Take your time.
That’s the good advice teachers often give to students facing important exams. And it’s good advice for the Omaha school board as it prepares for another superintendent search.
Speed is not important. The outcome is.
Because one thing hasn’t changed in the turmoil over Nancy Sebring’s abrupt resignation over sexually explicit emails she sent via her Des Moines Public Schools account.
Finding the best possible person to entrust with the future of Omaha schoolchildren remains the goal.
The next superintendent of Omaha Public Schools must be someone focused on raising student performance and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.
After a national search, Omahans thought we had found such a person in Sebring. Her record in an urban school district, an emphasis on raising expectations for students and a reputation as a change agent seemed to be a good fit with what OPS needs for the future.
Little did anyone know.
In quickly offering OPS her resignation, Sebring did the right thing.
The same cannot be said, however, of her actions in quitting her Des Moines post or those of the Des Moines school board when its members first learned of the inappropriate emails Sebring sent to a lover in violation of school district computer use and Internet policies.
When Sebring resigned six weeks early, on May 10, she portrayed the departure as a need for extra time to make the transition to her Omaha job and to prepare for her daughter’s wedding. When the Des Moines school board accepted that resignation in a closed-door meeting, it parroted her story.
Only now do we learn that the Des Moines board’s chairwoman, Teree Caldwell-Johnson, said Sebring “showed poor judgment and took actions that were both beneath her position and embarrassing to the district.” Or that Sebring tried several times to prevent disclosure of the emails.
The Des Moines school board misled citizens in two cities. Board members weren’t honest with their own residents about what their superintendent had done, and they weren’t forthcoming with Omaha school board members about why she was quitting her old job so abruptly.
Now OPS must reset its search.
The school board deserves credit for the direction it took the first time. This second search should do the same, looking across the nation for the right person. If finding the best candidate means an interim appointment is needed when John Mackiel retires in August, so be it.
Above all, the next superintendent needs to put high academic standards, boosting student achievement and closing the achievement gap as the top priorities.
The next superintendent also should be someone who understands the needs of a diverse urban school district; who can work with a range of citizens, including parents, nonprofit groups and the business community; who is a strong communicator; who promotes transparency; and who will be in this for the long haul.
Omahans need the focus to remain on OPS students and what’s best for them. Regardless of how long it takes.