UNK Early Childhood Practitioner Award

2024 Award Recipient to be announced soon!

Donna McGlee Martin

donnaDonna McGlee Martin was at the foundation of Dr. LaVonne Plambeck’s Montessori schools from August 1969 - 2016, and remains a full-time, Lead Montessori Primary (3 - 6) teacher and school director to date at the Montessori Educational Center that sports one of Omaha’s first Nature Explore classrooms, which Donna and her fellow teachers helped raise money to create.

Entrusted at a young age with managing the business operations of one of LaVonne’s schools in 1969, Donna was also hand-trained by Dr. Plambeck to guide children’s learning in all areas of the Montessori Primary classroom. She worked beside Dr. Plambeck during the 1970’s and helped to launch a pilot Toddler class, initially held on Saturday mornings that soon expanded into a full-time program.*

In addition to educating over 1600 children over the course of her 54-year teaching career in year-round Montessori school classrooms in Nebraska, Ms. Martin helped to set up age 0 - 6 Montessori classrooms for Dr. Plambeck during the schools’ expansion into Colorado in the 1980’s. 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 the guidance of Ms. Martin and are still involved today in ECE, including her sister and two daughters. Her daughter and classroom assistant Meghan says that Donna is “giving, has a heart for helping and is a strong advocate for doing what’s best for children.” According to Pam Plambeck, daughter of the late Dr. 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.”

Nikki JohnsonNici Johnson

Nici Johnson is the Director of Early Childhood at Educational Service Unit 13 where she leads a department of fierce early childhood advocates, working for programs and initiatives that support the panhandle region with a collaborative spirit and a love of innovation. As a loyal member of the Panhandle Partnership community collaborative, Nici facilitates the Systems of Care Birth to Eight workgroup where members use the methods of Collective Impact to reduce competition, braid funding, and use a systems lens for determining how to best serve children and families in all 11 counties of the Nebraska panhandle. Her favorite parts of her job include supporting people in finding the “why” of their work, removing barriers to progress, and creating a culture in Nebraska, but specifically the panhandle, that is committed to the “long game investment” of early care and education.

Nici participates as a partner from the west on many workgroups and advisory committees with state partners, some of which are the Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s Evaluation Network Team, the First Five Nebraska’s ECE Shared Leadership and Financing Work Group and was a member of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission. She was formerly one of the Early Learning Connections Coordinator Team and has worked in several other EC capacities for ESU 13 before becoming their first Director of Early Childhood. Nici lives in Sidney with her husband Jed. They have three sons and two corgis.