The writer is chancellor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
In a few days, voters in the Omaha school district will have a historic opportunity as they cast their votes to choose an all-new school board for the Omaha Public Schools. Arguably, it will be the most important vote cast, for the outcome of that vote will affect our children, our grandchildren, our schools and our city for years to come.
Omaha is blessed with many outstanding educators who face challenges associated with a policy structure that makes it difficult for them to achieve the educational goals of the community.
In spite of its best efforts, the Omaha Public Schools system has fallen behind in its ability to educate our most vulnerable children to deal with 21st-century demands. Further complicating the challenges of our schools are the external forces of poverty and family difficulty that have placed many of our children at a huge competitive disadvantage.
As a result:
>> Graduation rates are well below the state average at some schools of the system.
>> Too many of those who do graduate are unprepared to perform at levels required for success in a career or higher education.
At the same time, the challenges for our children have never been greater. Global competition and changing technology have eliminated many of the traditional jobs formerly performed without a solid educational foundation.
We must prepare all students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in a competitive, fast-changing global economy. The majority of those students who are denied that foundation will live trapped in poverty, and our country will be unable to compete economically worldwide, with all the attendant consequences.
We currently have models operating within OPS that show great promise in addressing the concerns we all share. However, we lack the accountability and governance structures to both empower and reward the schools, their leaders and teachers. Without those structures, we cannot hold them accountable in realizing the performance goals we know are possible.
This election affords us an opportunity to put in place policies and systems that will bring to scale practices that help ensure success for all students. We need to ensure that teachers can be successful in the classroom, that principals are enabled to effect change where it is needed and that appropriate accountability systems are put in place to effect the change required to achieve districtwide goals.
A new superintendent and board of education can start with a clean slate, developing both the vision and structure that will provide every student with the high-quality education we expect from our public schools. By seizing this opportunity, we can build on OPS successes, with research and the best practice of other districts. We can unleash the tremendous potential within the professional staff in our own district.
We have an opportunity to field a board that will:
>> Work with the superintendent and his staff to develop policies that will effect the system change based on research and best practices to achieve outcomes that will dramatically improve learning.
>> Support the development of a data-driven strategic plan that includes metrics to measure goals supporting a high-performing educational environment for our children.
>> Develop board and district policies that not only build accountability for performance but also provide for flexibility in the methods and approaches necessary for students to learn and succeed.
I urge Omaha school district voters to study the candidates, their records of accomplishment and their vision for the future. Speak with others, do your due diligence and, most importantly, vote.