Brianna Full isn’t afraid of change

OPS’ newest school board member, a 27-year-old activist from North Omaha, hopes her experience in community advocacy can help improve our schools

Photo+courtesy+of+Maeve+Hemmer

Photo courtesy of Maeve Hemmer

A specter loomed large over the ministerial meeting room as the members of the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education filed in for the first meeting of the new year. The specter of change. Only weeks prior, Cheryl Logan, OPS’ superintendent, had announced her intention to leave her position in June 2023, signally the end of her tenure at the district and the beginning of the arduous search for her replacement.  

In another sign of a changing leadership for OPS, Dr. Shavonna Holman chose not to run for a third term as school board president, being replaced by Spencer Head, who narrowly defeated sitting Vice President Jane Erdenberger. But before the board officially accepted Logan’s resignation or the elections for president and vice president unfolded, the board welcomed its newest member, a 27-year-old activist from North Omaha who hopes to help enact a few changes of her own at OPS. 

 

An Omaha native, Brianna Full was raised in foster care and attended OPS schools for most of her adolescence. After graduating from high school, Full attended UNO, where she was the chair of the Student Services Committee and involved in the Midland Sexual Health Research Collaborative, an organization which researches the relationship between public health and sexuality.  After securing an undergrad degree in Public Health, Full began pursuing her masters in Public Administration, but took a year off to run for OPS school board, a decision she says was motivated by her academic background.  

 

“In public health, they really teach about how important it is to get to the root of an issue when you’re trying to address a person’s health,” she said. “I decided to run to run for office to get to the root of the issue of why a lot of things are happening in Omaha, such as poverty and kids not having access to high quality education.” 

In her election, Full unseated two-term incumbent Marque Snow, who had represented Subdistrict 2 since 2014. Full attributed her upset victory with her work in community advocacy in North Omaha. “During my campaign, I was trying to show up for people as much as possible. I personally knocked on over 3,000 doors. Just listening to people and hearing their stories and what they’re worried about. I think I was able to understand deeply what people were going through, and what changes we can make to OPS to better serve the people.” 

 

Full was one of two candidates in the 2022 school board elections who was endorsed by the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers’ union, and the only one to win her race.  

Full credited frequent discussions with OPS teachers during her campaign with alerting her to issues in the school district she was not previously aware of. “I wasn’t familiar with the disconnect in administration,” Full said. “What I mean by that is that administration in a school building is a lot different than administration of the whole district at the [Teacher Administrative Center]. A lot of the time a teacher would love their school administration, but when it came to the district administration it was a completely different story.” 

 

Increasing student equity by redressing racial and economic disparities in OPS was one of the key messages of Full’s campaign, an issue which Full believes is essential to representing her community on the school board.  

“Equity is an important issue specifically for me, because there’s a very diverse population that I serve in Subdistrict 2, and so there’s a lot of intersectionality in my subdistrict,” Full said. “In order to serve all those people, you really have to look at things through an equity lens. We need to serve all students and not just a select few.”  

In her pursuit of equity in OPS, Full says that dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline will be her foremost priority. “Students of color and students with disabilities face higher discrimination than other students do. I really want to get down to the root of the issue and I think some of those fixes can be in the Student and Teacher Code of Conduct. So, we can go in and look at those policies, review them, and see what needs to be changed.” 

 

Full also plans to prioritize addressing safety in OPS schools, saying that her conversations with OPS teachers and parents helped her understand the severity of the issue.  

“In a lot of the schools in my subdistrict, students have been bringing weapons to school, threatening teachers, or threatening the school. And that makes it so parents don’t feel entirely safe or comfortable sending their kids to school, and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Full said. “Hearing those stories really helped me understand how I would approach advocacy for teachers and the ideas that they might have to get it under control.” 

Full’s swearing in as a school board member comes at a decisive moment for the district, as changing leadership and a confluence of crises faced by schools, make the path forward for OPS increasingly uncertain. However, Full’s resolve to work towards meaningful improvements in OPS remains unshaken as she begins her tenure.  

 

In her first remarks as an OPS school board member, Full repeated a common refrain of hers, a mantra which shapes how she approaches her advocacy. “Change is scary,” she said to the other school board members assembled before her, “but so is saying the same.”