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Board of Education Approves Strategic Plan of Action

On Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education approved the Strategic Plan of Action in a 9-0 vote.

The plan is the result of research, reflection and input gathered over the course of more than a year. The attachment below outlines the work and input involved in developing this Strategic Plan of Action, values that guide our work and strategic priorities that focus the work going forward.

Omaha Public Schools 2020-2025 Strategic Plan of Action.pdf

Villamonte Inducted into Benson High School Hall of Fame

Villamonte Inducted into Benson High School Hall of Fame

By Tom O’Connor

Communications Committee

Installation into a Hall of Fame is perhaps the ultimate endorsement that an individual has achieved a successful career and life.

With his recent induction into the Omaha Benson High School 2019 Hall of Fame, Steve Villamonte, executive director of the Omaha Press Club (OPC), now has two Hall of Fame honors on his résumé. In 2014, the Omaha Restaurant Association inducted him into its Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame.

“This is truly a great honor for Steve,” said Jeremy Maskel, president of the OPC. “It acknowledges the great work he has done at the Omaha Press Club for the past two decades. Our entire organization is proud of him.”

Villamonte, a 1980 graduate of Benson High School, was one of eight people inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class.

“I was blown away, since I only attended Benson my senior year,” Villamonte said. “It was a night I will never forget. One of the people honored – Kelly Johansen (1971) - was a computer engineer who contributed to the national defense with his work on top-secret projects. Another was Andre Woolridge (1992), who is the all-time leading scorer in Nebraska Class A basketball. It’s pretty humbling to be included with them.”

One of the other inductees, Ingrid Jordon-Thaden (1993), is the director of the Botany Garden and Greenhouses at the University of Wisconsin and the daughter of longtime Omaha Press Club anchors Steve and Helen Jordon.

Villamonte spent his first three years of high school at Chatham High School near Springfield, Illinois. After his parents divorced his junior year, his mother decided to move back to Omaha where Steve enrolled at Benson High School.

“My dad was a hot-tempered Peruvian chef who moved from club to club with the same general manager,” Villamonte said. “Our family only had one car, so in the summer my father would bring me and my two brothers to work and drop us off at the pool. When the pool closed, my dad had to start his second shift, so he would put us to work in the kitchen. I’ve been working in kitchens since I was five years old.”

A graduate of Bellevue University, he was one of only two certified executive chefs in Nebraska in1984. While going to college, he worked as a cook at the Happy Hollow Club. He later served as the executive chef of the Lakeshore Country Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa. From 1991-1999, he was the executive chef and operations director for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s food service division. In 2000, he started his own catering operation – Villamonte’s Cuisine.

Before he became executive director in 2000, the Omaha Press Club was struggling and had considered closing because First National Bank of Omaha had largely subsidized it. With Villamonte at the helm – and his wife, Christine, as the restaurant and events manager – the club has been able to operate in the black for nearly all of the past 20 years.

During his time at the Omaha Press Club, Villamonte established a government trademark for his father’s Thunderbird Salad Dressing and started manufacturing Thunderbird and Blackstone Reuben Dressing for commercial and retail sales. The Thunderbird Salad is a staple at the Omaha Press Club and Sysco, U.S. Foods and Hy-Vee stores sell Villamonte’s branded dressing.

Among his other accomplishments, Villamonte is proud to say he has:

· Mentored several chefs who have gone on to become industry leaders,

· Founded the Ron Sailors Culinary Scholarship in honor of one of his closest friends in the restaurant business who died in an accident. An annual fundraiser has raised more than $135,000 in scholarship funds and helped established a lifetime endowment,

· Earned a black belt in karate and won gold and silver medals at the Midwest National competition,

· Been a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. His family includes three sons, a daughter and two grandchildren, and

· Coached youth sports (wrestling, football, karate, baseball and basketball) for more than 20 years.

Congratulations to Steve Villamonte!

40 Days and 40 Nights Without Wheels

40 Days and 40 Nights Without Wheels

By Burke Teacher Don Ferree

For 40 days, I chose to give up my vehicle. In addition to my personal vehicle, it included rides from family, friends, coworkers, Uber and Lyft. My only means of transportation were the Omaha Metro buses and walking. My personal journey has been incredibly rewarding as I’ve gained more empathy for the barriers that students and families must overcome every day.

My inspiration for doing this comes from the students at Burke High School that ride the buses daily to school. Regardless of a student’s grades, GPA, or ACT score, anyone that wakes up, attends school and wants to be a little better than they were the day before has my deepest admiration. Many of our bus riders leave as early as 6:30 a.m. in order to arrive at school. Considering we just experienced one of the worst winters in recent years, there were many additional barriers, such as icy sidewalks and snow drifts at the bus stops.

I have a different level of appreciation of the conveniences of using a car, which provides opportunities I took for granted. Although the city bus drivers have been very helpful and the buses are clean, traveling takes a lot more time and is limited. Some destinations that are a 12-minute drive now take over 80- minutes and require transfers between different routes. My roundtrip commute to work has increased by 50-minutes because the closest city bus stop to Burke High is nearly a mile away. Also, the closest route to my house is only open Monday through Saturday. In order to travel by bus on Sundays, I must walk two miles just to get to the next closest bus stop. Sundays in general are difficult to travel around Omaha and except for Center Street, the furthest west a rider can travel is Westroads Mall.

During the duration, my daily preparation changed drastically. Time is a much different variable to my day. When I used my car to go to work, I felt flexibility because I could take additional time to make a decent breakfast, watch the news, or walk my dogs. If I was running a few minutes behind, I could leave later, and within reason, drive a little faster in order to arrive at school on time. I don’t feel as relaxed anymore. The bus doesn’t wait for anyone and prioritizing what needs to get accomplished becomes much more critical.

There hasn’t been a day where I have not left something at home, such as my lunch, an umbrella, phone charger, etc. I usually remember these items before I even step foot on the bus; however, I can’t go back. If I miss my bus, I must wait half-an-hour before the next bus and be late to work. Students that ride the school bus don’t have the luxury of a second bus. When they miss the bus, it usually takes a lot of problem-solving in order to arrive to school that day, regardless whether they make it on time or not.

Additionally, I now understand the mental strain of arriving at your bus stop on time and still fearing that you missed the bus. It’s especially stressful in the cold, wet weather. There is a delicate balance between leaving your house at the right time, so you’re not waiting at a stop for too long in unfavorable weather and arriving with enough time to spare. Although this last statement sounds like commonsense, it takes on a whole different meaning when you don’t have a safety net and your only means of transportation is using the bus, which is the reality for many people in Omaha.