I had the honor and privilege to serve as President of the Association of Educational Service Agencies at this year’s annual conference. The national conference was a great opportunity for attendees to share, grow, network and participate with other colleagues who represent ESUs from across the country.

At our opening general session, we heard from Dr. Eric Jensen who uses fresh brain research to show how poverty can compromise the brain in ways you never imagined. Dr. Jensen also shared how quality teaching and great schools can rewire the brain to become successful.

ESU 13 was well represented at the conference with Laura Barrett, Jadie Beam, and George Schlothauer presenting in person while BJ Peters and Kiowa Rogers joined the presentations via video conferencing from Scottsbluff.

George Schlothauer’s presentation was entitled, “Offering Alternative Educational Opportunities in Rural Settings.” LifeLink-Nebraska and Valley Alternative Learning and Transitioning School (VALTS) were highlighted during the presentation. Both programs are housed together on the campus of WNCC at the Harms Center. Uniquely designed, LifeLink provides post-secondary transition skills for 18-21 year old students with disabilities. All students participate in employment, learn independent living skills, and participate in volunteerism and community involvement. Students have the opportunity to enroll in college classes through WNCC. VALTS, our alternative high school, helps students meet graduation requirements of 10 different school districts. Known for outside the box thinking, VALTS succeeds in providing education enrichment to students with a variety of different circumstances. Through advanced technology and small classes, VALTS has been meeting students’ needs since 1998.

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Dr. Jeff West presented with AESA Executive Director Dr. Joan Wade on Friday and their presentation was entitled, “Calling All New AESA Members!” This was an invitation to members new to AESA to learn more about their national organization. There are almost 20 different names for educational service agencies from across the US that makes up the membership. Attendees discovered who makes up the membership and the similarities and differences between these diverse organizations. We held an interactive discussion about the governance structure, funding, role of the CEO and the types of services that are offered by our members.

Laura Barrett, Jadie Beam, and BJ Peters (via Zoom) presented on Friday morning as well. Their presentation was entitled, “Supporting Professional Learning for Paraprofessionals.” Paraprofessionals are often the first contact students have on a daily basis, yet receive very little professional development. In this session, ESU 13 staff shared that our 21 districts asked for a solution to this training problem. Multiple departments collaborated to offer one-hour topical trainings through distance learning in order to reach each corner of our 15,000-mile service area. These trainings grew from 37 participants to 235 engaged paraprofessionals.

Laura Barrett, Jadie Beam, George Schlothauer, BJ Peters and Kiowa Rogers(via Zoom) presented Friday afternoon. The presentation was entitled, “Collaboration: Beyond the Buzzword.” They talked about how ESU 13 departments have broken down the “silos” starting with our Leadership team that is made up of the directors of each program. This has helped to make sure we are presenting a unified vision and message to member school districts all while keeping focus on achievement for all students. The staff also shared our process from needs visits with our districts to implementation of services.

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