An administrative shake-up at the Omaha Public Schools will shift more staff back into schools and classrooms and add a layer of supervision for principals.
The district announced Thursday that it would reassign about 28 administrative employees in the Department of Student and Family Services. It is the first broad staffing change since Superintendent Mark Evans took over last summer.
The majority of those will be sent to schools to more directly assist with functions like truancy, discipline and social work. Others could fill vacant assistant principal positions.
“We’re trying to find ways to support teachers and support principals in a more efficient manner,” said Justin Wayne, school board president.
As part of the shuffle there, several other Student and Family Services employees will be transferred to other departments or step into vacant positions in the OPS headquarters building.
An external needs assessment released last month came down hard on the department, finding that the Student and Family Services department was “ill-equipped” to handle the needs of students, staff and parents and the volume of complaints and questions from parents.
Employees there field more than 500 parent complaints a year, but had no system for tracking and closing cases. Principals and teachers surveyed also took issues with the quality of professional development provided by the office and said they could use more in-house help.
The conclusions from that report drove the decision to realign staff, Wayne and Evans said.
“Principals and internal staff as well as the community said they just didn’t feel they were getting the services they needed from that department,” Evans said. “In the surveys they say, we wish those people who were serving in those roles were in our buildings.”
The district will also hire four new executive directors of school support — three for elementary and one for secondary schools — that will oversee roughly 20 schools each.
Under OPS’s previous organizational chart, principals at each of the district’s 86 schools reported directly to the superintendent.
“The reality is, there’s no way I can provide that type of support, supervision and accountability and all other aspects of being in a supervisory role to 86 different people,” Evans said.
Most large, urban school districts tap assistant superintendents or directors to supervise and provide more in-depth building support to principals and schools, Evans said.
“These positions, one of the tasks I’ll ask of them is how are we implementing strategies and tactics that are going to impact student engagement,” he said. “They’ll be working hand-in-hand with those principals that are assigned to them.”
The executive directors will serve as a “one-stop shop” for principals — leaders who can field questions and problems ranging from a broken heater to brainstorming ways to boost attendance or test scores in a particular schools, Evans said. The schools will not necessarily be grouped by geography or wards, like in some districts that appoint area superintendents.
The restructuring did not involve layoffs, though Evans said some reassigned employees may seek jobs elsewhere.
Affected employees were notified of the changes Wednesday.
“I think they saw it coming, a reorganization or the need to make some shifts,” Evans said.
The district will finalize title changes and school assignments in coming weeks.
Contractually, all employees must be paid their current salary through next year; after that, the district can adjust salaries based on new job responsibilities.
Omaha Education Association President Chris Proulx said he hadn’t seen the changes to the organizational chart and couldn’t comment on the restructuring.
In coming months, the district will also add an Office of Equity and Diversity that will help OPS connect with its increasingly diverse community. The needs assessment found a lack of awareness and inclusion in the district when it came to its majority-minority student and family populations.
Evans acknowledged a lingering perception in the community that the OPS administration is too top-heavy. He said the staffing changes — even with the addition of the new positions — result in a net reduction of seven full-time employees, achieved mainly through attrition.
Job listings for the new office and the executive director positions are still being drafted and will be made available to both internal and external — even national — applicants, Evans said.