Announcement expected Monday
The next superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools is expected to be announced Monday night.
School board members met in closed session Saturday for more than 90 minutes to talk about whom they should select as the district's new leader.
The finalists — Mark Evans, superintendent of the Andover (Kan.) Public Schools; Carey Wright, chief academic officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools; and Stephen Murley, superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District — interviewed with the board and the community last week. The board is expected to vote on a new superintendent at its regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the OPS central offices, 3215 Cuming St.
The appointee will succeed interim Superintendent Virginia Moon. John Mackiel retired in August after 15 years in the position.
— Jonathon Braden
More on the candidates
A look at their home districts
The three candidates for Omaha Public Schools superintendent have tapped the playbook of high-performing urban school districts to differing degrees in their home districts.
While there's no silver bullet to make poor and immigrant urban kids learn as quickly as their more affluent peers in the suburbs, The World-Herald found earlier this year that the nation's highest-performing urban districts tend to take similar approaches.
The standouts write strategic plans with measurable achievement targets, gauge their progress and keep the public informed.
They pore over test-score data to identify what's tripping up students and tailor instruction to address their shortcomings.
Their principals are strong and lead instruction in their buildings.
And they put effective teachers in the classroom — training, supporting and coaching them to make them better.
Here's what The World-Herald found at the home districts of Stephen Murley, Carey Wright and Mark Evans:
» Wright: The chief academic officer in the District of Columbia Public Schools was a part of the management team that, with Chancellor Kaya Henderson, drafted the district's new five-year strategic plan, “A Capital Commitment.”
Wright said the team wanted to set specific targets. The 2012-2017 plan calls for having at least 70 percent of students proficient in reading and math, and for doubling the number of students scoring in the advanced range on state tests.
The D.C. school district has about 45,000 students, making it similar in size to OPS. About 72 percent of students are black, and 77 percent qualify for federal lunch subsidies.
It sets goals for ensuring that 90 percent of students like the schools they attend, and increasing overall enrollment in the D.C. Public Schools. About four in 10 students within the District of Columbia attend school in a separate charter system.
The plan calls for increasing the four-year graduation rate from 53 percent — the nation's lowest — to 75 percent. It also calls for raising the proficiency rates in the district's 40 lowest-performing schools by 40 percentage points.
» Evans: The Andover Public Schools in suburban Wichita, Kan., where Evans is superintendent, posts its strategic plan on the district's website.
The four-page 2012-13 plan lists goals such as “enhance online enrollment” and “meet district-approved student achievement goals.”
In the classroom, it says, students' learning needs will be met, preparing them to be college and career ready, with skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.
The plan does not include specific targets, but Evans said it's a “big-picture document.” Detailed goals are in separate documents. The World-Herald asked for those, but they were not available last week.
» Murley: The Iowa City Community School District defines what it expects its students to achieve as the “end results” of their education, with core curriculum areas having the most specific goals.
“You've got to have a goal,” Murley said.
The “Ends Policies” in Iowa City include goals such as annual improvement in average achievement scores, annual increases that beat the national average for similar students, and gains for both high-achieving and low-achieving students.
Use of data
» Wright: She repeatedly emphasized the importance of using data to drive instruction.
“Data informs all decisions,” she said.
She helped write an academic plan for the D.C. schools that includes testing kids regularly throughout the year and getting score data quickly back to teachers so they can adjust and tailor instruction to individual children. D.C. officials call their tests paced interim assessments.
Wright said the assessment system gives teachers detailed information about how children performed on specific questions and concepts.
» Evans: He said dissecting student achievement data should be the first thing administrators and teachers do.
“We look at the data, and that helps drive us to the annual goals you should be benchmarking,” Evans said.
The Andover district uses multiple math and reading assessments to judge students' progress throughout the year. Elementary students take formal tests at least four to five times a year to ensure they're getting better, he said. Secondary students take such benchmark tests at least two times a year. That's in addition to state tests.
» Murley: Iowa City tests students regularly throughout the year, using a variety of assessments. The data is used to determine whether individual students are on track.
Educators at each school — teachers and instructional coaches — gather every three weeks in a “war room” to review each student's progress and discuss what changes might be necessary to help students catch up. In some cases, students join teachers in those sessions.
» Wright: She said her district takes responsibility for making sure principals acquire the skills of an instructional leader.
“We don't assume that everybody has it,” she said.
When teachers are given professional development training, the principals get it first, she said.
» Evans: In Andover, Evans wants his principals in the classroom often, observing instruction and making sure the district's goals are being implemented by teachers. Principals should observe for a few minutes at a time and come back every so often, he said. Enough of those random drop-ins, Evans said, and principals will have a good idea of what's going on in those classrooms.
“All of us need to spend time in classrooms,” he said.
His current district's size — about 5,400 students — also lets him be more involved with building leaders. At the mid-year point, he sits down with the school leaders to examine specific data related to district goals.
» Murley: He said selecting the right leaders is crucial. He said he has worked to add more objective standards to the process of recruiting and selecting school leaders as well as teachers.
Candidates are graded based on various measures of their skill and potential ability before making it to the interview process. And in the interviews, Murley said, the district uses questions that have been shown to be intellectually rigorous and effective.
» Wright: She came into D.C. in 2009 as then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee was rolling out a controversial new teacher evaluation system called IMPACT, which takes into account student test scores. At the time, Rhee was also putting into place a new Teaching and Learning Framework, essentially laying out the expectation for what good teaching looked like. It was based on research, Wright said, and great pains were taken to make sure it was fair and objective because it was tied to evaluations.
Once those were in place, the district turned from the “how” of teaching to the “what,” she said.
Wright helped develop a districtwide academic plan, which is in its second year. It directs teachers what to teach and when, based on the Common Core State Standards for math and reading, standards that 46 states have adopted.
» Evans: When he was in the Wichita Public Schools, he said, the district was losing too many beginning teachers.
Evans said he helped install a different kind of evaluation system they thought would keep teachers longer.
He helped recruit veteran teachers to mentor beginning teachers.
The Wichita expert instructors evaluated the beginning teachers, working alongside Wichita principals, and often evaluated the teachers more harshly than the principals did, Evans said.
Attrition rates fell, he said, and Wichita still uses the system today.
» Murley: He said teachers need quality professional development programs. He said he has tried to eliminate “drive-by” training sessions that produce little change in the classroom.
Instead, he said, it's important for classroom training to be systematic, directly related to a teacher's job, and immediately applicable.
Iowa City evaluates teachers through a variety of methods, including peer review. Murley said the district doesn't link those teacher evaluations to their students' test scores.
World-Herald staff writers Julie Anderson, Jonathon Braden and Paul Goodsell contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, email@example.com