Parents and community members chanted. They hoisted posters. They demanded to speak with the top brass of the Omaha Public Schools.
At the liveliest OPS strategic planning forum yet, more than 250 parents and residents packed into the South High School cafeteria Wednesday and pressed the case for a bilingual principal at the heavily Latino high school.
Parents and students waved handwritten signs: “Dr. Rony Ortega para director.” “Dr. Ortega for principal.” “We need a bilingual principal to better communicate with parents.”
At one point, several parents stood up and asked why Superintendent Mark Evans and school board members weren’t present.
“I want them to be here,” one man called out. “I want them to hear what we’re concerned about.”
This was the school district’s fourth community forum this week. OPS officials organized the meetings as a way for parents, staff, students and community members to weigh in on the creation of the district’s first long-term plan in more than a decade.
All forums have followed the same model: Attendees gather in groups to discuss OPS’s strengths, weaknesses and potential opportunities.
At every meeting, Evans and several board members have left after introducing themselves, telling participants they should feel comfortable to speak about OPS honestly, without worrying about any blowback from administrators or board members.
Strategic plan consultant Otis Rolley told the crowd the meeting wasn’t intended as a Q&A between parents and the superintendent.
After some protests, Evans was called to see if he could return to the meeting.
Todd Andrews, an OPS spokesman, said Evans was busy monitoring reports of an armed man at the nearby Livestock Exchange Building at 30th and L Streets. Police found no gunman in the building.
Board members Lacey Merica and Marque Snow did return and circulated among the attendees.
Parents continued to lobby hard for a bilingual principal — specifically Rony Ortega, currently the principal at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School. More than 60 percent of South’s student population is Latino.
South Principal Cara Riggs is on medical leave after having treatment for breast cancer. Unrelated to her diagnosis, Riggs is expected to move to California at the end of the year.