar Bluffs is a “1-to-1” school, meaning every single student, from kindergarten to the 12th grade, is provided with their own iPad (K-5) or laptop (6th-12th). It’s an advantageous opportunity that has helped the administration develop what they like to call a “24-Hour Learning Environment”.

Each teacher has a site on Weebly and students as young as third-grade submit assignments electronically. New technology has improved parent engagement, too. Teachers put notes and review questions up on their site, and are just a click away at all times. Each classroom is equipped with a Promethean board as well.

For a school that pulls kids from so many different surrounding communities, the “1-to-1” program has helped provide a more unified feel.

“Our motto is ‘Kids First’ here, and we are going to do everything we can to benefit the students,” Janssen said. “Our teachers treat them like they’re their own, which I think is helpful in the success they’re having here. They are not a number, and they are not just a student sitting in a classroom. They are a person, and we treat them that way, with respect.”

Cedar Bluffs aims to set students up for post-high school success, too. The school board has opted to pay $600 for juniors and seniors that wish to take online classes through any school in Nebraska.

“We had a student go to the University of Columbia on a full ride, and we’ve had students go to welding school out in Western Nebraska,” Janssen, whose school just finished construction on a $1.5 million, state-of-the-art vocational shop, said. “We have a wide range of students here, and I think we do a very good job of adapting to that.”

There’s a wide range of teachers, too. Janssen and the Cedar Bluffs administration look for energy in the hiring process. Energy, and devotion.

“Our teaching staff does an amazing job of supporting activities, and they’re not just here from 7:45-3:45,” Janssen said. “When you work here, you know it’s a 7-6 job, and you support your kids outside of school. We have several teachers who will be at the YMCA on Saturday mornings watching basketball or volleyball or flag football. It’s really neat to see, and I think that helps build those strong connections and personal relationships.”

In addition, the school holds several events aimed at strengthening community relations, including Open Houses, Movie Nights, bowling outings and pie eating contests. Anything, really, to make people feel like a part of Cedar Bluffs.

“It’s not just about kids, it’s about family, and around here we want to treat everyone like a family, and that’s what we stress,” Janssen said. “I think that’s what a lot of parents like. It’s that small town atmosphere where they get that small-school experience, even though they might be from a bigger town.”

Janssen is a self-titled “corn-fed, Nebraska boy”. He’s from the state and understands the power of the public schools within it.

 “Our tradition of being good characters is huge in Nebraska, and I think that’s what draws people here,” Janssen said. “They want that atmosphere and that culture.”

It’s the final week of April, and the sun is setting on the 2016-17 school year.

At Cedar Bluffs, the future has never looked brighter.


Did you know?

-Cedar Bluffs now has two preschools, with 40 students, two teachers and two full-time paras. For next year, 71 preschoolers have already enrolled!

-Cedar Bluffs implemented a unique trimester schedule at the middle and high schools.

-Cedar Bluffs’ Parent-Teacher Organization and new After School Program work together to plan community events such as Fun Runs, Halloween Gatherings and Movie Nights.

-In order to better serve their students, all staff at Cedar Bluffs have received CPI and Marzano training.

-The new vocational shop will feature state-of-the-art welders, plasma cutters, a paint booth and more! Recently, new signage was added to the exterior of the school, and the east entrance to the gym and science labs also received face lifts.