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By Luke Nichols/Daily Sun sports editor 

Diller-Odell's Shane Sutton puts up a shot during a game against Sterling Friday night at Diller-Odell High School

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School Board hires superintendent after 2-hour discussion

The current superintendent of Ord Public Schools will be the next leader of Beatrice Public Schools.

Jason Alexander accepted an offer from the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education to be the superintendent of BPS after a special meeting Saturday.

Alexander will be paid $160,000 annually. Pat Narouth, who is leaving the position as BPS Superintendent after the school year, is currently making $172,000.

Alexander was one of four finalists for the position, in addition to Scottsbluff Public Schools Principal Michael Halley, BPS director of curriculum Jackie Nielsen and Stanton Community Schools Superintendent Michael Sieh.

Following interviews with each candidate, the School Board quickly narrowed its discussion to Nielsen and Alexander.

The debate largely boiled down to experience. Alexander has superintendent experience and has worked with budgets, though at a smaller district.

“That is the only thing that I see Jackie lacking in this arena, experience,” Board member Jon Zimmerman said. “That’s where Jason kind of takes it for me. He has experience as superintendent. What he also brings to this team is he has an extensive knowledge of a budget.”

Baker and Rastovski School Services led the superintendent search. Roy Baker of the firm previously said 17 applications were received for the superintendent position. Seven finalists were presented to the school board for consideration at its last meeting before the remaining finalists were announced.

Baker had also stated that the budgeting aspect of the position is something the right candidate could learn over time, a position board member Doris Martin agreed with, while firmly believing Nielsen was the right choice.

“I would like to remind people that Dr. Baker assured us it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a budget person,” she said. “I believe Jackie Nielsen is as smart as a rocket scientist and could easily pick it up. She has worked with a curriculum budget, a textbook budget, she was instrumental last year in preparing what I refer to as a white notebook plan for the district.”

The board was split with a 3-3 vote for nearly two hours, during which time the board went into closed session twice. Martin, Janet Byars and Nancy Sedlacek favored Nielsen, while Zimmerman, Lisa Pieper and Steve Winter voted for Alexander.

Beginning in January 2019, the board will add a seventh member, preventing future standoffs due to ties.

Some board members also indicated they believed Nielsen would continue working at BPS if Alexander were hired, and the district could get the best of both worlds. It was even discussed that she could be made an assistant superintendent to build experience for a future transition.

Ultimately, Byars changed her vote after it was agreed that the board would discuss central administration office restructuring at its next meeting, though she expressed a desire to hire internally for the position.

“I think it’s really important to show the students of this district that they can be successful at the top level of their field,” she said. “We always talk about who’s coming back to the community, why aren’t they coming back?”

The School Board ultimately voted 4-2 to offer the position to Alexander, after tying 3-3 the first three times a vote was taken.

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Beatrice man creates board game

A Beatrice man is rolling the dice on a board game he invented nearly 30 years ago.

The game is called “Roll-a-Hand,” and creator Larry Halsey hopes his game will bring families away from their phones and into the living room for some quality family time.

“I decided there ought to be a board game that Mom, Dad and the kids can play together,” he said. “Maybe pick a night for a couple hours and have something to play, so I started thinking and I came up with the game. Get the family involved for an hour or two a week. I think they’ll enjoy it.”

What he came up with was a poker-based board game for ages 8 and up. It pairs traditional board games with a twist of poker. Players roll the dice and make their way around the traditional game board. Each square features a different poker hand, and players win play money while also trying to be the first to the finish around the board.

The game comes with a set of rules, but Halsey said they’re meant to be followed loosely, while players tailor the experience to their liking.

“There are rules to the game, but you can change them,” he said. “The players determine the length of the game either by time, points or whatever. At first, I didn’t have play money in it, but then I found out that little kids like to play with play money, so I got somebody to make the play money, if you want to use it.”

If the game sounds familiar, that's because Halsey patented and copyrighted the game in the 1980s and sold it in eastern Nebraska from 1988-1990.

The game was stocked in hospital gift shops, drug stores, liquor stores, salons and other stores in the area.

Halsey said the game was popular back then, but he “put it on the shelf” when he started a business.

He still operates Larry’s Tire and Service at 522 S. Fifth St. in Beatrice, where the game can once again be purchased for $18.95. A friend is helping him set up online sales, where Roll-a-Hand can be purchased for the same price, plus a shipping charge.

