Virginia Moon met a fractured community.
A major initiative of the school district had just failed.
Citizens had been pitted against each other, emotions often worsening discussions.
Moon stepped in as interim superintendent at Broken Bow Public Schools in 2010, and two years later, “things are better,” said Michelle Zlomke, school board president.
Moon arrived at Broken Bow weeks before a $9.99 million bond issue was rejected by almost 60 percent of voters.
Before she left the district last month, voters had passed a $5.8 million bond issue. Broken Bow has about 800 students.
“Virginia was able to keep things on a factual basis and still respect the emotion behind people's desires,” Zlomke said.
Now Moon is stepping into another role as interim superintendent in a district embroiled in controversy: the Omaha Public Schools. Monday, the Omaha school board voted 8-4 to name her as the district's interim leader while it searches for a replacement for retiring Superintendent John Mackiel. He will retire Aug. 31 after 40 years in the district, the past 15 as superintendent.
Moon's contract was still being worked out, but she is expected to serve through the school year while the district searches for a permanent superintendent. The board earlier had said its interim chief would not be a candidate for the permanent job.
Moon previously spent 11 years as superintendent of the Ralston Public Schools before retiring, then taking the job in Broken Bow.
While she serves in OPS, the district will make its second attempt to replace Mackiel. In April the board hired Nancy Sebring, then superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools. But she resigned from the Omaha job last month after sexually explicit emails sent to and from her work account became public.
As Ralston superintendent, Moon firmly opposed OPS on one of the biggest education issues the area has recently faced: OPS's “one city, one school district” plan launched in June 2005.
The Omaha district tried to take over 25 schools and land belonging to three suburban districts, including Ralston. The effort cited an 1891 state law that OPS said allowed it to absorb portions of other districts within the Omaha city limits.
The month the plan was introduced, the Ralston school board directed the district “by all means necessary” to oppose the “one city, one school district” effort.
Some board members recalled that recent past when voting against hiring Moon.
“I remember the disrespect and disregard for our children that was expressed,” said Shirley Tyree, who has been on the OPS board since 1993.
Tyree, however, said she will work with Moon.
Other board members, including Sandra Jensen, seemed to favor current OPS employees to lead the district.
“We have people who are here that could do this job and have the background of this district,” she said.
Nancy Kratky and Mary Ellen Drickey also dissented.
Board member Justin Wayne, who made the motion to hire Moon, said she will help OPS work on its relationships in the community and help restore credibility for the district.
Other education officials also saw the hiring of Moon as a gesture that will help OPS work with other districts.
“This sends a loud and clear message that the OPS board is bigger than ‘one city, one school (district),' ” said Ken Bird, former Westside superintendent and president of Avenue Scholars. “It's about doing what's best for kids.”
During her time leading Ralston, Moon added innovations such as the extended school year calendar option at Mockingbird Elementary, targeted programs in reading, and the beginning of a pay-for-performance system for district principals and other administrators.
“This is an exciting decision,” said Linda Richards, Ralston school board president. “For the first time in probably 10 years as a board of education member, I'm excited for Omaha Public Schools.”
At Broken Bow, Zlomke said, Moon first sought to build on what already was in place. She didn't seek to change things just for change's sake.
“The main thing Virginia helped us do was keep the communication going and keep us moving forward,” Zlomke said. “She will get to know as many people as possible so she can discern what it is that needs to happen in the next year.”
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