WORKFORCE READINESS

 

Relevant Curriculum and Classrooms

I firmly believe that every parent sends the best child they have to school to be successful.  To be successful, our students need to be eager learners.  And to be eager learners, our students need to believe in the promise that education will improve their lives.  That requires that the school board establish these clear objectives:

A curriculum that includes the basics of learning and specifically addresses the differences among the learning styles, and backgrounds and abilities of the more than 50,000 students in the Omaha Public Schools District.

Schools “look” like the community our students live in – and prepares them for the community in which they will be citizens.

The faculty and administrators district-wide represent a diverse society.

The lessons and reading materials reflect the diversity of ethnic groups, belief systems, and family structure that each of our students experiences.

The objectives of education reflect the wide range of careers and interests of our student body and their families.

Helping Teachers Focus on Being Teachers

OPS is blessed to have 5,000 teachers who chose to be education professionals because of their passion for working with students to discover the joy of learning and the purpose of education.

Teachers need more time to be teachers, and each change in reporting or additional meetings to attend or roll out of another good idea that is not yet fully conceived consumes valuable time a teacher could – and wants to – be spending in the classroom or preparing for the next set of lessons. Just like the amount of money a school system has to spend is not infinite and must be budgeted – so is the resource of teacher time. It is important that more attention is paid to purposeful use of teacher time.

It is essential that the OPS administration take advantage of the knowledge and experiences of this professional team as changes in curriculum and policy and technology are considered and introduced. As a teacher for 18 years, I full appreciate that even the best idea fails if it is not “user friendly” or is a “top down” decision – and who better than the teachers in the classrooms to provide feedback from their classrooms as the District decides on making changes that inevitably result in expensive purchases or traini

Each school is a highly-functioning team of professionals, and the collective wisdom and experience of the people working directly with students should be more actively solicited in connection with changes in District policy and objectives.

Focus on Work Force Availability

The extraordinarily low unemployment rate in Omaha, and Nebraska, is a tribute to our active economy – but also indicates that businesses are struggling to fill open positions.

According to recent economic studies, such as Blueprint Nebraska [https://blueprint-nebraska.org/], because of baby-boomer retirement and the out-migration of young people, 50,000 jobs open up in Nebraska each year – but only 24,000 students graduate from high school.   This is a gap that every school district must be prepared to address – and close.  In order to do so, we need to make sure our students see their future in our communities and have the skills and support to do so.

For example, while Nebraska’s overall school systems are ranked 6th in the nation, and 4th in high school graduation, Nebraska is in the bottom 25%  with respect to students prepared for high paying STEM-based jobs [science, technology, engineering, or math-based jobs, such as health care, software, teaching, engineering, geography and statistics].  The OPS District has made great efforts and progress in addressing this issue, but we must not rest on our successes and must continue to identify paths for our students to master these skills.

In addition, communities across the state consistently experience a shortage of skilled workers, such as electricians, welders, plumbers, diesel mechanics, drywallers and the like.  Omaha Public Schools needs to address this need head-on, not just because a more complete workforce is needed, but because our students deserve to be given a full-range of career options to consider and master.  Omaha Public Schools could be a leader in creating a pathway to education that does not have only college as its objective.

Partnerships and internships with employers in the community should be available to all students, regardless of their education objectives.  This will help students explore career options available to them – and at the same time will help them build an understanding of the expectations of the workplace.

Nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

As recently reported, several leading education organizations in Omaha have joined the nationwide “Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.”  Supported by the Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium, The Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties and the United Way of the Midlands, the campaign’s action plan addresses school readiness, school attendance and summer learning.

Quoting from that report,” [r]eading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone toward high school graduation and success later in life. […] Students who aren’t reading on grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely if they have lived in poverty for a year.  Reading proficiency ranges from 34 percent to 85 percent in Douglas County and Sarpy County schools, and 53 percent of Nebraska third-grade students are proficient in reading.”

This means that in some cases, 46 percent of our third-graders are not reading proficiently.  We are doing a disservice to our students, parents and community if this problem is not addressed vigorously.

Regularly Meeting with School Staff and Parents to Address Concerns

Members of the OPS Board are charged with the future of our school district, but spend limited amount of time in the schools in their districts or meeting with parents and other stakeholders in their district.  I feel strongly that as the representative of District 7 on the Omaha School Board, it should be an expectation that I regularly visit the schools in my district, meeting with administrators and teachers and other school staff.  It should also be an expectation that I make myself available to meet with parents [such as at parent teacher events] and other stakeholders [both virtually through the magic of the internet and by attending important community events].

Improved Communication Between Teachers and OPS Administration

As a teacher and member of the Omaha Education Board, I enjoyed a productive, working relationship with the OPS Administration.  The OPS Board members regularly met with, and reached out, to individual OEA Board members.  The Superintendent had monthly meetings with the OEA Board to address specific issues of mutual concern.   Other senior members of the OPS administrative staff were regularly available to meet with OEA Board members.  The result was a holistic approach to the education of our children.  In the best interests of our students, this is a practice I would like to reintroduce in our district.