She judged a mascot contest, rapped a few bars from “Hamilton” and shared her agenda for the upcoming school year with administrators and principals whom she challenged to set a positive tone in their schools.
Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan, who started last month, presided over her first leadership kickoff Thursday morning.
“I’m not throwing away my shot, I’ll tell you that,” she said, after walking out to “My Shot,” one of the songs from the popular musical “Hamilton.”
School leaders, administrators and school board members gathered at Baxter Arena to prepare for the start of school in two weeks.
The keynote speaker was José Hernández, a NASA engineer and astronaut who grew up the child of Mexican migrant workers.
At her first official school board meeting in July, Logan laid out her 90-day entry plan, pledging to build strong relationships with OPS parents, staff and students and immerse herself in the history and operations of the district.
On Thursday, with simplicity in mind, she outlined three top priorities for the district: improve math instruction, rethink the way OPS approaches attendance and absenteeism, and beef up the district’s threat assessment process to ensure schools are safe and kids in trouble receive help.
“I believe in strategy, I believe in direction, and for me it’s important for all you to know where we are and where we are going,” Logan said.
The district’s scores on state math tests have flatlined, and a new task force appointed months ago has been working on ways to reverse that trend. In Philadelphia, where she was chief academic officer, Logan worked on an initiative to push Algebra 1 classes down into more middle schools.
On attendance, she said OPS schools have largely been judged by their daily attendance rate — the percentage of students who show up each day.
“In that, we miss a lot of things, because we miss individual kids,” Logan said.
She said she wants to see schools and principals focus more on a 95 percent attendance rate for each student, making sure they don’t miss more than nine days of school a year. It’s a no-brainer, she said: Kids who miss too much school are more likely to fall behind.
On the school safety front, threat assessment, which involves identifying and acting on potential threats, “is really about prevention,” Logan said. School counselors, social workers and those in charge of school safety need to be working closely together.
“We all know our kids, but how can we know them better, how can we coordinate our services better?” she said.
Throughout her 30-year career in education, she’s seen it all: two tornadoes, an earthquake, students who died during the school day, a fire and a teacher who was shot by a student when she was a teacher in 1994.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anything that can happen in a school that hasn’t happened in my career,” she said.
But she also stressed that she wasn’t coming in to highlight all the problems in OPS or suggest that she has all the answers.
“This district is well-resourced, it has tremendous community support, the children are doing well and of course they can always do better, we can always do better,” Logan said. “I don’t even know how I got so fortunate and lucky to be here with you.”