The ideas came fast and furiously Sunday at Omaha Public Schools’ first community forum for the district’s in-the-works strategic plan.
One teacher couldn’t help but plug her colleagues.
“I know I’m biased because I’m a teacher,” she said, “but my co-workers work so hard.”
Several parents praised the different types of buildings that make up OPS, from the soaring halls of historic Central High School to the sleek glass walls and rain gardens at the brand-new Gateway Elementary.
“I’ve lived in places where the elementary schools, every single building, is the same,” one said.
A group of Karen parents, members of an ethnic minority from the country of Myanmar, asked for translations of classroom newsletters and more interpreters for students struggling with English.
One group of attendees discussed the perception that OPS is bloated with high-paid administrators, and another mentioned the wealth of philanthropic foundations that funnel millions of dollars to public school programs.
During the 2½-hour meeting, more than 200 parents, teachers, community members and students shared their thoughts, suggestions, criticisms and top priorities for the district. The district supplied translators in Spanish, Nepalese, Somali and Karen.
The feedback, collected by facilitators stationed at tables spread across the Teachers Administration Center board room, will help the district draft its first strategic plan in years. The document will chart a course for OPS over the next four to five years.
“If we’re going to make sure we go from good to great, if Omaha Public Schools are going to be the best they can, then all the stakeholders, all of you, have to be part of the process,” said Otis Rolley, one of the consultants working on the strategic plan.
Groups of participants were asked to list the district’s “trophies” — its greatest strengths and sources of pride. Attendees mentioned dedicated teachers, rising graduation rates, a wide range of ESL programs and commitment to updating aging buildings.
Next, groups were asked to identify “SWOTs” — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Several groups mentioned the need to close the achievement gap for low-income students and said the best teachers are disproportionately placed in higher-performing, suburban schools.
Several parents called the district’s busing system inefficient and confusing. Another comment was that the staff should be as diverse as the student population. Others said class sizes must shrink and parental involvement must increase.
District “threats” mentioned included reductions in state and federal funding and lawmakers who target public schools.
The district will hold four more community forums this week. The goal is to complete the strategic plan by February.
The remaining forums:
» Tuesday, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., North High School, 4410 N. 36th St.
» Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Teachers Administration Center board room, 3215 Cuming St.
» Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., South High School, 4519 S. 24th St.
» Thursday, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Burke High School, 12200 Burke Blvd.