Mark Evans, the new superintendent of Omaha Public Schools, has shown commendable leadership with a major administrative reorganization aimed at making school operations more efficient and responsive to the public.
He is moving about 28 administrative employees from the central office into schools so that those supervisors will be closer to principals and teachers, students and parents.
These administrators will help oversee schools’ actions regarding truancy, discipline and social work. By moving these supervisors directly into the schools, the administrators will be better positioned to handle these often complicated responsibilities.
Evans announced an additional sensible step: The district will hire four new executive directors to serve as “one-stop shops” for principals. This change can have real impact, promoting more efficient and responsive actions by schools.
As The World-Herald’s Erin Duffy reported, those executive directors will “field questions and problems ranging from a broken heater to brainstorming ways to boost attendance or test scores in a particular school.” The four executive directors will oversee about 20 schools apiece.
With this change, Evans is ending the district’s longtime, inefficient practice by which principals at each of the district’s 86 schools reported directly to the superintendent.
The overall result of these changes will be a net reduction of seven full-time employees, achieved mainly through attrition.
With these actions, Evans is responding to the district’s outside assessment of its needs and showing strong, forward-looking leadership. The decision sends important signals about the current direction at OPS under his guidance as superintendent:
>> The administrative shakeup was based on practical, professional considerations. Evans did not let status quo thinking block sensible change; this in itself was a big step forward.
>> OPS is tackling significant and difficult issues in a methodical way. It’s doing so by drawing on the findings of the external needs assessment that included considerable input from the public.
That assessment stated that the OPS Student and Family Services Department — the focus of Evans’ administrative overhaul — was “ill-equipped” to carry out its mission of helping principals. The revamp of the department should enable OPS to do a better job of tracking and addressing parent complaints.
>> Evans demonstrated firm leadership and, just as important, explained his action in straightforward language that the public can understand and appreciate. Clear communication from OPS leaders has long been a key need for the district.
By taking these actions, Evans is pursuing an important overarching goal — not just rearranging chairs but making changes to increase the ability of OPS schools to engage students and meet the expectations of the public.
Much work remains to be done at OPS. The public will be well served if Evans’ future decisions display the same vision and sure-handedness that his latest action has demonstrated.