Halsey said 29 years after the game first went on sale, he decided to start selling them again after an inquiry from a woman who played it as a child.

“A woman called me up and said she had one 30 years ago,” he recalled. “She called me up and said, ‘Larry, you got two kids who grew up and they’re wanting that game again.’ I just decided in my spare time I would start it up and sell them to people around here and get it on the internet.”

The game is locally produced by printers in Beatrice and a box manufacturer in Lincoln.

Friends suggested that Halsey turn the board game into an online experience where people could play together from all over the world.

Halsey wants no part in that. He runs a family-oriented business, and wants to sell a family-oriented game.

“This is a family store, just like this game,” he said. “I consider them family. I’ve been here 25 years. I’ve got my customers. People come in and hear about me. I’m not a big corporation. I’m just a family store. I like to talk to people. That’s the big difference.”

Scott Koperski /   

Jason Alexander

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Jason Alexander ready to lead BPS

Jason Alexander will bring his superintendent experience to Beatrice Public Schools when he starts in the district next year.

He was one of four finalists interviewed to be the superintendent of BPS following an announcement that Pat Nauroth is retiring next June.

Alexander is the current superintendent of Ord Public Schools in central Nebraska. He was previously an elementary principal. He served as the elementary administrator at Burwell Elementary School and taught sixth grade, in addition to coaching four sports.

The interview process consisted of meetings with the School Board, members of the public, school administration and school staff.

During his interview with the School Board, Alexander said he grew up in Wyoming and is the son of a Wyoming State Patrolman and a banker. He knew from a young age he wanted to be a teacher, and his dad coached him toward that goal.

He graduated from Chadron State College and was previously an elementary principal. He served as the elementary administrator at Burwell Elementary School and taught sixth grade, in addition to coaching four sports.

His resume states he’s helped get student achievement NeSA scores above state averages in every subject. Alexander said he sees those same trends at Beatrice, but said scores aren’t everything.

“The bottom line is those things like the NeSA scores, the ACT scores, they’re all important,” he said. “But the most important thing may not be what those scores represent, but the people who are representing the students that are producing those scores. Your staff is doing an awesome job.”

Coming into Beatrice, Alexander said the two biggest challenges he sees facing the district are the age of some facilities and declining enrollment.

Finding ways to grow the district will be a top priority when he begins as superintendent.

“You’re in a position in Beatrice where this district has the opportunity to grow,” he said. “The potential is there. I think it can and I think what it takes is the marketing campaign that you’ve already started of being amongst the nation’s top schools, and now taking that to a new level locally and regionally, and telling people we are Beatrice Public Schools, and we are moving forward.”

After the district failed to pass a bond to build a new elementary school in Beatrice, retiring the current four outdated schools, Alexander said it’s important getting everyone on the same page regarding the schools' facilities.

“The age of some of those facilities is something you’re going to need to address in the future,” he said. “It’s something that, with the right person in place, getting everybody in the same canoe going down the same river, paddling at the same speed can be done. It won’t be easy, that’s always a challenge.”

Alexander was a final project manager of a 29,000-square-foot addition at Ord. He also led the passage of a $9.8 million bond issue for the school.

The candidates were asked about budget cuts, and how they would go about that process if needed. Alexander said that even though it would mean some tough conversations, talking to the staff is the best place to start.

“I think when you’re making decisions about the district, the people who are going to be impacted in the district the most need to have the opportunity to be part of those decisions,” he said. “As tough as those talks may be, and I’ve been through them, staff will sometimes give you ideas that you haven’t thought of, or solutions that make the process much easier. You have to be willing to talk to them.”

He also discussed the importance of implementing technology in the classroom, including the use of Chromebooks, affordable computers often used in schools.

“Technology in our day and age, we have to use it to prepare our kids,” Alexander said. “Their digital world is going to be through technology. That’s where the jobs are going to be. That’s where the market is going to be for our kids and we have to be on board with it ourselves, whether we like it or not. It’s hugely important for our kids.”

Alexander said the administration and staff should take pride in educating students, who should also strive to do their best.

“We want them to know that when they come here, they’re safe and they’re taken care of, but we also have an expectation of them,” he said. “That is to perform at their best every time they walk through the door.”