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Witte wins prestigious educational award

KEARNEY – Kevin Witte doesn’t expect an award to change him.

His aspirations are no different.

Nor is his approach to teaching.

Sure, winning a prestigious Milken Educator Award and the $25,000 that goes with it could be seen as the apex of his 14-year career at Kearney High School.

But Witte ’00, ’02E treats the award, given annually to up-and-coming primary and secondary educators, as a push to continue the way of teaching he learned at the college of doing what you love: Doane.

“I’m still incredibly committed to what I do in the classroom,” said Witte, a few weeks removed from winning the award. “My whole approach to things is to get out and explore the world.”

That worldly attitude is part of why the Kearney native was honored in the first place.

Witte went straight from graduation at Doane to KHS in 2000 and teaches Advanced Placement World History, International Wealth and Poverty, world geography and human geography.

He has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, including a trip to Istanbul this year as part of a summer institute for middle- and high-school teachers funded by the National Endowment for Humanities. He has a blog, “Voyages of a Sojourner,” that chronicles his international exploits and trips.

Witte translates all of those life experiences to the classroom.

“I really feel like my goal here is to bring the world to my students,” Witte said, “and Doane played a huge role in unlocking that in me.”

In a Nov. 26 assembly at Kearney High School, Milken Family Foundation Senior Vice President Jane Foley, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and First Lady Sally Ganem joined state dignitaries to speak on the importance of education. Or so Witte was told.

It soon turned into a surprise award ceremony with Heineman announcing the Doane alumnus as Nebraska’s 2013-14 Milken Educator Award recipient and one of 21 teachers across the country to receive an award in their respective state this year.

“Education is a top priority in our state. Education is the great equalizer,” Heineman said at the assembly. “And the way we do that is with great teachers, great principals, great superintendents, great school boards, great support staff, and that’s what you have here in Kearney. Kevin symbolizes that entire staff.”

Witte worked his way to a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies Secondary Education and played basketball during his four years in Crete. Since then, while teaching at Kearney High, he has earned a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane and a Masters of Arts in History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

He said his experience in Doane’s education program prepared him for excellence – the kind that has become a hallmark of Milken Educator Award recipients.

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“I felt like my transition (into teaching) was very smooth because the things that we had done, the way that Doane places you in the classroom very early, the way that Doane has you doing meaningful things in the classroom very early … I was ready as I could be starting at Kearney High,” Witte said.

Maybe that’s why, just like stepping into his career, he’s taken the surprise of receiving a national award and giant check just a few weeks ago in stride.

That notion is due in part to his perception that there is still work to do.

“As far as this recognition, it definitely opens up the door to other projects and other ways that I can expand global education statewide,” Witte said.

It includes his involvement in the Malaika Foundation, a Nebraska group that aims for increased global education.

It could mean more traveling and more fellowships abroad.

But it all comes back to the heart of things: the classroom.

“The most important part of this recognition comes from getting to work with you young people,” Witte said after accepting the award.

Check out photos of Witte’s award ceremony here.