Outgoing Board of Education Member Reflects on Changing Education Environment

May 9, 2022, 11 a.m. ·

Nebraska Department of Education meeting
Nebraska Department of Education board member Maureen Nickels and Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt at public hearing on proposed health standards in Kearney. (Photo from web stream)

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Nebraskans will be selecting district representatives for four seats on the state's Board of Education in the 2022 primary. District 6's Maureen Nickels is choosing to not run again. She represents counties ranging from northeast to central Nebraska, including the city of Grand Island. Nebraska Public Media News' Jackie Ourada spoke with Nickels ahead of her exit from the board.

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Maureen Nickels, District 6 representative on the Nebraska Board of Education. (Photo courtesy of the Board.)

Jackie Ourada: Maureen, there are a lot of people bringing attention to these school board elections in Nebraska. 

Maureen Nickels: Yeah, we were... I always said we were the low man on the totem pole when it came to the constitutional officers elected in the state. But now everybody knows who we are and I think that's a good thing. I'm, I'm great with it. I'm great with it. 

Ourada: I wanted to ask you more about what's behind your decision to not seek another term.

Nickels: I'm all about, I am a believer in fresh blood, Jackie. And I said from the very get-go of my second term, this will be my last term. I will not be seeking a third term. And I've stuck with that. It's not because any of the political discourse that's taken place on the board, none of that has nothing to do with that. It is I have stayed true to my word on two terms, and that would be it. I stand behind my thinking.

Ourada: I've listened in on some board of education meetings the past few months. A good chunk of the open meeting is dedicated to public comment. What's it been like seeing the change from pretty quiet meetings just a few years ago to the turnout and the reactions now?

Nickels: I'm always open to listening to whatever constituents have to save across the state. That is my most important role during public comment time is to listen. It doesn't mean I always agree. I try to remain neutral on everything. I work with remaining neutral, but listening to what they have to say, was upsetting to me often becomes the way in which we are treated during public comment. There have been threats there has been yelling there has been screaming we've been called Nazis. Marxists. None of us are any of those type of individuals. We all care about doing what is best for kids and, and when I say about the audience is whoever attends is they care about their kids, just like I do. So we do have a lot of common ground. They care about their kids, they... they care about what's being taught, and I'm listening to all of that. And then it's often difficult when it gets loud. And what I call uncivil. That's the hard part. 

Ourada: With all of this in consideration and your district now being wide open for new representation, what advice do you have for the two people running for your seat?

Nickels: Well, my advice is to, again, your focus needs to be on what is best for kids. And oftentimes that means compromise. You may think entirely different, but you're only one voice out of eight, you're only one vote of eight people. So it's important for me that board members learn that quickly and not to have a political agenda to be there for kids. Our political opinion gets in the way of doing what is right for kids and all kids.

Ourada: Thank you Maureen for being here and giving us some insight. 

Maureen Nickels currently represents district six on the State Board of Education. The district is one of four seats up for election with candidates Sherry Jones and Danielle Helzer running for the seat. District 5, District 7 and District 8 are also up this year with incumbents in those seats running again. You can see all of those candidates listed on the secretary of state's website.