Black reflects on improving scores, student success rates

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 12:00 am

Rick Black didn’t hang up his cowboy boots Friday on his last day as superintendent of the Papillion-La Vista School District.

His signature footwear will remain, but the path they will follow will be outside the classroom.

The 62-year-old leaves behind a 15-year career in Papillion-La Vista where he echoed the story of the school district every year: take every child as far as they possibly can.

“It’s never giving up on any child,” Black said. “Our theme has been excellence, one student at a time.”

Andy Rikli took over the reins of the district on Monday. He came to PLSD from Westside Community Schools in Omaha, where he served as assistant superintendent.

Black’s family grew up in Albion, Neb., where boots were staple attire outside of the occasional pair of tennis shoes or baseball cleats.

Except for a one-time concert, where he donned a Hawaiian shirt and covered Beach Boys songs with his brothers, he said it’s rare to find him without a pair of boots.

Black began wearing them while wrestling for Millard High School in the late 1960s. He said the toughest competition always seemed to be from western Nebraska.

Looking back on his career, Black said there aren’t many times where an educator can point to and measure a specific moment that prompted change. His wrestling days were one, and another came in test results released by the State of Nebraska in 2001.

When the Nebraska Department of Education released a comparison of school success, Black knew action had to be taken. The comparison showed PLSD scored 10 percent below the state average.

“None of us felt that was acceptable,” he said. “So everybody from the classroom to administration to the school board rolled up their sleeves and went to work on trying to figure out what the issues were and what we needed to do.”

As a result, a new model was created with an emphasis on school improvement and district goals.

“The work that’s been done ... the successes that have been accomplished have truly been a team effort,” Black said. “When you talk about educationally and instructionally, then the credit first and foremost has to go to the teachers and the building administrators.”

Black applauded the district’s staff and its ability to understand student success on an ongoing basis. Teachers can make conclusions and decisions on a daily to weekly basis instead of waiting for the next report card.

Black also helped pass three bond issues, including the recent effort which includes money to build a new elementary and middle school.

He said he takes great pride in student success and made sure the district shared it with the media whether radio, print or television.

“We don’t need to be a well kept secret,” he said “We needed to take opportunities to share those at any avenue we could.”

Black joined the district in 1998 as assistant superintendent for human resources. Before that, he worked for 11 years as superintendent of the Conestoga district near Murray, Neb.

He served as superintendent at East Butler in Brainard, Neb., from 1985 to 1987. After graduating from college, he worked for the Millard school district for 12 years.

Retirement leaves him more time for golf, family, exercise and a never ending list of projects around the house. Black said he’ll be around for ball games and other school activities, but will miss interacting with staff on a daily basis.

“The opportunity to really celebrate kids is when they’re performing and competing,” he said.

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