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With qualifications in mind, OPS selects new leadership team

February 21, 2017

After a lengthy voting process, the OPS Board of Education stands at an important crossroads. With the selection of Lacey Merica as President and Marque Snow as Vice President of the Board, the Board must quickly adapt to new leadership in order to effectively carry out its duties.

Former Board of Education President, current Subdistrict 5 representative and Central parent Lou Ann Goding highlighted what lies ahead for the district, including how new leadership will affect the Board, the challenges OPS faces and the Board’s goals in 2017.

Goding underscored three central issues the Board will focus on this year: hiring a new superintendent, implementing a new student assignment plan and determining whether or not the Board will choose to pursue a new bond. Each of these crucial issues presents its own challenges.

The student assignment plan is a transportation plan which will change the eligibility of kindergarteners through eighth graders to receive busing to certain elementary and middle schools. “We have no doubt that individuals who will no longer receive transportation to the school that they want to attend will be frustrated at times,” Goding said, “[We have to] make sure the communication is clear and that the board is consistent in [its] message.”

The bond issue is another pressing matter which demands attention in 2017. This bond would deal with capacity issues at schools in west and southern areas in Omaha. “There’s a need for two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school to assist and alleviate some of the congestion in schools in the southern part of the city,” Goding stated.

Furthermore, hiring a new superintendent is a task which will require additional time and effort. Applications for the position were due on February 8th, and the Board will meet in closed session to review applicant information on February 25th. At this meeting, the Board will narrow the pool down to two or three candidates who represent a good fit for OPS.

There are several qualities Goding is hoping to find in a new superintendent. “I’m specifically thinking about an individual who has the vision and ability to lead the board and the district with a strategic plan that we’ve already implemented and finish that great work that’s been started,” Goding said.

Goding added that she would like the new superintendent to have experience working and communicating with state and national legislators. “That will be critical to ensure that we continue to support public education and the funding that needs to be put towards it,” Goding said.

Another nationwide current event could potentially impact Omaha Public Schools: the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education. Goding hopes that DeVos’ implementation of education policy will allow school boards to retain control and keep funding for public education in the public sector.

With these daunting tasks ahead, the Board’s new President and Vice President will have little time to adjust to their new positions. Goding is optimistic about Merica’s potential for leadership due to her connections to OPS and legislative experience. “She has a mother who teaches for the district and she went to school in OPS, so she has a great desire to see OPS be successful,” Goding said.

During her two-years as Board of Education President, Goding learned that it’s necessary to have tough skin and be able to focus on the bigger picture. “You’re always going to upset someone or frustrate someone,” Goding said, “I always tried to focus first on what the right thing was for students and then addressed any subsequent issues with adults separately,” Goding said, “because I think that as long as you stay focused on the kids you’ll be successful.” Goding hopes that Merica will recognize the importance of this advice during her tenure as President.

Merica and Snow have differing visions for the Board’s role in the district which may come into conflict. Snow has advocated for the Board to be more involved in oversight of day-to-day operations, while Merica would prefer the superintendent to take on the majority of daily district responsibilities. “They have different styles and hopefully they’ll be able to come to an agreement on how they approach things,” Goding said, “From my perspective, Board of Education members need to “stay in our lane,” which means fulfilling those responsibilities which are assigned to us and not those responsibilities which are assigned to the superintendent.”

As the Board of Education, and all of OPS, moves forward, Goding hopes that the Board can move past politics, which are often cited by parents and teachers as a source for discontent, and rally behind and support the next superintendent so as to continue promoting student achievement and the great work that the district is doing. Goding acknowledges that OPS’ greatest strength is its staff. “I always tell folks that we wouldn’t be where we’re at if it weren’t for our staff,” Goding said.

In the future, Goding sees remaining focused as one of the biggest overarching challenges facing OPS. “It’s easy to become caught up in what the latest movement or the latest hot topic is,” Goding said, “I think that one of the biggest challenges is staying focused on the mission, which is student achievement, academic improvement and [providing a] high quality education for all students.”

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