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Educators Share Experience That Spans Five Decades

Richard Gottner works with a studentIn the summer of 1974, Richard Gottner arrived at Burke High for orientation. As a first-year teacher at Omaha Public Schools, he recalled walking into a full auditorium. 

“Every slot was taken by new teachers. There had to be more than 600 of us,” said Gottner, who now teaches technology at King Science & Technology Middle. “It’s intriguing to see everybody who was a rookie and then to see the different people today who are still working for our district.”

Gottner’s commitment to Omaha Public Schools spans five decades. When Pinewood Elementary opened, he was one of the first teachers. In 1984, he transitioned to King Science & Technology Middle as a science teacher. 

“He's always looking out for the safety, health and well-being of our kids. After 50 years, he still sees the positive in people,” said Jane Laughlin, King Science & Technology Middle principal. “He’s an old soul who is constantly a source of inspiration and wisdom for me.”

Gottner’s wisdom is welcome advice for first-year teachers like Breanna Stohs at Sunny Slope Elementary.

Stohs started in August 2023 in a kindergarten classroom that she wanted to be a bright and welcoming space for her students. The decorations hanging on the walls represent the joy in her student’s artwork.

“I wanted the students to decorate because it’s their room, too,” said Stohs. “I want them to feel comfortable and take ownership of this space.”

Stohs’ journey with Omaha Public Schools began as a student teacher. Now, she’s preparing to finish her first year as a full-time teacher. She says it hasn’t always been easy, but she knows this is what she was called to do. 

“For many of my students, this is their first academic setting. They’re on their own and making their own decisions,” said Stohs. “I love teaching them self-help skills and seeing them implement them and advocate for themselves.”

Myah Calderon-Ornelas, Stohs’ student, says she was nervous about starting school this year, but her teacher helped her through it. 

“She was my first friend because my favorite color is pink, and her favorite color is pink,” said Calderon-Ornelas. “She’s nice to us, and she taught us how to play Simon Says.”

Stohs attributes her first-year success to the support from her peers, administration and her students’ families.

“As a first-year teacher, Ms. Stohs never misses a beat,” said Maria Roden, Sunny Slope Elementary principal. “She's done an outstanding job. She is like the quintessential kindergarten teacher. She's so calm, compassionate, loving and reflective.”

Though many years of experience separate Stohs and Gottner, they share a common goal. Both are part of a much larger team at Omaha Public Schools, dedicated to student success.

Omaha Public Schools sets aside time each May to recognize the essential work of every employee who serves students in our district. Staff Appreciation Week honors the nearly 9,000 full and part-time employees who contribute to educating more than 52,000 students.