Schuyler Mayor David Reinecke has selected Barbara Raya to fill the vacant Ward 1 city council seat.
The seat was held by Ed Korth until he moved out of the ward. Korth replaced Ted Marxsen in January after Marxsen moved to Lincoln.
Raya grew up in Mexico and moved to Schuyler with her family 19 years ago when she was a junior in high school. She settled in the community, giving birth to her first child and buying a house here in 2002.
Since then she’s had another child, taught at Head Start and now is starting her first year of teaching at Schuyler Preschool. Before she was a teacher, Raya was very involved in her children’s education.
“Anything the school hosts I’m there to support them,” she said. “I’m thinking about my kids. If they see their mom as someone who is involved in their community, involved in their education, in whatever they do, they will do that too in the future.”
Raya became involved in Comite Latino about two years ago when she saw how the group was engaging the community and getting Latinos registered to vote.
“I started seeing some of the accomplishments that they had achieved, so I wanted to be part of that change," she said.
Reinecke got to know Raya through Comite Latino.
“She’s an up-and-coming young person in Schuyler,” he said.
Raya will be the first Latina to join the city council, but hopes she won’t be the last.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s a learning experience and I think it’ll set an example, and hopefully some other female Latinas will be inspired to do the same.”
Schuyler City Council was expected to vote Tuesday on her nomination.
Inside Schuyler Elementary School's kindergarten classrooms, it was hard to tell who was more nervous, the parents or children who were walking into their first day of school on Aug. 10.
Like every year, there was some emotion on the big day, but nothing too crazy.
"No criers and no runners," teacher Sheila Hoppe said of her classroom.
Mostly children sat quietly, coloring or playing with Legos, while their teachers got everyone settled. Teacher Emily Pishny said it's pretty typical for kids to stay in their shells on the first day.
"Everyone is nervous," she said. "But it's fun to see everyone's personalities come out as the day goes along."
She said the first couple days will be spent getting to know each other and teaching them about school.
"That's going to be the main thing is how to be in school," she said.
Schuyler Elementary School K-2 Principal Darin Kovar was outside directing traffic as parents parked and walked their kids inside for their first day of class.
"It's controlled chaos," he said.
So far, 134 kindergartners are registered, putting total school enrollment at 785. That is lower than previous years, when Kovar said the school almost reached 900 students.
"That works nicely with our goal of less than 20 (students) per class," he said.
Every Schuyler Community Schools building started with a half-day on Aug. 10.
Schuyler Middle School Principal Michelle Burton said enrollment there is approximately 400 students, which is in line with previous years.
"It’s been wonderful," she said about the first day. "The kids were eager to come and the teachers were excited to see them."
Schuyler Central High School Vice Principal Jim Kasik said that building's enrollment is a little more than 600 students, an expected increase given the large freshman class.
"With us starting early this year we expect that number to continue to grow," he said.
The high school's new wing, which includes six classrooms and a music room, is still under construction and will open Oct. 10.
"We’re looking forward to having a great year," Kasik said.
In addition to starting a new school year last week, Schuyler Community Schools launched its new website and an app for tablets and smartphones.
Jeff Droge, the district's information technology director, described the app as a "one-stop shop" for parents where they can check their child’s attendance and grades, contact teachers and add money to a meal account.
“We know a lot of our parents don’t have high-speed internet at home, but most of them have smartphones,” said Droge. “We’re excited about the potential that the app has and what we have already seen in the two days that it’s been live.”
In a presentation during Monday night's school board meeting, Superintendent Dan Hoesing noted that the app facilitates two-way communication with the community. The app features staff emails and a tip line people can use to anonymously report bullying and other issues. Droge’s team receives the tips and forwards them to school officials.
“It provides a means for someone to easily inform us of something they feel needs to be brought to our attention,” Droge said.
The app was designed with both parents and the Schuyler community in mind.
“Anyone who wants to know what’s going on at Schuyler Community Schools," Droge said.
Users can select which schools they want to follow with information shared in multiple languages. The district can also send out notifications.
Within 48 hours of its launch, 300 people had already downloaded the app, which is available for Apple and Android devices.
To facilitate the app, the district also moved its website to Blackboard so the two would be on the same platform.
Hoesing commended Droge and his team for the work they did this summer to move everything to the new website.
The Colfax County Board of Commissioners voted last week to allocate the same amount of funding as last year, $27,500, for the Colfax County Library Association, denying a request for an increase to $32,000.
Last year the association that includes libraries in Schuyler, Leigh, Clarkson and Howells also asked for $32,000 — a $7,000 increase from the previous year — but was approved for $27,500 for 2016-17.
Schuyler Public Library Director MeMe Smith said the association voted to request $32,000 again this year because the group felt the $27,500 in annual funding isn't adequate.
“As expenses go up for everything every year, of course we were looking for another increase,” Smith said.
Schuyler Public Library receives half of the association's funds, which would have been an additional $2,250 had the commissioners approved the increase.
Smith said the plan was to improve digital services for patrons with that money.
“We’re going to be moving into a new facility, so of course we’re wanting to upgrade, not just the building and the physical aspects of the building but our resources as well,” she said.
Commissioner Gil Wigington voted against providing funding for the library association for 2017-18, saying he views the county contribution as double taxation on residents in those communities since the municipalities also provide financial assistance for libraries.
Howells Public Library Director Victoria Vacha takes issue with the idea that towns should be solely responsible for funding libraries.
“I think (Wigington) needs to review what the library does for the community,” Vacha said.
The Howells, Leigh and Clarkson libraries would have received an additional $750 each had the commissioners approved the $32,000 request.
“We could have initiated more community involvement with our library in terms of more programs being offered,” said Vacha. “I think we are the forgotten part of the county.”