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GIPS announces new principal hires

Grand Island Public Schools has hired eight more principals to fill vacancies across the district. The positions include elementary, middle and high school principal and assistant principals.

“We are encouraged by the quality of candidates GIPS is attracting for our leadership positions,” said Dr. Tawana Grover, GIPS superintendent. “To be able to bring in high-quality principals from other districts and also promote leaders from within GIPS says a lot about the exciting direction the district is going.”

Among the hires, two are part of the inaugural year of the GIPS Teacher Leaders Coalition, which launched this year to provide additional leadership training for staff looking to move out of the classroom into administration positions.

Grand Island Senior High

Three positions were hired at Grand Island Senior High, with one more position still to be filled. When the Academies of Grand Island Senior High start, each of the six academies will have a principal, along with the head principal, an assistant principal for student services, an activities director and an academy partnership liaison. Previously GISH has had a head principal, four assistant principals and an activities director.

Greg Morrow, a current assistant principal, has been selected as the assistant principal for student services. This position serves as the overall high school assistant principal.

Fawn Gernstein and Matt Wichman have been hired as academy principals. Gernstein will be the Academy of Business and Communication principal and Wichman will be the Academy of Engineering and Technology principal. They join Dr. Maggie Mintken, Academy of Freshman Exploration principal; Ron Hester, Academy of Education, Law & Environment principal; Daniel Phillips, Academy of Technical Sciences principal; and Greg Schlegel, Academy of Medical Sciences principal. Jeff Gilbertson remains the head principal and Cindy Wells remains the activities director.

Gernstein is currently the instructional coach at Grand Island Senior High. She has been with GIPS as a teacher and learning facilitator for 13 years.

“The academy model will work because we have teacher leaders in place who are passionate about creating personalized learning pathways for every student in Grand Island Senior High,” Gernstein said. “Coupled with my experiences serving on the school improvement team, professional learning task force and the Academies of Grand Island Senior High Executive Leadership board, my experience as an instructional coach has allowed me to advocate for what is best for students.”

Wichman comes to GISH from Omaha Benson, where he is the Magnet Coordinator. He lead the transition of Benson from a traditional comprehensive high school to a wall-to-wall career academy building, working with teachers to enhance their instruction to improve outcomes for students as well as begin the process of contextualizing academic courses.

“GISH’s transition to career academies is the most exciting aspect for me,” Wichman said. “Career Academies are something I am extremely interested in and believe provide the best opportunities to students. I am also thrilled to continue to grow as an education leader and take on new challenges. As a GISH Class of 1999 graduate this is an opportunity to return home. As GISH transitions to the block schedule, I have experienced that as a classroom teacher and more recently have supported teachers in providing rigorous, relevant and engaging lessons to students in a 90 minute period.”

Grover said Wichman wasn’t alone in taking note of the academies.

“The Academies of Grand Island Senior High are not only going to be a game changer for our students, they are helping us attract top-notch staff to the district,” Grover said. “Each of the candidates for these positions talked about how the academies played a part in them wanting to join GIPS.”

Middle schools

Two assistant principals have been hired for the GIPS middle schools: Melissa Beberniss at Barr Middle School and Kayla Wichman at Westridge Middle School.

“We are proud to promote a strong teacher internally and bring in an accomplished professional educator from another Nebraska district to fill these assistant principal positions,” Grover said.

Josue Covarrubias has already been announced as the Barr principal, replacing Brian Kort, who was named GIPS recruitment and retention coordinator in January.

Beberniss takes over for Tim Hekrdle, who has been named superintendent for Nebraska Christian Schools. Beberniss has been in the role on an interim basis while Hekrdle has been the interim principal.

Wichman takes over for Sara Koehler at Westridge. Wichman is currently the dean of students at Nathan Hale Magnet Middle School. She has previously served as a classroom teacher and magnet facilitator at the school. Matt Wichman, the new academy principal listed above, is her husband.


Two GIPS elementary principal vacancies and one assistant principal have been filled.

Nate Balcom has been named Newell Elementary principal. He takes over for Andrew Rinaldi, who has accepted the principal position at Gretna Elementary. Balcom has been the integration specialist at Starr Elementary for four years and has been with GIPS for a total of 14 years.

“I am both excited and humbled to become Newell's next principal and build upon the traditions and excellence that make Newell thrive,” Balcom said.

James Tews has been named Wasmer Elementary principal. He takes over for Tina Godfrey, who has accepted a principal position with Gibbon Public Schools.

Tews comes to GIPS from Broward County Public Schools in Winter Park, Florida, where he is finishing his second year as assistant principal at a large elementary school. He has previously served as a classroom teacher and dean of students at both the elementary and middle school levels. Before getting into education, he served in the Air Force and was in management at Delta Airlines.

Tews is currently working on his doctorate through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Angie Eberle has been named the assistant principal at Dodge. She is currently an instructional coach at West Lawn Elementary and a GIPS special education reading coach.

In addition to her current role, Eberle has been with GIPS as a developmental learning program and special education teacher since 1998. She is taking over for Leasa Hedrick.

“This is a great opportunity for GIPS to grow our overall leadership team with new principals,” said Dr. Toni Palmer, GIPS Chief Leadership and Development Officer. “By adding in a mix of internal and external professionals, the experiences and expertise they bring will expand our abilities as a district in our efforts to help all students thrive.”