NAESP and Nebraska Department of Education Honor Latest Pre-K–3 Leadership Academy Participants

These educators represent the fourth Nebraska cohort to participate in the award-winning professional learning program.

Alexandria, VA—May 1, 2024—The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the Nebraska Department of Education are pleased to announce 17 school/district leaders have recently completed the NAESP Pre-K–3 Leadership Academy®. The participants represent the fourth Nebraska cohort to participate in the award-winning professional learning program that provides principals and other school leaders with a job-embedded experience in developmentally appropriate early learning leadership practices.

“NAESP is proud to continue its partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education, supporting 17 educators who have earned the Pre-K–3 Credentialed Leader distinction during the 2024 cohort,” said NAESP Executive Director L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE. “Their commitment to professional development and ethical leadership will inspire others and positively impact students throughout the state.”

The academy has directly supported Nebraska’s school leaders in deepening their knowledge of the needs of young children and sharpening their skills as instructional leaders of early learning, a critical missing component in aligned early learning systems. NAESP’s foundational competency guide, Leading Learning Communities: A Principal’s Guide to Early Learning and the Early Grades (Pre-K−3rd Grade), provides the framework for the NAESP Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy.

The Nebraska cohort focused on competencies such as developing and fostering partnerships with families and communities, ensuring equitable learning opportunities, promoting a culture of continuous improvement, and building professional capacity across the learning community. In addition to coursework, cohort members participated in a culminating Capstone Project that allowed them to apply their learning to a problem of practice within their school or district.

“The Nebraska participants in the NAESP Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy have gained valuable skills that will help them be stronger leaders in early childhood education—and their impact will extend beyond their own schools,” said Melody Hobson, Office of Early Childhood Administrator at the Nebraska Department of Education. “They are truly leaders in early childhood education. We are fortunate to be able to partner with NAESP and to have such dedicated participants from every part of Nebraska.”

The academy is already showing success in bridging the gap between early childhood programs and early elementary schooling. Results from an implementation study conducted by the Southern Regional Education Board indicate that 90 percent of respondents reported that the academy helped them to “better meet the needs of vulnerable children.” Participants also reported growth in Pre-K–3 leadership competencies such as ensuring developmentally appropriate teaching and using multiple measures of assessment to guide growth in student learning.

NAESP and the Nebraska Department of Education congratulate these Pre-K–3Leadership Academy participants, who received their certification as a Pre-K–3 Credentialed Leader:

  • Katie Burger, Assistant Principal, York Elementary School
  • Patti Drewes-Hynek, EC Supervisor, Papillion La Vista
  • Missy Friend, Elementary Principal, Maxwell Public Schools
  • Jared Haag, Elementary Principal, Central Elementary, Fairbury Public Schools
  • Krystie Hohnstein, Director, ESU 13 Head Start
  • Lisa Holland, Curriculum and Instruction Support, Omaha Public Schools
  • Eric Hoops, Principal, Thayer Central Elementary School
  • Taylor Jenner, K-12 Principal, Eustis-Farnam Public School.
  • Robin Kolumban, Assistant Director, ESU 3 Head Start
  • Karla Kush, Elementary Principal, Madison Elementary School
  • Tracy Larson, Principal, West Holt Public School
  • Rita Nickel, Principal, Garden County Elementary School
  • Johanna Osborn, Assistant Principal, Wayne Community
  • Melissa Prante, Early Childhood Coordinator, Omaha Public Schools
  • Christine Radcliff, Elementary Principal, Wilber-Clatonia Elementary School
  • Bree Rock, PreK Principal, Bear Cub Preschool, Scottsbluff Public Schools
  • Julie Schnitzler, EC Coordinator, Grand Island Public Schools

The leadership academy advisors were:

  • Andy DeFreece, Director, Early Childhood and Elementary Education, Millard Public Schools
  • Kim Flanders, Principal, McDonald School
  • Amy Kroll, Director of School Improvement and SPED, Weeping Water Public Schools
  • Megan Schmidt, Principal, Bright Futures/Kearney Public Schools
  • Tiffany Shonerd, Leadership Professor, Doane University
  • James York, P-6 Principal, O’Neill Elementary School

For more information about the NAESP academy, contact NAESP Associate Executive Director, Professional Learning, Gracie Branch, Ph.D., at  

Established in 1921, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) leads in the advocacy and support for elementary and middle-level principals in the United States and internationally. NAESP supports principals as the primary catalysts for creating lasting foundations for learning through policy and professional learning, advocacy, programs, and resources for effective instructional leadership. For more information about NAESP, please visit