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

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

Alexandria, VA—April 29, 2022—The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the Nebraska Department of Education are pleased to announce the second Nebraska cohort to participate in the NAESP Pre-K–3 Leadership Academy®, an award-winning professional learning program that provides principals and other school leaders with a job-embedded experience in developmentally appropriate leadership practices. The program participants were recognized April 12, 2022, during a meeting at Nebraska’s La Vista Educational Service Unit.

“NAESP is proud to once again partner with the Nebraska Department of Education in supporting educators as they boost their leadership skills in order to provide a seamless continuum of learning for students age 3 to age 8,” said NAESP Executive Director L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE. “NAESP congratulates these Nebraska educators. Their pledge to uphold high ethical standards and commitment to ongoing professional development in the practice of Pre-K–3 instructional leadership will inspire those around them and positively impact on the students they lead.”

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 who completed the NAESP Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy have skills that will help them beyond their own school building,” 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–3 Leadership Academy participants, who received their certification as a Pre-K–3 Credentialed Leader:

  • Allyson Bohlen, Principal, Adams Central Early Learning Center
  • Abbey Cron, Principal, Centura Elementary School
  • Chelsea Feusner, PK-5 Director of Education, Kearney Public Schools
  • Meghan Gibilisco, Teacher, Omaha Public Schools
  • Shannon Hall-Schmeckpeper, Special Education Coordinator, Seward Public Schools
  • Sarah Hansen, Assistant SPED Director, Educational Service Unit #1
  • Melissa Jantz, Principal, Little Panthers Preschool
  • Cindy Johnson, Principal, Boyd County Schools
  • Nicole Johnson, Teacher, Gomez-Heritage Elementary School
  • Kelly Klanecky, Principal, Wood River Elementary School
  • Chelsey Klein, Early Childhood Coordinator, York Public Schools
  • Courtney Manzitto, Principal, Millard Public Schools
  • Tracy Naylor, Director, Lexington Public Schools, Early Learning Academy
  • Mary Ellen Osnes, Teacher, Valentine Elementary School
  • Sara Paider, Principal, St. Paul Public Schools
  • Kerra Robinson, Principal, Hastings Public Schools
  • Sarah Sell, Assistant Principal, Crete Elementary School
  • Samantha Wehenkel, Preschool Teacher/Assistant SPED Director, Auburn Public Schools

The leadership academy advisors were:

  • Andy DeFreece, Millard Public Schools
  • Kim Flanders, North Platte Public Schools
  • Jason Hippen, Nebraska City Public Schools
  • Amy Kroll, Auburn Public Schools
  • Tiffany Shonerd, Blue Valley Community Action Head Start

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