KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Education honored two individuals Friday for their impact on early childhood education and outstanding service to Nebraska children and families.
Former Kearney Public Schools administrator Carol Renner received the Dr. LaVonne Plambeck Early Childhood Pioneer Award and Donna Martin, a Montessori teacher from Omaha, was recognized with the Early Childhood Practitioner Award. Both awards were presented during the seventh annual UNK-Community Early Childhood Conference hosted at UNK’s Nebraskan Student Union.
EARLY CHILDHOOD PIONEER AWARD
Renner is a well-known figure in Kearney, renowned for her extensive dedication to KPS as the associate superintendent. Her educational journey spans various roles and locations, encompassing positions as a classroom teacher, resource teacher, director of special education and director of curriculum/staff development in California, Missouri, Hawaii and Nebraska.
Renner has an impressive academic background, holding a doctorate in curriculum, administration and instruction and a specialist of education degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She also earned a Master of Education specializing in learning disabilities from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Bachelor of Education from Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
Her commitment to education extends beyond the classroom, as she has actively contributed to numerous local and state educational boards and even earned a position on the International Committee for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Renner’s outstanding contributions have been recognized through her distinction as Business Woman of the Year in two Nebraska communities.
Her dedication to community involvement and fostering parental inclusion within the educational process remains at the core of her work. In Nebraska, her significant achievements include her involvement with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and an instrumental role in securing a Sixpence grant for early childhood education in Kearney. She also played a pivotal role in the establishment of Bright Futures Preschool, which serves disadvantaged individuals, non-English speakers and young mothers, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to advancing education and inclusivity.
EARLY CHILDHOOD PRACTITIONER AWARD
Martin was at the foundation of LaVonne Plambeck’s Montessori schools and she remains a full-time, lead Montessori primary teacher and school director at Montessori Educational Centers, which includes one of Omaha’s first Nature Explore classrooms, a feature Martin and her fellow teachers helped raise money to create.
In 1969, Plambeck selected Martin to manage the business operations at one of her schools and trained her to guide children’s learning in all areas of the Montessori primary classroom. She worked alongside Plambeck during the 1970s and helped launch a pilot toddler class that quickly expanded into a full-time program.
In addition to educating more than 1,600 children over the course of her 54-year teaching career in Nebraska, Martin helped establish Montessori classrooms for Plambeck during the schools’ expansion into Colorado in the 1980s. She has also served as a co-Montessori teacher trainer in one of her favorite areas of the Montessori classroom – science. Over the years, many teachers have successfully completed their Montessori teaching internship under Martin’s guidance, including her sister and two daughters. Her daughter and classroom assistant Meghan says Martin is “giving, has a heart for helping and is a strong advocate for doing what’s best for children.”
The Early Childhood Practitioner Award was presented by Pam Plambeck, daughter of the late LaVonne Plambeck.
“Miss Donna’s sincerity, reliability, dedication and impact on the lives of young children is notably significant. Not only is she easygoing and fun to be around, she sets a high bar for others,” Pam Plambeck said.
Hosted over two days, the UNK-Community Early Childhood Conference provides professional development, networking and learning opportunities for current and future early childhood educators. The keynote presenters are Kristen Peterson, founder of Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool in Alexandria, Minnesota, and host of “The Play Based Learning Podcast,” and early childhood consultant, coach and trainer Jenny Benson, who’s worked for Nebraska Extension, the Nebraska Department of Education Office of Early Childhood and Rooted in Relationships, an initiative of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
The conference is sponsored by the UNK College of Education, Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Nebraska Early Learning Connection, Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Kearney Child Care Association and UNK’s Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center.