Cheryl Logan has almost three decades of experience working in large, diverse districts on the East Coast, speaks fluent Spanish, and now, she is the next superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools.
The OPS board voted unanimously Tuesday night to hire Logan to lead Nebraska’s largest school district.
She currently works as the chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia and has an extensive background working in urban districts as a teacher, principal and administrator.
Logan, 55, will be OPS’s first black superintendent, and only the second woman to fill the district’s top job. She is bilingual and has taught students learning English for the first time, a growing population within OPS.
It appeared to be an easy call by the board, which took little time in casting unanimous support for Logan. The board acted just minutes after wrapping up public interviews with her and fellow finalist Harrison Peters, 43, the chief of schools for the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida.
“When you know, you know,” board member Amanda Ryan said. By the time the public interviews rolled around, the board had met and interviewed both candidates several times in small groups. The support for Logan didn’t waver.
“We always talk about good to great,” board President Marque Snow said. Logan, he said, will help OPS make that transition.
Logan will succeed retiring Superintendent Mark Evans, who has led the district for nearly five years.
The board’s next step is to negotiate a contract with Logan. She is expected to start July 1, and the job was advertised as paying roughly $300,000 per year, plus benefits.
The packed room of more than 200 people applauded for 12 seconds after the 9-0 vote.
“They got it right. They got it right,” one member of the crowd murmured.
That enthusiasm was palpable as board members announced their decision to hire Logan, citing her sterling credentials, emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, and the heavy lifting she’s done in Philadelphia to improve struggling schools.
“I think she’s going to be a uniter,” said Bridget Donovan, the president of the Omaha Education Association teachers union. “We feel as if they didn’t just hire a boss, they hired a partner.”
Logan said it was no small matter to her that she would be one of the first women and first African-American to lead OPS.
“I know that I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me,” she said. The challenges she would face would be small in comparison, she said.
Virginia Moon was the first woman to lead OPS, but as interim superintendent from July 2012 to June 2013. The OPS board had chosen another woman, Des Moines Superintendent Nancy Sebring, to lead the district in 2012, but she resigned before ever starting after a racy email scandal.
Board members said Logan’s selection sends a strong message to OPS’s hugely diverse community.Logan will head a district in which a majority of students are black or Latino.
“I think it sends a positive message when you have a very diverse district like we have that a student — whether it’s a girl or an African-American or any student — can see someone in a role where they feel that they can be in one day,” Snow said.
After a rocky start to the search, board members appeared relieved to cross the finish line.
“Over the past couple of years, people have said it’s a divided board ... and together we’ve been saying, no, we are working together, we have the same goals, we have the same commitment,” said board vice president Lacey Merica. “Tonight was another example of that.”
Logan’s hiring concludes a lengthy search for OPS’s next leader.
Last year’s superintendent search collapsed without a hire.
First, one candidate dropped out of the search, saying the job wasn’t a good fit. Then the board struggled to reach consensus on the two remaining finalists. After learning that neither had garnered the full support of the school board, they too withdrew.
In the wake of the failed search, Evans was persuaded to remain another year.
The board relaunched the search in August with a new search firm, Cedar Rapids-based Ray and Associates. Seventy-four candidates applied.
The board’s vote capped off a whirlwind two days for the candidates, who toured schools and the city Monday and met with OPS board members, union leaders and executive staff in small-group meetings Tuesday. Tuesday night, Logan and Peters met and mingled with teachers, students and community members and fielded questions from the board during public interviews.
Logan and Peters were questioned Tuesday on OPS’s looming budget crunch, the barriers they might face during their first year on the job and examples of strategies they’ve put in place to improve outcomes for kids.
Peters said he had received this excellent advice after touring schools and talking to staff in OPS: “Listen, listen and listen.”
In a meeting with reporters before the board meeting, he described being discouraged by one teacher in 10th grade and encouraged by another.
Peters said his mother was in prison at the time and his father wasn’t in his life. That didn’t matter to the second teacher. “What I care about is you,” the teacher said. “Because I believe in you.”
He called education “the great equalizer."
But Logan’s vast experience and steady demeanor won over the board. Philadelphia is a high-poverty district that enrolls roughly 133,000 students, more than double the 50,000-plus students in OPS.
In Omaha, Logan will lead a diverse district that employs more than 8,000 full- and part-time staff and has a general fund budget of over $600 million. Three-quarters of OPS students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch, and in the 2016-17 school year, 15.8 percent of students were English Language Learners.
In her interview, Logan said she knows how to develop relationships and isn’t shy about meeting strangers. “I need to listen more than talk,” she said.
In Philadelphia, she said, school officials have had success with certain strategies in getting ninth-graders through to the end of the school year. Kids’ odds of graduating diminish greatly if they have to repeat freshman year.
They set 95 percent of school days as a reasonable attendance goal. And the students participated in setting goals for themselves.
In her first few months at OPS, Logan said she will strive to create meaningful connections with students, families and staff.
“I need to be honest, I need to be transparent, I need to be willing to go and talk to people whose opinions may differ about how we need to get things done,” she said.
She even said she was glad the interview was being recorded — she would be held accountable for fulfilling her pledges.
She intends to be visible at games, churches, fairs and other activities. People need to see her and meet her in order to trust her, she said, mentioning a time when, as a new high school principal, she ran with the football team to introduce herself.
This will be the first time Logan, a longtime supporting player in Philadelphia and school districts in Maryland, will be a superintendent.
She has been with the Philadelphia district since July 2013, when she was hired as assistant superintendent. In that job, she supervised principals of 45 elementary, middle and high schools. Since October 2015, Logan has been chief academic officer.
Logan last year obtained her doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Last spring she was a finalist for superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota.
She’ll have to hit the ground running in OPS.
The district faces budget pressures, including a $15.8 million shortfall for the 2018-19 school year tied to the district’s under-funded pension system. OPS has been fending off a push by school choice advocates who want charter schools established in Nebraska, state aid funding remains a question mark, and the board is on the brink of placing a nearly $400 million bond measure on the ballot in May to build and renovate schools.
“You should know that no one will work harder, no one will be more committed, and the way I feel about the work we do with children, it’s in my heart and it’s in my soul,” she said.