The next superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools says urban education is becoming “a new frontier.”
“I'm very excited to get started,” said Nancy Sebring, tapped Monday to be the first woman to lead OPS and the first outsider hired as its superintendent in three decades.
The Omaha school board voted 11-0, with one abstention, to hire Sebring to replace retiring Superintendent John Mackiel.
Omaha school board members and community groups rallied around Sebring's selection Monday.
“I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing so far,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network.
Sebring's hiring is pending the completion of a background check and successful contract negotiations.
The board went into closed session for about 80 minutes Monday evening to discuss the details of Sebring's contract, including compensation.
OPS legal counsel will now start negotiating with Sebring, said board President Freddie Gray.
Sebring, 57, said she had not talked with the Omaha board members about contract details, including salary. She expects to hear from Omaha board members in a day or so regarding a contract proposal.
Sebring told the board in her application that her gross income is $240,000. That includes a base salary of $206,178 and a tax-sheltered annuity.
Mackiel's total compensation is approximately $414,000, including base pay of $258,107, an annuity, a retention incentive and the ability to cash out unused vacation time.
Sebring said she is under contract with the Des Moines Public Schools through June 30. She'll spend her remaining time there working on that district's budget and personnel matters, as well as year-end activities.
Another demand on her time will be her daughter's July wedding, she said.
But as soon as possible, Sebring said, she wants to make time for visits to Omaha to meet district personnel so she is ready when school starts in the fall.
Asked if she thought OPS needed fine-tuning or a major overhaul, Sebring said it was too early to tell. She said every district in which she has worked has had good things going on.
Sebring said she's heard great things about Omaha. She already visited Omaha North High School, met with community members and toured the city.
She announced to her staff in Des Moines on Monday that she'd been picked for the Omaha job.
Telling her staff was “bittersweet,” Sebring said.
The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Omaha teachers' union and the Empowerment Network praised Sebring's hiring.
They noted her experience leading an urban school district, her expertise in curriculum and teaching and her experience reaching out to community organizations, especially business leaders.
“We needed somebody who was well-rounded and had all of those different areas covered,” said Chris Proulx, president of the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers union. “Looking at all of her credentials and experience, she definitely fits the mold.”
Barney, of the Empowerment Network, attended Monday's announcement. He said he was “very impressed” by Sebring's efforts in Des Moines to get more students taking Advanced Placement courses and the ACT college prep test, and by her focus on closing academic achievement gaps.
He said he hopes the community will take Sebring's hiring as an opportunity to work together for “the success of all our kids and families.”
In naming Sebring, the school board passed over an internal contender, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction ReNae Kehrberg; and Daniel Nerad, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.
Monday's noon meeting lasted for 13 minutes. It was absent discussion of the merits of individual finalists. Nonetheless, reaching a consensus took some negotiating, board members said.
The board deliberated in closed session for three hours Friday evening.
“We weren't lock-step. We weren't joined at the hip,” board member Shirley Tyree said. “I'm still speaking with everyone. I hope everyone is doing the same.”
Board members praised all three finalists and stressed that Sebring's hiring resulted from a broad-based, communitywide process.
“We did listen to the community,” Gray said. “They told us exactly what it was that they wanted to see in a superintendent, and it happened to match the things that we, as a board, were interested in as well.”
Sebring's hiring fell one vote short of a unanimous action when board member Nancy Kratky abstained.
Kratky did not speak during a brief comment period, but when it was her turn to vote, she said she wanted to make a statement.
Gray said the time to comment had passed. “We are at a vote now, please.”
“OK,” Kratky said. “Then I'll pass.”
Kratky declined to comment after the meeting.
For the past six years, Sebring has led the Des Moines district of 31,275 students, with half its students minority and two-thirds coming from families who qualify for federal lunch subsidies, an indicator of poverty.
Throughout her Des Moines tenure, Sebring has tried to increase opportunities and raise the achievement of minority and low-income students while narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students.
Interviewing in Omaha, she highlighted such successes. She also drew high marks for her efforts in organizing a “dropout walk,” in which groups of four knock on the doors of students who have dropped out and ask them to come back to school.
Teree Caldwell-Johnson, chairwoman of the Des Moines school board, issued a statement praising Sebring and wishing her success.
“It should be no surprise that larger school districts would want someone of her experience and ability as their next superintendent,” Caldwell-Johnson said.
The Des Moines board has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to begin discussions about a search process to replace Sebring.
Omaha's superintendent search started on Aug. 15, the first day of the 2011-12 school year, when Mackiel announced that he was retiring after the school year. He has been superintendent since the 1997-98 school year.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill., conducted the search that culminated in Monday's vote.
“Dr. Sebring brings a wealth of proven experience,” board member Mary Morrissey said, “and I know she will do an excellent job.”
Sebring in a question-and-answer session before the public:
Monday's school board meeting:
Contact the writer: