Q: What is your background in education?
A: I am the parent of 7 children who attended Omaha Public Schools. They are grown now.
Q: How did you get involved in school board?
A: I initially began by completing the unexpired term of Ann Shephard. I was the Co-chair for the African American Achievement Council and I served several years on the Douglas County Board of Health. I found that some of the issues faced by public school children tie to public health – the barriers to health are similar to the barriers to education.
I spent 20 years working with at risk children, with high profile gang members as well as gifted and talented children. I still hear from many of all of those children. They contact me to tell me about their present day successes.
Q: What have been the best decisions the school board has made in your tenure?
A: Working on offering a pre-kindergarten program for early education and so that students can be ready to enter elementary schools. Also, doing more with students in their career choices, readiness for college and their college retention. Some students may be the first in their family to attend college and we’re offering programs to help them learn how to be successful after high school.
Q: What have been the toughest?
A: For quite some time, OPS had a grant to be the General Education Diploma (GED) provider. OPS have made the decision not to reapply for this grant and to continue being this provider. We are in transition on that and are working with a number of interested agencies that can apply to be the GED provider. The final decision will be made by the Nebraska Department of Education. There will continue to be GED programs throughout the city of Omaha, but OPS can devote time, talent, energy and money to other matters.
Q: What are your thoughts on Senator Laughtenbaugh’s efforts to shrink the OPS board?
A: It’s disruptive to our search for a new school superintendent and I testified against it. There’s no research or data to support his idea.
Q: Tell us your thoughts on No Child Left Behind.
A: There are good parts to it and unrealistic parts. One unrealistic part is requiring all students to be 100% proficient in reading and math by 2014 without funding a plan for how that happens. It needs to be done on an equitable basis. I’m also worried about how graduation rate increases aren’t celebrated and the publicity goes to dropout rates. I’m also concerned about how the dropout rate is measured. For instance, a student who doesn’t complete high school in four years but later does complete the program may be considered a ‘dropout’. These kinds of labels can be damaging.
Q: Several of Omaha’s high schools are performing at less than 50% proficiency in reading and math. What will you do to improve students’ academic success?
A: There’s no magic bullet. The Omaha School Board is working very hard right now on increasing academic success. We are taking a very hard and critical look at each and every policy and searching for the best policies to support academic success. Policy sets the tone for the work that gets done. Every policy will be amended, updated, or eliminated.
Q: What can OPS do to boost high school graduation rates?
A: One size does not fit all. Rates are based on four years, so if a student graduates in five years, that student is counted as a drop out and not a graduate. OPS should continue the programs that we have. We’ve developed a high school credit recovery program so that students can complete the courses they need to graduate.
We also have a career center. Students can graduate with a skill in a trade, such as auto body repair or certified medical assistant and are ready to enter these careers upon graduation. These are the kind of choices and opportunities that we need to provide to students – options that are right for that student.
Q: Tell us your thoughts on teacher merit pay and supporting great teachers.
A: The highest measure should not be academic achievement. We have yet to find a true measure of what teachers do. We should support great teachers through professional development, evaluation and coaching.
Q: Tell us your thoughts on procedures for identifying ineffective teachers and addressing this issue.
A: There are a myriad of ways. The superintendent sets up processes to do this. There are observations that are used, systems, and resources.
Q: What could be changed in the current teacher contract for the benefit of effective student education?
A: No comment.
Q: Omaha schools currently hold parent teacher conferences once a semester. What can be changed about parent-teacher conferences to increase parent attendance and participation in parent teacher conferences and in general with their children’s education?
A: Some parents are just not able to attend school conferences. They may be working or have other conflicts. There are multiple ways to be involved, such as family nights. I think it might be more important to provide equal opportunities for experiences for children, such as visits to Joslyn, Lauritzen Gardens, The Children’s Museum, and the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. Admission tickets might be out of the price range for parents, but if there is a ‘free day’ where admission isn’t charged, then parents can take their children and be ‘engaged’ in the learning experiences that their children have.
Parents do not wake up and say, “I don’t want my children to succeed”. So we have to be careful about what we measure.
Q: Tell us your thoughts about OPS implementing 21st Century Learning Skills.
A: We have several in place.
Q: How does the schools calendar, length of day and number of days attended benefit student proficiency and competency?
A: Omaha has had a focus school for three or four years now. The students at Wilson Focus School have a longer school day and attend school throughout the year. The students just adapted to this schedule. We’d like to do this in middle school and high school but it takes funding.
Q: How much oversight should the school board provide regarding the school superintendent?
A: That will be addressed in our policies.
Q: What do you see as the single most effective thing you could accomplish in another term?
A: Extended learning is important. Omaha public schools have adopted best practices, or we are the best practice upon which other school districts model themselves. My first and foremost concern is the student. I want to see the district continue to work to help children be better prepared to enter elementary school. So my focus is on early childhood education. When children are prepared well to start school, it serves them well throughout their education.