Some of Omaha's heavy hitters weighed in Thursday on the direction they'd like to see the Omaha Public Schools' strategic planning process take.
The members of the steering committee are the latest to lend their time and opinions to create a plan that will guide the direction of OPS over the next five years. The plan likely will spur wide-ranging changes in areas such as community engagement, classroom instruction and the hiring, training and retaining of teachers and other school staff members.
The steering committee includes about 20 officials from local foundations, pastors from local churches, and leaders from nonprofits and the business community. Several school board members and Superintendent Mark Evans also participated.
Committee members split up into groups Thursday. Led by consultants Scott Joftus and Otis Rolle, they gave input on a new OPS mission statement and the five to six guiding principles that will help shape the strategic plan.
Working groups comprising teachers, principals, administrators and board members will meet all day today to flesh out the details of the plan.
Consultants will then use that input to create a first draft that will come back before the steering and working committees next month. By March, the school board will begin the process of finalizing and adopting the plan.
Working off strategic plan models from districts such as Austin, Chicago and Tacoma, steering committee members envisioned a mission that emphasized career and college readiness, community partnerships and critical thinking.
“Saying we want to be a model school district is not enough,” board member Anthony Vargas said.
Future goals and outcomes were discussed — for example, how success would be defined in OPS. Participants talked about measuring progress in the school district by increasing the number of kids taking the ACT, reducing the number of OPS students that need to take remedial classes in college and ensuring younger students are ready for kindergarten and first grade.
Groups brainstormed guiding principles for the plan, broad categories that would filter down into specific goals and strategies. Suggestions for guiding principles drafted by the consultants included statements such as “ensure all students are safe and healthy” and “recruit, retain, and support a high-quality and diverse workforce.”
Some members, including Omaha Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Brown, said the statements needed punchier language, such as “the district will provide modern, efficient and exciting facilities” and “there will be dynamic, accountable and approachable leaders in every classroom.”
“We said these need to be sayings you can put on the walls of every classroom, something everyone can remember and repeat to create a culture of success,” said Justin Wayne, the board's president.
Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Wendy Boyer said that as the strategic plan process moves forward, OPS officials can't lose sight of prioritizing the district's greatest needs, figuring out a way to pay for any improvements and setting realistic goals.
“The worst thing you can do is come out with a plan that isn't realistic, where you don't have the (staff), dollars, resources, and then you've made huge expectations in the community that you can't meet,” she said.