During the 2013 campaign, I pledged to prioritize the following highlighted areas if elected to the Board of Education.
Under my leadership, the Board of Education supported and approved significant improvements to the district which are listed below each area.
I have spent countless hours attending meetings, engaging community and constituents in meaningful discussion, assisting with interviews, reading policies and data, and testifying before the Legislature’s Education and Retirement committees. I am committed to continuing the great work I have supported to date and would appreciate your continued support.
Areas of improvement are as follows:
Protect taxpayers by ensuring efficient, effective use of funds
- Transparency of district funding and expenditures is now available to taxpayers through the website openbook.ops.org. This website allows users to not only interactively review the detailed budget, but also provides an interactive map to review individual schools in the OPS district. Useful links are available for downloading budget and financial documents.
- Taxpayers overwhelmingly approved a $421 million construction bond program in November 2014. The Board of Education appointed a diverse group of community representatives, Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), to oversee the effectiveness and quality with which taxpayer resources are being utilized. This group meets on a monthly basis with Jacobs, the program manager, to ask questions and provide feedback to the community. To provide transparency on how the bond funds are being used anyone can visit bond.ops.org to review the status of projects, CBOC reports and sign up for bond email alerts. The bond program is currently on time and on budget.
- Some of the bond proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of land for two future high schools. I am happy to report that the district has identified and made significant purchases of land at 60th & L Streets and 156th & Ida Streets for this purpose.
- The Board of Education also approved an Economic Inclusion Plan in 2015 which encourages Tier 1 and Tier 2 contractor involvement in bidding on bond project work and other bidding opportunities the district has available. This program has been very successful in attracting new contractors to the district and has proved to be a valuable resource for the entire community.
- The district implemented priority-based budgeting in the fall of 2013. This collaborative approach allows conversations around the best approach for meeting the unique needs of each school with the goal of improving results. The district has also hired a Chief Financial Officer, who has a CPA license and extensive experience with budgeting and Nebraska education funding. She has made a great impact in maximizing our education funding and creating efficiency within the district.
- The Board of Education conducted a RFQ for property insurance and approved a bid for district insurance, ensuring all facilities are now adequately covered, saving the district approximately $100,000 in brokerage fees per year. The board approved hiring internal legal counsel which resulted in approximately $400,000 in savings in year one and has recently approved an updated legal services contract and the addition of a second in-house legal counsel. Additional savings are anticipated. The district is also using technology to increase savings including $100,000 annually by providing electronic pay stubs versus mailing these documents to employees. These are just a few of the cost saving examples the district has implemented based on support from the Board of Education.
- After 15 months of research, surveys, forums and the review of lots of data, the first significant Student Assignment Plan revision in eight years for elementary and middle school students was approved by the Board of Education in June 2015. This Plan while decreasing choice with transportation includes an emphasis on allowing diversity and will be implemented for the 2016-17 academic year. Visit SAP.OPS.org to watch a video of how the Plan works and what choices are available to you based on your address. (Find Your School)
- The board approved a three-year teacher contract in the summer of 2015 which puts starting salaries for OPS teachers at the top in the metro area and corrected many previously not addressed pay and benefit issues.
- The Board of Education approved approximately 20 additional instructional minutes per day for the 2015-16 school year. Omaha Public Schools prior to this change was providing the least amount of instruction of all 11 districts in the metro area. My decision to support this change was based on calculations showing students who attended K-12 in OPS received 130 days or three-fourths a year less instruction than a student in a surrounding district over their K-12 years. For the academic year in which this change was implemented the district experienced increases in reading scores in every grade tested by NESA. These scores were the highest the district has ever received.
- Technology upgrades have been a priority over the last three years including completing the installation of Wi-Fi access at the majority of OPS schools. OPS also changed email systems to Microsoft Outlook , which is more robust and user friendly than the prior system.
- The Legislature, due in large part due to the efforts of the OPS Board of Education, will be moving the Omaha Schools Employee Retirement System (OSERS), management of investments to the Nebraska Investment Council and the Nebraska State Investment Officer effective January 1, 2017. This was a prudent decision for not only employees but the taxpayers of the district. The investment council and the State Investment Officer are better equipped to make appropriate investment decisions ensuring the long term viability of the system.
Restore Trust and Accountability
- All board meetings and documents are electronically available at least 24 hours before every board meeting. The Board of Education in the early fall of 2013 approved using e-meetings, thereby giving the public access to all documents and topics. Visit OPS.org/ Board of Education/ Current meetings to review current and past board meetings.
- Another change is that the Board of Education meetings are now live streamed as well as available on Cox channel 18. The Board meets on the first and third Mondays of each month.
- The Board of Education utilized a RFP process in the fall of 2013 to assist with the creation of a comprehensive strategic plan. Families, staff and community leaders were invited to provide input in creation of the final product. The plan we approved is a living document with work groups focused on various prioritized objectives.
- The Board approved a new committee structure in the spring of 2015 which aligns with ‘best practices’ used around the country by other boards. These committees are the Accountability Committee, responsible for the creation of tools to evaluate the Superintendent; the Budget Committee, responsible for input and presentation surrounding the development of the final budget; the Communications Committee, responsible for assisting in the development of an OPS Board of Education Planning Calendar and Board Member Handbook as well as discussions surrounding effective board member communication; and finally the Policy Committee, responsible for reviewing and vetting policies prior to Board presentation.
