This fall, the first of two new high schools in Lincoln will open, the culmination of a process that begin five years ago.
Lincoln Northwest High School will open on Aug. 15 near Northwest 48th and Holdrege streets. Standing Bear High School will open a year later in the opposite end of town — near South 70th Street and Saltillo Road.
Conversations about opening up two new high schools go back as far as 2017. A committee of 75 people was tasked with gathering information and fostering discussion in the community about the state of Lincoln’s high schools. The proposed high schools were included in a February 2020 bond issue, which was approved by 62 percent of Lincoln voters. Lincoln Public Schools then worked with Lincoln city planners to determine the schools’ locations.
Keeping the residents of Lincoln in mind is important to LPS, said Bob Rauner, LPS board member and former co-chair of the LPS high school task force. Residents are a huge part of certain school board decisions, including this one, he said.
“Anything anybody’s gonna bring up, it’s already been brought up in two rounds of meeting,” Rauner said. “People had the opportunity to ask those questions, they had the opportunity to have the maps, we had public presentations.”
One of the biggest factors that went into the decision was the current overcrowding of current Lincoln high schools. LPS board member Barbara Baier said existing Lincoln’s high schools were operating at 106% capacity during the 2017-2018 school year and growth at one point had increased by 1,000 students per year.
While the pandemic somewhat slowed that influx of new students, Lincoln Northwest and Standing Bear can accommodate any future growth, Baier said. While the schools each will begin with about 1,000 students, the schools and staff are prepared to serve as many as 2,000, she said.
In addition to being asked to approve the bond issue, Lincoln residents also were asked to provide input on the new schools’ names.
“Lincoln Northwest” was among a pool of nearly 150 names, which eventually got narrowed down to between three and five. Ultimately, the community of northwest Lincoln liked the directional name the best, as they felt proud of their area, Baier, said.
Standing Bear was chosen to honor Chief Standing Bear, a prominent Ponca Tribe member from Niobrara. He was the subject of a federal court case that ultimately recognized Native Americans as human beings. Standing Bear High School is the first Lincoln school to be named after a Native American.
“We had a good, good talk with the head of the Ponca tribe,” Rauner said. “The more we talked about it, the more excited he got about it, because he could see the opportunities.”
The high schools will have the same resources, technology and extracurriculars as the other LPS high schools, Baier said.
“It’s such an ethic, being ‘one city, one school district,’ that we believe in equity, in technology, in infrastructure, in programming,” she said. “So all high schools have state-of-the-art audio, visual, access to the internet, all of that. All of our high schools have swimming pools, all of our high schools have basketball courts, all of our high schools have practice fields. You name it.”
For athletics, both schools will start in Class B and offer the full range of state-sanctioned sports. Most other Lincoln high schools compete in Class A, and both Baier and Rauner expect that Lincoln Northwest and Standing Bear will reach that level soon.
New high schools mean new traditions and pride. Because Lincoln Northwest will begin its inaugural year without a senior class, with the chance of Standing Bear doing the same, the younger students will help establish the schools’ cultures and values.
“Whenever something’s new, it has to create its own traditions and its own footprint. And so that’s a process that’s happening with our beginning freshmen class, which is a very strong showing,” Baier said. “We anticipate that the school will be full probably by the fourth year.”
More information about Lincoln Northwest can be found on its website. Standing Bear does not have a dedicated web page yet, but more information will be released closer to its opening.