Nebraska's largest school district is deep in the process of drawing up a strategic plan for the next five years. The fifth and final community forum is at Omaha Burke High School starting at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Omaha Public School District has a lot riding on these meetings. The strategic plan costs $653,000 and will bring consultants back for three years. The plan is paid for mostly by community partners, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Sherwood Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation and OPS itself each gave more than $150,000 to pay for the plan. So far, there have been four community forums. Attendees voted on where they think the district needs to prioritize and here's what that's looking like so far:
1. equity (treating students equally and investing in them equally district-wide)
2. parent engagement
3. rigor and curriculum
4. early childhood education
5. alternative education
Parents of teens, parents of primary school students and parents of those not yet in school are the stakeholders. “I am a firm believer in Omaha's and Nebraska's public school system,” said Anne Herman, who will soon be sending her son to school. Before she does, she's advocating for a stronger set of district-wide standards from grading to curriculum. “What you see is a lot of inconsistency, not only building by building, but even within building and teacher by teacher."
She's surrounded by others who also believe there's huge room for improvement. “We're working really hard to rebuild perception and rebuild communications and rebuild bridges that for whatever reason were lost the last few years,” said OPS Superintendent Mark Evans. “I feel real good about that."
Many parents do, too. “In the short time he's been here he's made a difference already,” said parent Linda Mack. “He's getting the community out here. He's listening."
“Those things are indicative of how much Omaha Public Schools wants to not only capitalize on the things they're doing really well now, but work to be an even better district addressing some of the issues that they've got, but also providing more opportunities to more students in the future,” said Herman.
The team from Maryland hired to put this strategic plan in place is stressing it wants honest, candid, constructive criticism on OPS, which has seven new board members in addition to a new superintendent.
During Wednesday morning's third forum, Evans told WOWT 6 News the district has often worked on what's happening right now, in the moment. This process is about looking at the bigger picture to plan out where the district is going and where it places value.
Here's what those dozens of community members came up with Wednesday as the top six major trouble areas: Diversity/quality of teachers, curriculum/grading inconsistencies, communication, student transfers, politics and public image.