BC-NE--School Overhaul,1st Ld-Writethru/410
Omaha elementary school overhauled in area revival
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A struggling Omaha elementary school is being overhauled as part of a project to revive the surrounding Highlander neighborhood.
The Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/28TgDY6 ) reports that Howard Kennedy Elementary will have a new principal and project-based curriculum heavily focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math, when school opens in August.
Students at Kennedy Elementary will start the school year about a week earlier than other students. They will also spend about 45 minutes more in class daily than most OPS elementary students.
Kennedy Elementary is one of Omaha Public Schools' highest-poverty schools, with 97 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch last year.
Only 35 percent of Kennedy's fourth-graders scored proficient in reading during the 2014-15 school year, while 19 percent were proficient in math.
Students falling behind in core subjects will receive with targeted interventions at the school's new math and literacy centers.
The overhaul was spurred by a neighborhood revival project dubbed 75 North.
New principal Tony Gunter and 75 North's executive director, Othello Meadows, predict that as the first housing phase of the neighborhood project is completed next summer, more families will want to become a part of the reinvention of Kennedy Elementary.
Gunter said that a key piece in the school's revival and rebranding was finding the right staff members. Three-quarters of the teaching staff will be new. Some who previously taught at the school opted not to reapply for their jobs and some transferred to other schools.
"I've got a group of people who don't know each other," Gunter said.
Ashley Hawthorne, who spent the past six years teaching first grade at the elementary school, will now work as a counselor and try to act as a bridge between Kennedy families and new staff.
Hawthorne said she, like many other teachers at the school, was nervous when she first heard about the proposed changes at the school.
"I didn't know how it would affect me as a teacher, how it would affect my students. But I'm ecstatic about the new changes," Hawthorne said.
Several teaching jobs, like art and music, have become full-time positions. Three new deans will focus on the new curriculum, literacy and student behavior. Kennedy Elementary will also have a full-time psychologist and part-time social worker.
Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com
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