There’s an important election coming up. While only nine voters will take part, it’s a contest that Omahans should watch closely. It will impact the city and its future.
Members of the Omaha Public Schools board on Wednesday are expected to choose a president for the next year.
The current president, Justin Wayne, should be re-elected.
Wayne has held the post only since mid-June. That’s when the new, nine-member board replaced the previous 12-member board that had so mismanaged things the Nebraska Legislature voted overwhelmingly (44-4) to blow it up and start over.
In just over six months, real change has begun to take place. There is no reason to change board presidents now, and there are many good reasons to keep Wayne on the job:
>> The new board has shown laudable dedication and energy, and board members have been working well with a new superintendent, Mark Evans. Together, they are developing a solid working relationship that offers considerable promise for the state’s largest school district.
>> The district is working on its first comprehensive strategic plan in years, with a superintendent who has done more than let it collect dust at his previous stops. Evans and his previous districts’ teachers and staff have used such plans as a guiding document for district priorities.
>> At Wayne’s urging and with the board’s approval, OPS is showing statewide academic leadership with its new requirement that students maintain a 2.0 grade-point average to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
>> OPS is seeing rising graduation rates and state standardized test scores in reading, math and science despite a growing immigrant and refugee population for whom English is a second language. It is too soon to credit the new board and superintendent, of course, but the trend is welcome and shouldn’t be disrupted now.
>> There’s a district-level emphasis on public buy-in and public input not seen in years, along with citywide outreach, including the business community and suburban neighborhoods.
>> Clearer lines of communication are being established, along with districtwide standards for buildings and needed improvements in technology.
>> There’s a fresh look being taken at ways to improve the evaluation of teachers.
>> A new attendance plan is being developed to address imbalances at elementary, middle and high schools.
>> The district has hired an in-house lawyer and begun addressing spiraling outside legal costs, a common-sense move long neglected.
>> A consultant’s report that offered an unsparing look at the many challenges facing OPS was met with thoughtful determination rather than defensiveness.
After last spring’s elections, this newspaper urged the new board members to choose from their ranks a leader who brought to the post a number of important qualities:
A president not satisfied with the status quo. One who would stand as a change agent and be seen as such by the public. A president willing to rock the boat, to chart a new course. Someone strongly focused on student achievement. A president who would hold high expectations for students, teachers and administrators. A leader who would manage fiscal policy to align with those goals. A president who would be open with Omahans, articulating a clear vision for OPS and its strategy for getting there.
Wayne has demonstrated those qualities, and the new OPS board has made real progress in a short period of time. Momentum is building, but the work is far from done.
The board needs to re-elect Justin Wayne as its president and keep OPS moving forward.