Nebraska State Board of Education Members
Patricia Koch Johns - Vice President - District 1
Patricia Koch Johns has been involved in education for over 40 years in Nebraska, as well as Arkansas, Georgia, and Missouri. In 1972, she earned her degree in education from Kearney State College with an emphasis in theatre, English, and speech. She continued her education and earned a Masters Degree from the University of Arkansas with a degree in communications with an emphasis in theatre in 1974. Koch Johns began her teaching career in Nebraska in 1976 at Cozad High School and remained there until she accepted a position at Lincoln High School in 2000. In 2006, Koch Johns was named the Nebraska Teacher of the Year, and in 2012 she was honored with the Governor’s Excellence in Arts Education Award.
As a master teacher/leader, Koch Johns was an English department chairperson and created curriculum for 8th grade theatre and dramatic literature and established the new Lincoln Public Schools graduation requirements. She helped create, write, and evaluate state and national standards in fine arts. Koch Johns was also a lead writer for the original Nebraska Frameworks for the Visual and Performing Arts and served as an advisor for the creation of the NDE Language Arts Degree. She also directed the award-winning Poverty: Not a Choice with Nebraska Loves Public Schools.
Koch Johns is the recipient of numerous teaching awards such as the Nebraska Speech Communication and Theatre Association’s John Thurber Distinguished Teacher Award, the Time Warner Award, the Alltel Outstanding Educator Award, and the National Federation of Interscholatic School Activities Speech/Theatre Educator Award, to name a few.
Koch Johns has held leadership positions in the Nebraska Speech Communication and Theatre Association, Nebraska Thespians, Nebraska School Activities Association, Central Nebraska Forensic League, Nebraskans for the Arts, Lincoln Education Association, Cozad Education Association, Nebraska State Education Association, and the Angels Theatre Company. She has also served on numerous boards including the National Federation of High School Activities, the University of Nebraska at Kearney Fine Arts Advisory Board, and the Lincoln Public Schools Foundation. Koch Johns holds an International Baccalaureate teaching certificate and has participated in educational workshops at the Kennedy Center, the Buffet Institute for Early Childhood Education, Open Sky, and the Wesleyan Inclusive Education Institute.
Patsy Koch Johns hopes to work with issues of poverty, the achievement gap, AQuESTT (the new state assessment and evaluation process), and the implementation of the fine arts standards and early childhood education during her term as a Nebraska State Education Board member.
Her two adult children work in Nebraska public schools, and their children are strong products of the public educational system. As a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, and now a Nebraska State Education Board member, Patricia Koch Johns hopes that her investments in education will benefit all families in Nebraska.
Lisa Fricke - District 2
A teacher in Nebraska Public Schools for 36 years, Lisa Fricke has deep roots in Nebraska and District 2. Lisa graduated from Bellevue High School, and her father, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Frank Allen, was active in the community and with veterans’ organizations. Because of her father’s dedicated service to our country, Fricke is a strong advocate for veterans.
Lisa earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications from Wayne State College and, as her five additional endorsements demonstrate, she is a believer in life-long learning. Lisa has taught English 6-12, Geography 7- 9, Speech 9-12, Drama 9-12, Reading 8, and Language Arts 8.
Lisa has served as a master teacher mentor for the Intergenerational Mentoring Program, has helped develop NeSA Assessments for Reading, Writing, and Special Education Math, and was a gubernatorial appointment to the Special Education Accountability Commission for three years. She has also served on Several School Improvement External Visitation Teams. A strong supporter of health education, Fricke is a member of the Nebraska’s Educator Health Alliance (EHA).
Fricke and her husband Dave have three children, Jason, Ryan, and Erica & Captain Stephen Velasquez who have Blessed Fricke with three precious grandchildren, Xander, Ari, Cohen.
Rachel Wise - District 3
Dr. Wise resides on a farm east of Oakland, Nebraska, with her husband Gordon Nelson. She received her education in Nebraska public schools, including a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha and a Master’s Degree in Education and a Doctorate Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a retired educator with teaching and administrative experience in Nebraska school districts and an Educational Service Unit. Dr. Wise is an active member of her church, Rotary, Delta Kappa Gamma and serves as a TeamMates mentor.
John Witzel - District 4
Growing up in the oil fields of California, East and West Texas, John Witzel graduated from Louisiana Tech University and served in the U.S. Air Force as a Navigator and served in various assignments to including as a volunteer in the Iranian Rescue Attempt in 1980. Appointed and served as the Director of the Strategic Air Command Airborne Command Post and later was assigned as commander of a United Nations Peacekeeper unit in Haiti. Witzel retired as a Lt. Colonel after 22 years of service. Following the service, he served as an accountant at a national bank and was subsequently asked to return to the military as a defense contractor. Witzel served for 14 years as a school board member at ESU3 and is currently President of the Nebraska State Board of Education and President of the Board of Directors for the Sarpy Community YMCA.
Education includes degrees from Louisiana Tech U., Ball State U., and Bellevue U. He also earned a certificate from the Spanish Language Institute, Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Active member with the Nat’l School Board Association, Nebraska Association of School Boards, YMCA, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Bellevue U. Legacy Foundation, Offutt AFB Advisory Council, Lions Club, Shriners and the Nebraska Writer’s Guild.
A nationally noted author, Witzel has published two books, “Saving Tres Rios” and “Saving Vengeance,” about an Air Force Sergeant who retires and becomes a public-school teacher.
