Today, Millard Public Schools is the third largest school district in Nebraska. The district’s thirty-five schools welcome more than 23,000 students each day. But for more than a hundred years, Millard was one school surrounded by a vast prairie. Learn more about our history below.
From the beginning, the Millard Public School District has been governed by a board of education. In the early years, all voting members of the school district were invited to an annual meeting where the year's budget and tax rate were set. In 1959, the school district was no longer considered rural, and a reclassification allowed the board of education to set its budget and elect its own officers. The general operating officer was the superintendent who, in the early years, also served as a part-time teacher and was often a coach.
Superintendents included: R.W. Stickney (1942-1946), Harold Hultman (1946-1948), Ray Jenkins (1948-1953), Richard Riggs Todd (1954-1955), Don Stroh (1955-1989), Ron Witt (1989-1995), Keith Lutz (1995-2013) and Jim Sutfin (2013-present). Earlier records were destroyed in 1930 when a fire burned down the school made of wood.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the seven staff members could individually negotiate their salaries with the school board. The amount depended on whether or not the teacher had earned a college degree, and female and elementary teachers tended to earn less than the rest of the staff. According to the records from 1950, the average salaries ranged from $261 for women to $477 for men. The Superintendent also taught a few classes. The first benefit allowed teachers to take three days of sick leave per year. During this time, the secondary level courses included English, math, science, social studies, and business. Millard was regarded as a leader in some ways as the elementary curriculum included a reading program in kindergarten, which was unusual for the time.
Extra-curricular activities included baseball, basketball, and football for boys and Pep Club for girls. At a school board meeting in 1950, the minutes recorded that the board voted to stop the use of the school auditorium for dances because "the Rural County Teenage Dances are out of hand." During this time, the budget and tax rate were set through a vote of the community; however, no participation on the part of women can be found in the official records during 1946-1955. The bus program started in 1958 with the purchase of two school buses. Also during that year, the first Parent Teacher Organization was started.
Millard remained a small but thriving town with a population of about 400 until the late 1950s. The town was governed by a Town Board until 1960 when Millard became a second class city. Harry Andersen was elected the first and only Mayor. He held the post until Omaha annexed Millard in 1971.
Millard was named for Ezra Millard (1833-1886). The Millard's came to North America in the early 1700s. Isaiah K., a third generation of Millard's in America, married Elizabeth Hopkins, a daughter of the Rhode Island governor. They moved to Hamilton, Canada in the 1830s where Ezra and Joseph were born. The family moved to Iowa in 1850. Ezra married Anna Clark Williams, niece of Willard Barrows, a wealthy man from Davenport, Iowa. Ezra, Joseph and Willard formed a land company and crossed the prairie in a covered wagon to arrive in Omaha in the summer of 1856.
In 1870, Ezra platted Millard, a mostly uninhabited prairie 12 miles southwest of the city. He also left a legacy by establishing the Omaha National Bank, Omaha Library Association, Omaha School for the Deaf, and Omaha's first public high school. He served as the twelfth mayor of Omaha and was a member of the Territorial Legislature. In 1988, Ezra Millard Elementary School was built and named in his honor.
Millard's first owner was Seth Billington, a sergeant in the Massachusetts militia during the war with the British. In recognition of his faithful service, Billington received land west of Omaha under the 1855 Bounty Act. No evidence exists that he ever came to the area. According to the “History Of Nebraska” published in 1882, the first settlers in Millard were the Stevens family. In 1855, George Stevens, his wife Mary and brother Cyrus acquired the 320 acres although it isn't recorded how they took the title. In September of 1856, Dr. Harvey Link of New Albany, Indiana purchased 320 acres for $300 near present-day 144th and F Streets. Dr. Link was a descendent of an old southern family from Virginia. He was a pioneer, physician and surgeon, member of the Nebraska territorial legislature and president of the Nebraska State Medical Association. The timing of Millard’s first settlers was brutal as “the winter of 1856-57 was one of unparalleled severity.” They reported 60-foot snow drifts and weather so cold the mercury in their thermometers froze. In the spring of 1856, Peter Glandt and his family homesteaded 2.5 miles north of Dr. Link. Two years later, Halsey Hall, John Hollenback, German Adsit and Henry Kursten settled in the area. Others were attracted after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862, allowing people to claim 160 acres of undeveloped federal land by building a home and cultivating the ground.
