• Learn more about the three OPS superintendent finalists: Carey Wright, Mark Evans and Stephen Murley.
• See the questions posed to the superintendent finalists.
Mark Evans has been here.
He's worked in a district with about 50,000 kids, one with a diverse population and one that had plenty of room to improve its test scores and graduation rates.
He said he's had success at both, and now he wants to bring his experience in Wichita, Kan., plus eight years as a superintendent in a nearby suburban district, to Omaha.
“It looks like where I've been before,” said Evans, one of three finalists for the Omaha Public Schools superintendent's position.
Evans, 53, told the Omaha school board in his public interview that he would spend his early days listening, learning and planning. The board and about 125 people who attended his public forum Thursday afternoon got copies of his eight-page “entry and learning plan,” detailing how he would spend his first 100 days.
He was the third OPS finalist to go before the public. Carey Wright, chief academic officer of the Washington, D.C., schools, interviewed Wednesday. Steve Murley, superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District, had his say Tuesday.
The school board expects to name a new OPS leader Monday night.
Former Ralston Superintendent Virginia Moon is leading OPS for the remainder of the school year. John Mackiel retired in August after 15 years in the position.
The afternoon meet-and-greet session was again attended by education philanthropist Susie Buffett and Omaha business and community leaders, including officials from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of the Midlands.
Earlier Thursday, Evans interviewed with the OPS board in public and closed sessions. He also met with a smaller group in the morning, toured the city and visited an Omaha elementary school.
Evans said he would study Omaha's academic data and set measurable goals with staff, the board and community members. He would ensure that those goals reached the classroom, he said, where they could be put into action and monitored regularly.
“A lot of large districts have great plans,” said Evans, who spent 20 years working in the Wichita Public Schools, 17 as an administrator. “But they never get them to the classroom.”
His Wichita experience, which included four years as deputy superintendent, was punctuated by a yearlong fellowship in the prestigious Broad Institute's urban superintendents academy.
In 2003, he studied and traveled to urban school districts around the country. “We just got exposure to the best minds and the best leaders across the United States,” said Evans, currently superintendent of the Andover (Kan.) Public Schools, a district of about 5,400 students.
He would wait to see what OPS offers before bringing in what has worked where he has been, he said. That includes any changes in teacher evaluations or teacher pay.
In Wichita, Evans and others noticed that the school was losing too many beginning teachers. Working with the teachers union, Evans helped hire veteran teachers to mentor beginning teachers. The expert instructors also helped evaluate the teachers, working alongside Wichita principals.
The system remains in place today, Evans said.
In Wichita and Andover, he has used student achievement data to help determine where to put extra resources.
Some schools need more resources than others, he said.
Students at four Wichita middle schools had groups of students reading at a third- or fourth-grade level, he said.
Evans helped those schools adopt a special reading program that included extra instruction time, specially trained teachers and materials geared to middle school interests.
Student achievement went up, he said.
But some programs, such as additional algebra help for students, he said, should probably be in all schools.
In the past five years, Evans said, the Andover district has added a session for small groups of students who need extra help to prepare for algebra classes. The district chose that option instead of having students who failed algebra simply retake the course.
“Ramp up instead of remediate,” Evans said.
He made it clear, though, he's not all about data.
His entry plan highlighted the importance of building relationships with OPS staff, community members and the school board.
He said he would frequently email and call board members.
But that closeness doesn't mean he needs 12-0 votes from the 12-member board. “I'm quite comfortable with split votes,” he said. “In fact, I think it's healthy to some extent.”
In the past, some community members have criticized the OPS board for being too lockstep and rubber-stamping Mackiel's ideas.
Relationships can be key to leading a school district, Evans said.
Parents want their kid to walk into school and be known by name, Evans said, which is what he said he saw earlier Thursday during a tour of Mount View Elementary School in north Omaha.
During his public forum, Evans also showed a photo of his own two children when they were in first grade and kindergarten.
“There's a heart and a head in this business,” he said.
The photo was included in a PowerPoint presentation that he used to introduce himself.
In the audience was his wife of more than 30 years, Stacey.
Evans, a first-generation college graduate, attributed much of his success to the start he got in Wichita's public schools. His father worked in construction, and his mother was a secretary.
“If it weren't for public schools,” he said, “I wouldn't have an opportunity to talk with you today.”
OPS superintendent finalist questions
All finalists for the OPS superintendent position were given these questions in advance. The board and the public also are asking other questions of them:
1. Please take a few minutes and give us a thumbnail sketch of your professional experiences; your pivotal beliefs on public education; and why you are interested in being our superintendent.
2. Please describe for us your perception of the role of the superintendent, the board of education as a whole, and individual board members.
3. What is your educational philosophy or theory of action, and how is it tied to research and best practices?
4. What are the essential academic elements of a district that will ensure that students are college or career ready?
5. How can you best develop a district environment that works to continually improve the professional capacity of its employees, in the name of increased student performance?
6. What systems, operational and/or academic, are needed for a district to sustain consistent growth over time?
7. How would you describe your experience in creating, implementing, and assessing system-wide budgets?
8. Explain the critical role that your operations departments play in successfully educating children.
9. Review any experience you may have had in providing equitable opportunities to all students.
10. In today's budget reality, most districts are being asked to do more with less. Please discuss your approach to resource allocation.
11. Please explain your role with labor, collective bargaining units, and/or with negotiations.
12. What systems, operational or academic, are needed for a district to sustain consistent growth over time?
13. Do you have a closing comment you wish to make or to provide us any information that may not have emanated from this interview that would be valuable to us as we proceed with our selection process?
Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/jonathonbraden