Active member with the Nat’l School Board Association, Nebraska Association of School Boards, YMCA, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Bellevue U. Legacy Foundation, Offutt AFB Advisory Council, and the Nebraska Writer’s Guild.
A published author, Witzel wrote a book, “Saving Tres Rios,” about an Air Force Sergeant who retires and becomes a public school teacher.
Patricia Timm - District 5
Occupations: Former Kindergarten Teacher and K-12 Art Teacher, Education Coordinator for Centenary United Methodist Church, Retired Administrator of Beatrice Family Resource Center, August, 2008. Member and Past Chair Region V Behavioral Health Advisory Committee, Southeast Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Development Planning Team. Past Involvement in Habitat for Humanity Gage County, Beatrice Children’s Theatre Board, Community Players Board, Beatrice Chamber of Commerce and Beatrice Rotary (Paul Harris Fellow).
Current member Centenary United Methodist Church, Order of the Eastern Star, Personal Safety Awareness Committee, Gage County Kids and Car Seats and Policy Review Committee for Beatrice Community Hospital and Health Center. Republican.
Maureen Nickels - President - District 6
Maureen Nickels comes from a family of educators. She grew up on a farm near Anselmo, attended Anselmo-Merna Public Schools and earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Special Education and her master’s degree in education from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She taught in upper elementary grades for the Grand Island Public Schools for 26 years.
Maureen is a past president of the UNK Alumni Association, served on the Board of Directors of the Hall County Clean Community System and is a member of the Alpha Phi Delta Xi Alumni Chapter. Maureen attends Blessed Sacrament Church in Grand Island and enjoys spending time with her daughter and son-in-law, Chelsa and Brian Schutter.
Honors: 1986 UNL Christa McAuliffe Nominee, Cooper Foundation Recipient, Recipient of 1998 ‘Wings Over the Platte’ Award.
Robin Stevens – District 7
Throughout my 40 years as a professional educator I have served in almost every capacity…teacher, coach and administrator. The last 13 years I was the Superintendent at Schuyler Community Schools. During my time in education, I have served on multiple committees and professional organizations. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to be a part of thousands of student lives.
Not only have I been involved in the education institution during my adult life, but I have served my community, most recently Gothenburg, Nebraska. I have been a Rotarian for the past 19 years. I have been a member of the United Methodist Church my entire life. I currently serve as the Lay Leader for the Gothenburg 1st UMC.
While I am a student of all aspects in the field of education, my passion is early childhood opportunities.
I was elected to the 7th District of the Nebraska State School Board in November of 2018, and started my 4 year term in January 2019. The 7th District stretches the entire western half (land mass) of the State. I am extremely excited and consider it an honor to represent the people of the 7th District.
Deborah Neary – District 8
Deborah Neary has devoted her personal and professional life to the betterment of vulnerable populations across our community. With over 20 years of leadership in education-focused nonprofits, Deborah currently leads the effort to create meaningful and high quality relationships for youth by supporting 100+ mentoring programs across the state in her role as Executive Director of MENTOR Nebraska. Based on her these experiences, Deborah, a former foster parent to eight youth, decided she wanted to make an even larger impact across our state as a policymaker, and ran for and was recently elected to the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBoE) for District 8. Deborah believes long-term structural change comes not just through strong programming, but also with advocacy and policymaking. In both her role with MENTOR Nebraska and with State Board of Education—Deborah tackles systemic issues to ensure we are developing youth who are well-prepared for life by creating opportunities for equitable engagement.
In Deborah’s free time, she serves on several boards including, Madonna School & Community-based Services and Whispering Roots Aquaponics Center. Deborah was appointed by Governor Ricketts to the ServeNebraska board in 2016, and she is also a Trustee for the Business Ethics Alliance. Deborah is a current member of Leadership Nebraska ClassXII and was in Class XXXI for Leadership Omaha. Deborah is also a long-time member of both Rotary and the League of Women Voters, as well as an active mentor to many youth and young adults. In 2019, Deborah was the Recipient of the Holland Heroes Award presented by the Holland Children’s Institute; in 2016 Deborah was the Recipient of the Integrity Award presented by the Better Business Bureau; in 2015 she was the recipient of Gallup’s Can Do Award presented by Kids Can Community Center; and in 2014 Deborah received the Catalyst Award presented by the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands. Deborah has a Master’s degree in History with minor in Public Administration & Art History.
Matthew L. Blomstedt, Ph.D. – Commissioner of Education
Dr. Blomstedt previously served as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council. He previously served as the first full-time Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, a research analyst for the Education Committee of the Nebraska Legislature and has worked in a variety of policy research roles over the past 16 years. During this time, Dr. Blomstedt worked closely with policy makers, school district officials, and numerous educational stakeholders across Nebraska. In 2001, he was appointed to the Nebraska School Finance Review Committee as a school finance expert and served in a number of other educational advisory capacities in state government and higher education. He also has experience and interest in state and local tax policy as well as state and local economic development.
Dr. Blomstedt is a native Nebraskan whose career has focused on local, regional and statewide education issues. Blomstedt’s experience includes education finance and organization, assessment and accountability, professional development, and the development of systems to enhance blended and distance learning opportunities across the state. He continues to lead efforts to build and maintain collaborative ventures among educational entities including school districts, educational service units, the Nebraska Department of Education, higher education, and other agencies.
Dr. Blomstedt earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Higher Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as a Master’s Degree in Community and Regional Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science also from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.