Millard first settlers arrived after making a difficult journey by horse and buggy. The town’s future was secured when the original route of the Transcontinental Railroad came right through what was to become the main business area of Millard. Union Pacific initiated mainline service in 1865, two years before Nebraska was granted statehood and three years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act. In a history of Nebraska published in 1882, Millard is described as: "A station on the Union Pacific road, twenty-one miles from Omaha by rail, but eleven miles as the swallows fly." In 1908, the Lane Cutoff created an 11.6 mile short-cut connecting Omaha and Millard. Fifty years later, the location of Interstate 80 was influenced by the Cutoff. Access to transportation was the key to Millard's development.
In 1871, George Stevens sold the town to E.A. Perley, who sold it the same year to Ezra Millard. Millard began bringing in businesses in 1872. When the town was platted in 1873, the streets were laid out parallel to the railroad tracks as they angled through the area in contrast to the east-west orientation of most towns. Today, most of the tracks have been removed so the slanting streets appear arbitrary -- an unexplained oddity. The access to the railroad was the key to the town's survival during a time when many other small towns failed.
Most buildings at the time were constructed with wood, and in 1883 William von Dohren founded the lumber company that would become Millard Lumber Inc. The first house built in town was that of farmer Henry Kelsey, who later served as a Justice of the Peace. The first village board met on Sept. 26, 1885, and Millard, Nebraska was officially incorporated. The first board of trustees included Christ Kaelber, John Lempke, Charles Stetzner, Henry Lomans and Julius Schroeder. The first official population count was 328 in 1890, and an ordinance established Millard as a self-supporting community with a church, bank, two grain elevators, three hotels, two blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, a brick factory, lumber yard, cigar factory, two saloons and several other businesses.
Even before there was a town of Millard, records show the first school was established in 1868 with George Potwin as teacher and six pupils. They met in various buildings on Dr. Harvey Link's farm near present-day 144th and F Streets). In 1876, a one-room school was built and furnished for $2,700. It was located opposite of the train depot. One teacher taught 30 students. The school board was composed of Christian Kaelber, a grain and lumber dealer, Samuel Cottner, owner of grain elevators, and Dr. Harvey Link, the town's first doctor.
In 1884, a new two-story school with a cupola was erected at what is now 132nd and Millard Avenue. The school consisted of grades one through ten. The Millard Courier newspaper listed the faculty for the 1914-15 school year as Miss Cronk, Miss Paine, Miss Softley and T.C. Grogan who taught the upper grades and served as principal.
By 1913, the population of Millard had reached 315 and grew to 350 in the 1930s. The school, which was constructed with wood, was destroyed by fire in 1930 after serving students for 46 years. A new brick school was built on the same site and opened in 1932. The new building was named Central and served as Millard's only school until 1960, when the present Central Middle School was opened. In 1936, classes were extended through the 12th grade. Previously, students who wanted a high school diploma usually completed their education at Omaha South High School. In 1938, Millard graduated its first senior class. The old brick building still remains on Millard Avenue, but was sold in 2010 and no longer serves as a public school.
One-room schools used to dot the countryside outside of the four square miles encompassing the town of Millard. Most are no longer in existence, but Sunnyslope School in the former J-2 District still stands on the northeast corner of 192nd and Harrison Streets. The other rural schools that eventually consolidated with the Millard School District were #45 Willowdale at 168th and Q Streets (#45 merged with #36 in 1950), #39 Lane at 140th and Center Streets, #18 Bloomfield at 108th and Q Streets, #25 Pleasant Hill at 156th and West Dodge Streets, #12 Spring Grove at 222nd and F Streets, and #25 Chalco in Sarpy County. In 1957-59, Millard Superintendent Don Stroh led a successful effort to consolidate with these seven rural districts to form the present size of 35 square miles in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
In 1957-59, the original school district which was confined to about four square miles surrounding the town of Millard expanded its boundaries through a merger with seven rural districts to reach its present size of 35 square miles in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
The driving force for this consolidation was the opening in 1958 of the Western Electric plant, just north of the original town. Rapid population growth soon followed when the interstate highway connected Millard with the heart of Omaha in 1962. The interstate highway brought suburban living into the Millard area. Almost immediately, an architect was hired to plan a new junior-senior high school. On Tuesday, October 28, 1958, voters passed the first bond issue which allocated $750,000 to build the new secondary building. The vote marked the first of 13 successful bond issues passed by the Millard community. In 1960, 22 teachers served 420 students. By 1965, 88 teachers served 1,877 students. By 1970, 223 teachers served 4,576 students. During the 1960s, Millard was the fastest growing community in Nebraska. The population grew by 635 percent from 1960 to 1970 and the student enrollment increased by 975 percent.
