A History of Westside Community Schools (District 66)
In 1946, residents living on the western edge of Omaha sought a way to maintain quality education in their rural schools. The Boards of Education of Districts 19, 31, 46 and 65 met to decide whether combining resources would better address individual differences in children. After careful study, a committee of experts proposed a merger of the four districts into one. This group suggested that the districts use existing school facilities for students in grades K through 6. The committee also suggested that a new high school be designed and built with the specific developmental and academic needs of students in mind.
A series of joint meetings during the winter culminated in the merger of districts 31, 46 and 65 to form District 66 in March 1947 (District 19 chose not to join). The first three schools in the new District were Oakdale, Underwood Hills and Loveland.
The junior-senior high school opened its doors in 1952. The school was built on farmland near 87th and Pacific Street. The current high school still sits on that site today. District 66 named the school Westside after West Side Story, a popular musical at the time. The new name also served to unify the three former districts when District 66 became known as the Westside Community Schools.
Excellence and Innovation
Leaders and community members determined that District 66 would be guided by high principles of excellence, innovation, and community. For more than sixty years, Westside Community Schools has used those principles to realize its mission “to meet the unique needs of all learners.”
Westside Community Schools is a district of “firsts” and has a reputation for sparking innovative ideas. It is the home to Nebraska’s first special education program and was the first to receive national recognition for its full-inclusion approach for students with special needs. It was the first in the state to implement full-day kindergarten and pre-school programs in elementary schools. In 2004, Westside was among the first in the country to provide all high school students with a laptop computer, and in 2008, the program was expanded to include eighth-grade students. Westside became a fully 1-to-1 school district during the 2014-15 school year with the rollout of iPads for every elementary school student and laptops for seventh-graders.
Westside’s approach to staff compensation is also distinctive. Merit pay for teachers has been a part of the compensation system since 1971, and a program of differentiated staffing provides extended contracts beyond the school year to many teachers. The District pays tuition costs for graduate work and requires that all teachers earn a master’s degree within the first ten years of employment.
A District of Community
Community is the heart of District 66. Ten neighborhood elementary schools, one middle school and one high school serve more than 6,000 learners, many of them second- and third-generation Westside students. Westside also has a large number of option and open enrollment students (students who live outside district boundaries). Parents of those students are drawn to the district by its reputation for excellence and innovation as well as by its small-town, close-knit feel. The District has highly active parent organizations at every school and benefits from the support and involvement of the Westside Foundation and Westside Alumni Association.
Students at the Heart
Westside Community School District offers a highly regarded early childhood education program. The first early childhood center opened in 1968. By 1986, Westside’s program was declared one of twelve exemplary programs in the nation. Today the District’s elementary schools house two toddler programs, six half-day pre-school programs, and two full-day, five-day-a-week pre-kindergarten programs for four-year-olds.
The District’s K-6 program provides students with challenging, stimulating curriculum presented in enriched learning environments. Content standards in all curricular areas guide instruction and assessment. Students develop strong skills in math, language arts, science and social studies and receive weekly instruction in Spanish, music, art, and physical education. Technology integration is part of daily life in Westside’s elementary schools.
Westside Middle School, designated as a Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education in 1997, provides the District’s seventh- and eighth-graders with an exceptional core curriculum and robust electives, including up to two full years of German, French or Spanish. (Accordion here.) Team teaching, hands-on learning, and technology integration are emphasized by staff focused on meeting the academic, social, emotional and physical needs of early adolescents. Accelerated courses, gifted programming, and full-inclusion special education services support the success of all students. A rich extracurricular program gets all students involved in a variety of sports, arts, and personal interest club activities.
Westside High School is home to one of the premiere college preparatory programs in the nation as evidenced by Blue Ribbon School awards in 1984 and 1996. (Accordion here) Westside High School’s unique modular schedule helps students develop as independent learners and allows students to enroll in an additional semester of courses over the course of a four-year program. Technology integration is extensive. Educators from across the U.S. and from foreign countries visit Westside’s model program of computer integration in instruction. Rigorous graduation requirements include demonstrations of proficiency in “Exit Outcomes.” In addition, all students must meet an 80-hour community service requirement and complete a senior project.
Approximately one-third of all graduates earn a commended diploma. A strong list of AP and dual enrollment courses help prepare approximately 85 percent of each class to attend college. A full complement of competitive sports, activities, and clubs engage students in school life and encourage leadership and personal development.
Students and teachers frequently receive local, state and national awards, and at all grade levels Westside students’ scores are among the highest on state and national measures of achievement. Parent, student, and community opinion survey data show high levels of satisfaction with the school district and its programming. Westside’s rich history and continued commitment to excellence, innovation, and community provide the foundation for our students to be internationally competitive.