Superintendent Mark Evans won praise Wednesday from Omaha school board members for strengthening relationships with the community and giving the school district a new energy and focus.
Calling Evans amiable and honest, driven but approachable, board members credited the new superintendent for slowly changing the public perception of the district.
“I've heard people use words like 'refreshing,' 'a real person' and the oft-repeated 'that's never happened before,' like when we popped into schools with you on the first day of school,” board member Lacey Merica said.
Board members judged Evans on 10 criteria he pledged to accomplish in his first 100 days on the job as leader of Nebraska's largest school district. He officially took over July 1, and by state law must be evaluated twice by the school board in his first year on the job.
Last month, Evans provided board members with a summary of changes and improvements he presided over during his first months on the job.
Those include the start of a new strategic plan — the district's first in more than a decade — outreach to parents and politicians, new staff training, facility and curriculum audits and renewed efforts to replace old computers.
The board did meet in closed session for two hours to discuss Evans as well as personnel and real estate topics.
Publicly, board members were overwhelmingly positive in their appraisal of Evans.
They commended him for his outreach to individual schools; attending community events; organizing meetings with legislators, business groups and other Omaha-area superintendents; and re-energizing school staff.
“I consistently hear from the majority of staff that they're excited to be at OPS and find renewed passion in their work,” board member Marian Fey said.
Evans thanked the board, though he joked that “we've only heard part of the story.”
He said he would need to gain board and staff support as the district completes its strategic plan, a long-term vision that could bring sweeping changes to OPS in areas like student achievement, teacher evaluations and facility upgrades.
“I do recognize there's a honeymoon period and we're going to need that as we put a really critical plan in place,” Evans said. “Some of the comments people make about me may change as we make some very difficult decisions. But I have no regrets and I'm so glad I'm here.”
Evans previously served as superintendent in Andover, Kan., a smaller, more suburban school district. He signed a three-year contract to lead the Omaha district, for which he is paid a base salary of $265,000 a year, plus an annuity and transportation allowance.
In other business, Justin Wayne and Lou Ann Goding were re-elected president and vice president of the school board, respectively.