During this period, Millard Public Schools erected eight schools: Millard Jr./Sr. High - now Central Middle School, 1960; Bryan, 1963; Norris and Cody, 1964; Sandoz, 1967; Cather, 1968; Millard High School - now Millard South High School and Hitchcock, 1970. Schools could not be built fast enough for the growing enrollment, so homes occasionally were bought for use as classrooms. Homes as well as portables continued to be used throughout the district's history to meet the rapidly growing enrollment. The hot lunch program was introduced in 1960, and students paid 30 cents for a meal. Also in 1960, schools were reorganized so that the elementary consisted of grades kindergarten through sixth grade -- prior to that, students from kindergarten through the eighth grade attended the elementary school. In 1960, the opening of the new secondary school, serving grades 7-12, brought about an expanded educational program. New courses included industrial arts, physical education, business, music, drivers education, and physics. Home economics had been added in 1957. Summer school programs started in 1956.
In 1962, administrators began developing a new and growing special education program. In 1969, the first request was made for a computer. The opening of the new high school in 1970 allowed the district to split secondary students as seventh through ninth graders in the junior high and tenth through twelfth graders in the high school. By the late 1960s, the Nebraska State Department of Education was awarding Millard Public Schools a double A rating, for offering programs well above the general level of fully accredited schools -- an accreditation that remains today.
The population of the city of Millard grew by 635.7 percent from 1960 to 1970 -- setting a record for growth in Nebraska. Millard now ranked as the 15th largest city in the state. The census showed 1,014 residents in 1960 growing to 7,460 in 1970. Omaha sought to annex Millard in 1967. A long court battle ensued and went all the way to the United States Supreme Court which refused to consider the case. In 1971, Millard was annexed by Omaha. There also were attempts through both the state legislature and the court system to annex Millard into the Omaha Public Schools, but the Millard School District remained an independent unit.
Following annexation, Millard's street names were changed to coincide with streets in the city of Omaha. Diagonally-oriented streets in the oldest part of Millard were renamed to honor Millard's pioneers: Andresen Street for Charles Andresen, operator of the first general store, Link Street for Dr. Harvey Link, the first doctor, Stevens Street for George and Cyrus Stevens, the first settlers, Cottner Street for Samuel Cottner, owner of the first grain elevators, Potwin Street for George Potwin, the first school teacher, Riggs Street for James Riggs, founder and publisher of the Millard Courier, the first newspaper, Welch Street for H.A. Welch, the village clerk from 1899 to 1916.
By 1971, the school district had become the ninth largest in the state, and by 1978, it was the third largest. In a newspaper interview during this time, Superintendent Don Stroh discussed the challenges of sustained rapid growth. He emphasized the need to be flexible in construction of school buildings such as using movable walls and placing utilities in the ceilings for possible changes. Even available space in shopping malls was used as temporary sites until buildings were ready for students. In 1978, to ease overcrowding in secondary schools, students were split between sites in what was called a 2-2-2 arrangement: 7-8 graders at one site, 9-10 graders at another site, and 11-12 graders at a third site. The district also launched a six-year study of year-round school as a way to accommodate more students with fewer schools. Millard voters rejected a proposal to hold year-round school in 1977.
During this period, the following schools were built: Montclair, 1971; Holling Heights and Millard North Middle School, 1973; Morton and Disney, 1974; Neihardt, 1977; Cottonwood, 1978; Harvey Oaks and Rockwell, 1979. The changing American society of the late 60s and early 70s was reflected in the addition of drug education, sex education, and boys taking home economics courses. In 1974, gifted education was introduced. In 1979, a Montessori elementary program was established to provide an alternative curriculum choice. The program is based on the Montessori philosophy utilizing multi-age classrooms and individualized, "hands-on" instruction.
Enrollment growth slowed in the early 1980s, when high inflation resulted in fewer homes being built. Later in the decade, the economy rebounded and the building boom was back. However, enrollment growth was uneven, as schools in some of the older neighborhoods started to experience a decline in students. By 1988, the school board began busing about 2,100 students to older and less crowded elementary schools. During this period, the educational program matured with adoption of many new programs including health and computer literacy. During this period, talk of consolidation again surfaced due to funding concerns. The Omaha Public School District discussed the possibility of taking in the suburban school districts. As the economy became more stable in the late 1980s and Omaha schools began to grow again, the Omaha Board of Education stopped talks of a merger.
During this period, the following schools were built: Abbott and Millard North High School, 1981; Ackerman, 1982; Andersen Middle School, 1986; Ezra and Kiewit Middle School in 1988. In 1981, the opening of a second high school allowed the district to bring together 9-12 grades at Millard North and Millard South High Schools. Starting in 1987, the junior highs (7-8 grade) began converting to middle schools which serve 6-8 grades, providing more space for crowded elementary schools. In 1989, a new administration center opened, named for long-time superintendent, Don Stroh. Also during the 1980s, increased concerns over funding resulted in Millard joining a growing number of districts to start a non-profit education foundation (Millard Education Foundation) to help support the district's programs. In 1984, the Millard Education Foundation started the first before and after school child care program in an elementary school. Kids Network, as it is called, is now available in all elementary schools.
