Gift adds up to improve math education in Omaha

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Helping students improve their math skills by investing in outstanding math teachers is behind the logic of a $5.5 million gift made by two Omaha foundations.

Laura Chan feels more confident now.

She teaches third grade at Fullerton Magnet in Omaha. She just finished two intensive courses over the summer through UNL’s Primarily Math program, which taught her more strategies for teaching her students math.

And for reaching her students.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” she says. “You always want your kids to do well and to feel like you’ve given them all the tools they need. Sometimes previously, when I had a kid who’s struggling, I’ve run out of tools. I didn’t know where to go next to help this kid.

“Now I feel I do.”

Her confidence grew thanks to the Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation joining their efforts to provide a $5.5 million grant to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support a three-year partnership between the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education and the Omaha Public Schools, the state’s largest school district.

The funding supports the newly formed NebraskaMATH Omaha Public Schools Teacher Leader Academy, which involves a community of OPS mathematics teachers from grades K-12 dedicated to strengthening mathematics teaching and learning in Omaha. Through the program, teachers will have access to continuing education and graduate coursework centered on math education.

The project plans to reach more than 250 teachers over three years. The first group of teachers began graduate coursework in July.

“Our faculty’s strength in mathematics research, coupled with an innovative partnership with Omaha Public Schools and local foundations, will benefit thousands of Nebraska students,” UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said.

Jim Lewis, UNL mathematics professor and director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, said the goals of the OPS initiative are to strengthen mathematics learning in Omaha classrooms, narrow student achievement gaps between different populations and conduct research that continues to inform school improvement efforts.

“This dramatic investment in Omaha’s mathematics teachers will impact student learning throughout the district, both in the short and long term,” Lewis said. “We are extremely grateful to both the Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation for their support in helping to form the NebraskaMATH Omaha Public Schools Teacher Leader Academy.”

Dianne Lozier, trustee of the Lozier Foundation, said: “The Lozier Foundation cares passionately about the elimination of the academic achievement gap for many in the Omaha area, especially in regard to reading and math. Thus, we are pleased to be a partner in furthering NebraskaMATH so that accountable and effective systems and methods can be implemented for the benefit of all students within the OPS system.”

The academy will offer various programs for teachers, including Primarily Math, a program for K-3 teachers like Laura Chan; Math in the Middle, a master’s degree program for grades 4-8 teachers; and fellowships for K-12 math teachers to take courses at no cost. The grant also supports six K-3 and two middle-grade math coaches for OPS.

Throughout the project, university faculty will study the impact of professional development on teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, student outcomes and the impact school culture has on student achievement. They will also establish a studio classroom as a model for implementing instructional change in K-3 classrooms.

NebraskaMATH was started in 2009 by the university with funding from the National Science Foundation. It researches the premise that enhancing a teacher’s own math education skills is critical to significantly improving student mathematics achievement. NebraskaMATH partners with public school districts in Grand Island, Lincoln, Papillion-La Vista and Omaha, as well as state Educational Service Units.

UNO mathematics education faculty members are also supporting the UNL-led initiative and are providing some of the Omaha-area instruction. Angie Hodge, Janice Rech and Michael Matthews of the UNO Mathematics Department will continue their collaboration with NebraskaMATH.

Chan, who received her master’s from UNO, took her courses at the OPS headquarters building.

“Now I, as a teacher, can reflect that confidence on my students, and I think that’ll build their math confidence. And I can pass what I’ve learned on to other teachers in my building who maybe haven’t had the opportunity to take these classes.

“I just don’t think I can even begin to describe all the lives they’re going to touch by what they’ve done. … I think it’s kind of a ripple effect. You’ve affected one person. But that’s going to keep spreading.

“They just will never understand how far this will reach.”

The grant from the Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation also provide support to the University of Nebraska’s current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its priorities to increase support for students and improve early childhood education. If you also would like to help, please consider giving online to the NebraskaMATH-Strengthening the OPS-UNL Partnership Fund or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

More information about the Teacher Leader Academy, including program applications for teachers, is available at

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