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Doane alumna to serve as owner, operator of first Primrose school in Lincoln

Doane alumna to serve as owner, operator of first Primrose school in Lincoln

Betsy Tonniges

Betsy Tonniges ’06 ’09E ’11E practices what she preaches.


In her own words, she is self-described as a “fierce advocate for education.”


She has received four college degrees -- three of them from Doane.


She’s worked at all levels of education, serving as a teacher, principal, and administrator. Now, she’s taking on her biggest challenge yet.


In August of 2019, the first ever Primrose school in Lincoln will open its doors. Tonniges serves as the owner and operator of the private preschool, which stems from a franchised company that has over 375 schools in 29 states, serving more than 54,000 children and families.


Primrose Schools was founded 36 years ago on the core belief that every child represents the promise of a better tomorrow. Primrose provides a premier early education and childcare experience for children and families, emphasizing the importance of early educational development in youth.


Children ranging from birth to five years old are welcome at the school, while children up to age 12 can enroll in before and after school summer care.


Primrose uses proprietary materials for teachers, which have been developed and redeveloped by international experts in their fields. The curriculum that the children first learn as infants cycles through and builds upon until they turn age 5. As Tonniges explains, it’s a “continuum of learning, much like K-5 elementary but this is birth to age 5.”


“Birth through age 5 has been shown through many research studies to be the prime time for learning,” Tonniges said. “I recently saw a study that the average three and four year-old asks 300-400 questions every day. By fostering an environment where they have that discovery but also have explicit instruction, it leads to greater critical thinking, collaboration and conversation with their peers, which sets them up for success when they get to kindergarten when the learning is taken to a different level.”


Julie Kozisek, professor of education at Doane, has gotten to know Betsy well during her time as a student at Doane and believes she will be very successful in her new role.


“She will be able to provide a quality experience and education for young children as she recognizes what young children need,” Kozisek said. “Since she has been both a teacher and an administrator, she understands the roles completely and will be able to help her teachers and staff excel.”


When asked what she thinks about the Primrose concept, Kozisek said it follows the belief and philosophy of the Doane Education Department. Adding, “It has a balanced learning approach where all areas of the curriculum are integrated and focuses on active minds and active involvement. It is an innovative early childhood approach that is very nurturing and research-based.”


Tonniges will have a staff of up to 40 members at the Primrose school, with typically two teachers per classroom.


The new Lincoln location is expected to have capacity for 181 students, and will be located on 27th & Yankee Hill. Construction began in November and it is anticipated to be completed by the end of summer.


In the next few months, Tonniges will continue her part-time role at Lincoln Public Schools as a new teacher program administrator, supporting new teachers and their mentors throughout the district. When she has time to devote to Primrose, she will be efforting to build brand awareness, facilitate parent meetings to educate families what Primrose has to offer, and build a network of families.


Tonniges anticipates hiring a director, education coach, and her staff in the spring. The hope right now is that families will be able to enroll their children around February.


While Primrose will be new to Lincoln, it is not new to Nebraska. There are currently three Primrose schools in Omaha: Primrose School at Falling Waters, Primrose School of Legacy, and Primrose School of La Vista. In addition, the President of Primrose Schools, Steve Clemente, is originally from Lincoln.


Tonniges had visited Primrose schools before, but it wasn’t until a meeting she attended with the Lincoln Early Childhood Network two years ago that sparked the idea for her to pursue the possibility of bringing a Primrose school to Lincoln.


“At that meeting over 50 community members discussed challenges our city faces regarding early childhood education,” Tonniges said. “We have a rapid growing city and don’t have enough education centers to keep up with the growth. There are kids on waitlists across the city, there is a need here.”


That need will partially be addressed when Primrose opens this fall, marking the beginning of a new chapter in education in Lincoln.


“I look forward to laughter in the hallways and learning in the classroom,” Tonniges said. “There’s a different sense of community at Primrose. If we can make a greater impact on children in Lincoln, that makes my heart happy.”


For more information on Primrose Schools, visit their website at