Start Early. Start well.

November 16, 2022

Report Highlights Efforts to Help Children, Schools in Wake of COVID, Staff Shortages

2021–22 Evaluation Shows Adaptations Made to Meet Needs of Districts in Superintendents’ Plan

Omaha, Neb. — The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska today released the evaluation findings for the seventh year of full implementation and evaluation across six school districts in the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The evaluation continued to assess school-level change, program quality, and how families perceive their schools and early childhood programs.

The Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan focused on building relationships with school staff, children, and families in metro Omaha in 2021–22 and helping schools navigate COVID-19 pandemic disruptions that led to staff shortages, challenging student behaviors, and setbacks in academic progress. The evaluation found positive signs of progress: families felt engaged and welcomed at their schools, principals and teachers received beneficial support and coaching, and families and principals valued home visitation programs.  

“I’m proud of what Institute staff and our school partners were able to accomplish for children and families despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic,” said Amy Schmidtke, the Institute’s director of program development. “We know that schools are being supported by Buffett Institute staff and continue to focus on providing high-quality early education to their youngest students and families. Due to the unique nature of the past school year, we listened to our school partners and shifted our work to prioritize a plan that was flexible, responsive to individual district needs and resources, and most importantly, met children, families, and school staff where they were.” 

As a result of feedback collected from superintendents and other partners, 2021–22 served as a transition year in preparation for the next phase of the Superintendents’ Plan, allowing school leaders to analyze their early childhood needs and plan for the future. The transition year provided an opportunity to integrate feedback, current research, and evidence from the first seven years of implementation to help shape the program moving forward.

During the 2021–22 school year, Buffett Institute staff members helped school partners implement “School as Hub” programming, which includes home visiting for children birth to age 3, family facilitation for 3- and 4-year-olds, and aligned Kindergarten through Grade 3 educational experiences for 5- through 8-year-olds. School as Hub is the idea that schools can serve as a community “hub” and therefore play a pivotal role in connecting children and families to community resources and supports beyond the school walls.

Last year, the Institute also provided customized assistance to school districts; assisted with school staffing; and offered Professional Development for All workshops, webinars, and a virtual book study to early childhood professionals and community members.

Highlights from the evaluation included:

Collaborative Initiatives
District leaders from 10 out of 11 Learning Community school districts assessed their district’s ability to provide effective early childhood programming through a months-long, guided landscape assessment with the P-3 Center at the University of Colorado Denver. All 11 districts were invited to participate.
The Institute led five virtual Professional Development for All webinars and a book study focused on teacher well-being, equity, and creating a culture of belonging.

Leadership Effectiveness 
Institute staff met monthly with principals to discuss leadership effectiveness, instructional excellence, and parent and community partnership engagement.
Buffett Institute staff provided ongoing coaching, assistance, and support to principals, teachers, and other school staff, helping to buoy morale and problem-solve during a challenging year.

Instructional Excellence
Buffett Institute staff facilitated in-school workshops on topics including using technology in the early years, promoting positive student behavior, and developing individual education plans for special education students. They also provided intensive tutoring and behavioral support for students. 
Thirty early childhood professionals and leaders representing family home care, child care, and school settings joined the staff at the Institute to develop a toolkit to support teachers in ensuring quality childhood experiences.  

Family and Community Partner Engagement 
Across the districts, 89 families participated in the voluntary home visiting program. In interviews, families shared positive experiences they had with the home visiting and family facilitation program. A survey of 37 parents from five school-based programs rated the program and the staff members highly. On a scale of 1 to 4 (high), average ratings were above 3.0 for satisfaction with the home visitor or family facilitator and for satisfaction with the home visits.
Another survey of 679 families with children birth through Grade 3 indicated most families rated their school(s) positively.

Institute staff used the 2021–22 evaluation and results to develop a new framework for the plan that will focus on aligning with district-level goals, closer partnerships with districts, and more customized programs to ensure districts have what they need to successfully implement and sustain quality and equitable early childhood education for all students. Future efforts will emphasize three domains: leadership effectiveness, instructional excellence, and family and community partnership engagement. 

Dawn Marten, the director of learning for Douglas County West Community Schools, said participating in the Superintendents’ Plan has helped her district focus and align school improvement and early childhood efforts.

"For Douglas County West Elementary School, the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan has provided us the stepping stones to expand and implement our continuous school improvement process,” Marten said. “Setting school goals that align directly with the three domains has been very impactful for our teachers, students, and families. Having Buffett Institute staff support our efforts has also been valuable to our staff and the processes we have established to support families."


Participating school districts in full implementation of the Superintendents’ Plan are Bellevue, Douglas County West, Millard, Omaha, Ralston, and Westside. All Learning Community districts are invited to participate in customized assistance, including setting action plans and partnering with Institute staff to accomplish goals.

The evaluation was conducted jointly by the University of Nebraska ΜΆ Lincoln’s Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools, the Interdisciplinary Center for Program Evaluation of the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the Buffett Institute. Evaluation activities were supported by the Learning Community and the Buffett Institute.

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