Consultants working on the Omaha Public Schools' strategic plan are collecting classroom observations and ideas from staff and school board members on what direction the state's largest district should take.
Board members met Monday with school administrators and consultants from Cross & Joftus and UPD Consulting to share their priorities and concerns.
The district is embarking on its first strategic plan in more than a decade. The blueprint will align the district's goals for the next three to five years in areas such as student achievement, building improvements and financial transparency.
Four community forums the week of Oct. 20 will allow parents and community members to discuss the planning process and help identify the district's strengths and weaknesses. The consultants also surveyed teachers and staff members and held focus groups in order to create a needs assessment for the district.
This week, teams hope to visit more than 200 classrooms. Consultants also will meet with prominent individuals who have a stake in Omaha schools, including Mayor Jean Stothert, officials from nonprofit organizations such as the Sherwood and Peter Kiewit Foundations, and members of the Legislature's Education Committee.
The consultants will be paid roughly $653,000 over three years to draft the strategic plan and provide yearly updates on the district's progress.
At Monday's workshop, school board members shared their major concerns and priorities, including the district's confusing busing plan, a need for greater staff diversity and the siphoning of OPS students by suburban districts and parochial schools.
“We need to work on changing the perception of OPS,” board member Katie Underwood said. “How many good things are going on in our schools that people don't know about? I have friends ready to start families and they're saying, 'We have to get out of OPS to go to Elkhorn or Papillion-La Vista.' ”
Board President Justin Wayne and member Matt Scanlan said the district needs to expand its vocational training for high school students, especially those who aren't on a college track.
“While it's great some kids can go to college, we need to be realistic that some kids can't afford college,” Scanlan said. “There's a large number of kids who could be gainfully employed right out of high school, but I don't think we're giving them those resources.”
Board members also mentioned simplifying the budget process and making budget presentations more digestible for parents and taxpayers. They also said communication must be improved. It's nearly impossible to send districtwide email blasts to employees or parents, they said.
The consultants expect to complete their needs-assessment report by the end of November. A completed strategic plan should be ready by the end of February.