Since 1990, improvements to the educational program have been guided through a strategic planning process involving hundreds of community and staff members. Strategic planning has led to the development of the Millard Education Program, which uses clearly defined and measured standards to ensure that all students learn academic and life skills that are necessary for responsible living and personal success. Strategic planning also has brought about all-day kindergarten and advancements made in the use of technology for learning. In 1995, the Millard Core Academy was established to provide an alternative curriculum choice for elementary students. The academy emphasizes phonics and the fundamentals of math and other subjects. In 2001, Millard North High School became the first in Nebraska to offer an International Baccalaureate program. IB uses elements of the world's best educational systems, and its courses and examinations are accepted for credit by prestigious universities around the world.
In 1997, Millard voters passed an $89 million bond issue to provide technology for all schools, remodeling or additions to existing schools, and construction of two new elementary schools and a middle school. The following schools were built since 1990: Willowdale Elementary, 1993; Aldrich Elementary and Russell Middle School, 1994; Black Elk Elementary and Millard West High School, 1995; Rohwer Elementary, 1999; Wheeler Elementary, 2000; Beadle Middle School, 2001; Reeder Elementary, 2005.
The district has been honored with many distinctions over the years. It was awarded a national Magna Award given by the American School Board Journal and Marriott School Services. Thirteen Millard schools have earned the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education. The American Library Association has called Millard’s school libraries among the best in the nation. The American Music Conference has named Millard’s music program one of the top 100 programs in the country. Kiplinger's Magazine cited the "top-rated, nationally recognized" Millard School District as one of the reasons Omaha rates No. 3 in the list of the Top 10 Best Cities for 2008. Millard is one of three districts nationwide profiled in the book: Leading Change, The Case for Continuous Improvement, published by The National School Boards Association.
On February 15, 2005, voters approved Millard's 13th bond issue. The $78 million bond issue provided new schools and renovations and additions to some existing schools to serve the district's growing enrollment. Ronald Reagan Elementary opened in 2007. Wilma Upchurch Elementary opened in 2008. Millard Horizon High School offering a smaller comprehensive high school and career academies opened in 2010. The Ron Witt Support Services Center opened in 2010. The bonds also provided $20 million for technology.
In May 2013, the community once again showed its strong support for Millard Public Schools with the approval of a 79.9 million dollar bond focusing on safety and security. Thanks to this commitment from our community, all 35 Millard schools have secured entries with buzzer systems and video. Additionally, our open-concept schools were modernized with walls and secure interior doors.
After nearly two decades as superintendent, Dr. Keith Lutz retired at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Dr. Jim Sutfin, a Millard graduate and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, was unanimously elected by the Millard School Board as the next Superintendent.
In the fall of 2017, the Millard community made history by approving a levy override for the district. The levy has provided support for the general fund ensuring Millard’s robust programs continue.
With the strong support of the Millard Public Schools Foundation, Millard has become a one-to-one district with a touch screen laptop computer issued to every secondary student and iPads issued to every elementary student from third through fifth grade. Classroom iPads and school iPad carts are also available. Powered by the one-to-one initiative, Millard was able to take a unique step during a late winter blizzard on March 7, 2019. Millard experimented with its first-ever e-learning day, with all students continuing school remotely. Just over a year later, this experiment became invaluable with the historic closure of Millard schools on Friday, March 13, 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Millard was able to resume classes remotely less than a week later and continue them throughout the spring. During the 2020-21 school year, classes were held both in person and remotely to meet student and staff needs throughout the pandemic.
After thirty-three years in education, Dr. Sutfin retired at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Dr. John Schwartz stepped into the role of superintendent at the start of the 2022-23 school year after being unanimously selected by the Millard Board of Education. Previously, Dr. Schwartz served as the superintendent of the Norris School District since July 2019. A native Nebraskan, Dr. Schwartz holds a bachelor’s, two master’s, education specialist, and has a doctoral degree from Doane University. He is a graduate of Waverly High School. Dr. Schwartz and his wife, Laura, have two children who are enjoying their experiences in Millard’s schools.
Throughout the summer and fall of the 2022-23 school year, the community came together to rewrite Millard's strategic plan, defining its critical issues and setting the strategies for the next five years to move Millard forward. On February 6, 2023, the Board of Education approved the new strategic plan for Millard Public Schools. Our story continues, and we welcome you to be a part of it! We are #Proud2bMPS!