- The Board of Education engaged in a lengthy two-year process to update all Board of Education policies. We engaged external legal counsel experienced in school board policies to ensure all policies were in compliance with federal and state statutes and to ensure all policies met the needs of the OPS staff, students and families. Staff provided input and ultimately the board reviewed and approved each policy and has recently finished this extensive task.
- The Accountability Committee recommended and the Board approved using a high quality Superintendent annual evaluation tool, which had not previously existed. The Board also approved an innovative tool for calculating the Superintendent salary increase. This matrix includes student achievement data as well as feedback from staff and families.
- The district is well on its way to developing a strong principal pipeline. The process allows the district to predict principal vacancies and better plan for succession. Once an opening is announced, candidates apply and are interviewed with two to three candidates given the opportunity to showcase their skills in an open interview with the community they will serve. This collaborative principal placement process allows staff and families to provide input on candidates.
Prioritize Student Achievement
- The Board approved the Superintendent’s recommendation to add four Executive Directors-a new position in OPS-for support of principals has resulted in improved leadership in our buildings. The Executive Directors are responsible for developing and sharpening the skills of district principals who are directly responsible for guiding student achievement by directly supporting teachers.
- OPS partnered with Microsoft to create an electronic tool for teacher coaching visits. OPS was the beta site for the creation of this tool and the only K-12 district in the United States included in the development process. Administrators are able to quickly review everything from student engagement to instructional practices occurring in their buildings. The nominal cost of this tool has produced savings over outdated methods previously used.
- The Superintendent implemented an annual Principal Institute starting in the summer of 2015. Significant private funding was solicited and has allowed this two-day event to further develop principals as leaders. This past year the Institute focused on establishing Principal Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). These professional groups of principals provide a productive setting for discussion of challenges and opportunities for sharing best practices. These PLCs along with monthly principal and new principal meetings are offering staff additional opportunities for leadership development.
- The Board also supported the Superintendent’s recommendation to move school support staff (SSLs) and school psychologists from the Teacher Administrative Center into school buildings. This reorganization of approximately 50 staff has had the positive impact of providing better alignment in buildings to support students and families.
- We adopted the Benson High School career academy plan after significant input from staff, community and alumni. The career academy provides paths to train students in Business Entrepreneurship, Construction Design and Health Professions. These were introduced in the 2015-16 school year.
- The North 75 project as it impacts Kennedy Elementary was approved by the board after reviewing the Purpose Built Communities model. The revamped educational model which includes many innovative instructional practices as well as curriculum such as Singapore Math and Spalding Reading has been implemented for the 2016-17 school year.
- The approval of the School Improvement Grant at Wakonda Elementary is the first time OPS has applied for and received funding for this type of innovative approach to improving student achievement. Wakonda leadership and staff began their journey in the 2015-16 school year and have already seen improved test scores.
- The district identified 11 schools which are deemed REACH schools and are in their second year of receiving additional support, including Social Workers and focused supports for improved student achievement. The Plan developed for Druid Hill, one of the lowest performing schools in the district, is now being used by the Nebraska Department of Education for other low performing schools in the state because it was so well designed. Druid Hill third graders had a 25% increase in math scores in 2015-16 on NESA tests!
- National research supports increased student achievement when middle schools are configured as 6th -8th grades. The board was able to approve the move of many 6th grade students from elementary to middle school over the next few years. Current and future construction projects will support this transition-supporting our students academically.
- The Board of Education has approved the following textbook and curriculum updates: K-5 writing, 9th grade reading, human growth and development for grades 4-8 and 10, business and marketing high school courses, personal finance for high school, child development for high school, Second Step counseling grades K-8, economics for 10th graders, instrumental music K-12.
- The Board of Education continues to receive updates from the Superintendent and building staff regarding more stringent grading practices. Staff is currently pilot testing new standards based grading practices including changes to homework, grading and test taking practices.
- The Board of Education approved the most stringent Academic Eligibility Policy for students participating in extracurricular activities in the state of Nebraska during the 2013-2014 school year. The Board has monitored implementation and has made minor adjustments to the policy, ensuring the best interests of students and staff are considered.
- The Board of Education approved the start of Nebraska’s first ever virtual school, the Omaha Virtual School, for the 2016-17 school year. This K-8 virtual school enables students to take ownership of their learning. Instruction is delivered through a blended learning environment, combining the benefits of the virtual and traditional classrooms. Blended learning enhances on-line learning with opportunities for labs, guest speakers, field trips, and other face-to-face cooperative learning. Students served in this environment are home school, chronically ill or students engaged in competitive activities, which limit their ability to attend a traditional school.
- All elementary and middle schools now have ‘buzz in’ security systems for visitors as well as on-site security staff once the bond work is completed.
- High Schools continue to have security staff at entrances.
- The November 2014 bond included safe shelters for buildings which did not have adequate space to shelter students during violent weather.
- The board approved the use of drug dogs in our schools after surveying our parents. The goal is to use the dog(s) to deter inappropriate behavior.
- The Board oversaw a significant revision of the Code of Conduct occurred prior to the 2015-16 school year. Staff and board members ensured the plan was simplified, provided suggested responses and included a tiered approach to discipline.
- This fall the district started the implementation of a Multi-Tiered Support Systems for Behavior (MTSSB) program. This will be the first district-wide behavior management system and is being implemented in a strategic manner with over one-third of district buildings in the planning or implementation phase in 2016-17.