New OPS board member Anthony Vargas wastes no time in getting down to business -
Published Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 1:26 am
New OPS board member Anthony Vargas wastes no time in getting down to business

Anthony Vargas hit the ground running Monday night.

Appointed to fill the vacant Subdistrict 9 seat on the Omaha school board, he was quickly sworn in and, after a few congratulatory handshakes, joined the board in a closed-door executive session.

“Maybe no one told you, but once we go into executive session, you will start today,” Justin Wayne, board president, told Vargas.

Vargas, 29, is a newcomer to Omaha, having lived here for one year.

But in casting their votes, board members praised his outsider status and background in urban education. He taught middle-school science in Brooklyn, N.Y., with the Teach for America program and now is an education consultant.

“Mr. Vargas' application and outside perspective just stand out to me,” board member Lacey Merica said. “He has the ability to bring in that outside perspective of what's happening and what's been done in other urban districts that have the same problems with low-performing schools, that have poverty issues.”

In a 6-2 vote, Vargas beat out three other applicants: Brian Villafuerte, a Bellevue teacher; Emily Bannick, a professional at BVH Architects who was backed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce; and William Sole, a longtime South Omaha resident who at one point worked on the operations side of OPS as an engineer.

The board interviewed each candidate separately.

Vargas replaces Sarah Brumfield, who resigned from the seat in September because of family obligations.

Board members said they were torn between Vargas and Bannick. Lou Ann Goding and Matt Scanlan voted for Bannick, praising her long-term vision and her experience serving on several community boards.

Bannick was the latest in a string of candidates to score a chamber endorsement. The business organization has become increasingly involved in the school board, and contributed money and endorsements to several candidates in May's election.

“Ms. Bannick really spoke to me as far as understanding the role of board member, seeing the big umbrella picture of everything — our needs, our strategic plan, understanding finances,” Goding said.

But the majority of board members said they were impressed with Vargas' knowledge of education policy and his ability to connect with the South Omaha community that comprises Subdistrict 9.

Vargas is Peruvian-American and bilingual, traits several board members said will be an asset in the heavily Latino community.

“I do strongly believe what's not represented on our board is that cultural connection to have a voice to speak to that district,” Yolanda Williams said.

Board member Marque Snow said Vargas stuck by his side as he was approached by several parents, some Spanish-speaking, at a community forum at Omaha South High School last Wednesday.

More than 200 people attended the forum, at times expressing their disappointment that they couldn't express their concerns about overcrowding, school security and the need for bilingual staff to Superintendent Mark Evans and board members, who left the meeting earlier.

“My district is primarily Latino-American,” Vargas said. “There's a burgeoning immigrant population. I identify with that. Eighty to 90 percent of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. I qualified for free or reduced lunch. I'm happy to understand their perspective.”

As a board member, Vargas said he would push for higher student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects and early intervention for kids struggling to read.

His status as a relative newcomer to Omaha could work in his favor, he said, requiring him to listen, learn and immerse himself in the school district.

Check back on for more on this developing story.

Contact the writer: Erin Duffy    |   402-444-1210

Erin covers education, primarily Omaha Public Schools.

Keystone XL pipeline backers blast ‘political expediency’ as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Man, 21, shot in ankle while walking near 30th, W Streets
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs, police say
Dems criticize governor hopeful Beau McCoy's ad in which he strikes a Barack Obama doll
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
< >
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »