The new five-year strategic plan developed by Omaha Public Schools shows impressive, professional-minded foresight by Nebraska’s largest school district.
The plan identifies sensible goals for improved academic performance and professional development and outlines sound approaches to reach them. It describes practical options to boost efficiency. It insists on fiscal discipline. It encourages innovation. It explains the growing importance of educational technology as an instructional tool.
And it impressively emphasizes that over time, status quo thinking won’t do — conditions will change, and in response OPS must be ready to adjust its policies and operational culture to meet future challenges. Such thinking guided OPS in developing this new plan: The district used original analysis and planning rather than merely extending its previous five-year plan.
Indeed, one of the principles OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan emphasizes for the district is to regularly scrutinize individual policies and programs to check if they still have relevance and value. If not, they should be jettisoned. In other words: No more “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking. That’s sound, flexible thinking to be welcomed by any well-functioning institution.
The district, with 54,000 students and 62 schools, can point to current achievements but also to challenges. No planning roadmap will magically solve every need in short order. But the new plan usefully explains key challenges and points the way toward coordinated policies to address them.
The plan’s strong focus on improved strategies for reading is welcome, for example. The district will hire reading specialists and add Reading Recovery, a program that gives one-on-one assistance to young students who are struggling with reading and writing.
As Logan observes, “When people come to the Omaha Public Schools and trust us with their children, we should be able to deliver on making sure that every child can read by the end of third grade.”
Encouraging, too, is the plan’s push to reduce student absences — identified as a key long-term factor determining a student’s academic success or failure. The plan cites specific goals for addressing absenteeism. In the same vein, OPS has set “ethic of care” goals to strengthen relations with families, as measured in school climate surveys.
Under Logan’s management, OPS has achieved impressive fiscal stewardship. OPS had budgeted $617 million for the past school year, but the district wound up spending $570 million. A national consultant, expert in school finance, conducted a wide-ranging analysis of the district’s finances and budgetary approach.
The new strategic plan promotes sound budget management in multiple ways. By June 2021, for example, the district will require audits of existing systems and technology contracts “to increase fiscal responsibility, eliminate redundancy in technology purchasing and create a schedule for procurement of technology” needs through 2030.
These approaches in the new plan — encompassing instruction, staff development, school/family relations and budget management — offer encouraging promise for the future of OPS and our community.