More on Mark Evans: OPS finalist eager to help more kids
The Omaha Public Schools has a new superintendent, and he's a Kansas Jayhawk.
The OPS board chose Mark Evans, superintendent of the Andover (Kan.) Public Schools, as the district's next leader during its meeting Monday night.
It was a 10-0 vote, with members Sandra Jensen and Mary Ellen Drickey absent. Jensen later said she supported the board's decision.
During a telephone interview Monday night, Evans said he wants statistical evidence five years from now that OPS has improved in multiple areas. Those areas could include student achievement and how safe students feel in their schools.
"That's how I measure success — that we've had progress," he said.
School board president Freddie Gray said the board had three "wonderfully qualified" candidates.
"We believe that Mark is the person to take us to the next level," Gray said.
She said board members were impressed with Evans' record of academic achievement, his staff evaluation process and how he works with a school board.
The next step is to negotiate a contract with Evans, including his salary and when he will start.
Gray said the goal is to have him work with interim Superintendent Virginia Moon so that he is prepared to take over before the next school year.
Evans said that with direction from the board, staff and community he wants to take a closer look at OPS's goals.
"Where's our focus? How do we align to that focus?" he said.
Evans, 53, is in his eighth year of running the Andover schools, a district of about 5,400 students outside Wichita that more closely mirrors the Elkhorn Public Schools than OPS. About 15 percent of Andover's students come from families who qualify for federal lunch subsidies, an indicator of poverty. In OPS, that number is about 73 percent.
But Evans previously spent 20 years — 17 as an administrator — in the Wichita Public Schools, a district with similar enrollment and demographics as OPS.
And that was how Evans sold himself to the OPS board and to Omaha in his public interviews last week: a leader who had worked in a district like Omaha, and someone who again wanted to work in that urban environment.
Evans, a first-generation college graduate from the University of Kansas, called himself "an ordinary guy with an extraordinary passion for young people." He talked about listening, learning and creating relationships during his first 100 days here.
"He's already thought through his plan, his transition," said Chris Proulx, head of the OPS teachers union. Proulx supported Evans, saying he was the only finalist who had both urban schools experience and superintendent experience.
In Omaha, Evans advocated programs and ideas he has used elsewhere, such as principals observing teachers and the regular assessment of students. OPS has implemented both ideas in recent years.
"I don't think what I'm talking about is anything that isn't already started," Evans said last week.
The action plan is largely the work of ReNae Kehrberg, OPS assistant superintendent for curriculum and learning, a role she has held since fall 2010.
Evans called the district's recent improvement on state test scores "very encouraging."
In Omaha last week, he also cited ideas that would be new to most OPS schools, such as an evaluation system in which veteran teachers alongside principals judge beginning teachers.
Evans, with the local teachers union, helped create the program in Wichita, where it still is used today. The program quickly reduced the number of beginning teachers leaving the district and the profession, he said.
In Andover, he helped add a math session for students who struggle with algebra classes. Officials chose that option instead of having students who failed algebra retake the course.
Evans also touted his yearlong experience with the Broad Institute's Urban Superintendents Academy. In 2003, he studied and traveled to urban school districts across the country.
"It was the best learning opportunity I've ever had," he said.
Evans, however, didn't say he would bring any of those ideas to Omaha. Instead, he said, he would investigate what OPS offered and then decide what could work here.
His candidacy in Omaha was at least the fourth time he had been in the running for the top spot in bigger districts, including in Sacramento, Calif., Sioux Falls, S.D. and Wichita, his hometown.
The other two finalists for the Omaha job were Steve Murley, superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District, and Carey Wright, chief academic officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Moon, former Ralston superintendent, will lead OPS for the remainder of the school year. John Mackiel retired in August after 15 years as the district's superintendent.
Evans will become the first permanent OPS leader hired from outside the district in 30 years.
In 1982, the OPS board hired Jack Taylor from Ohio as superintendent. Taylor left two years later, and the district hired internal candidates for the next 28 years.
It was the last substantive decision in which four members of the board were involved. Jensen, Drickey, Nancy Huston and Kersten Borer are leaving the board after more than 60 years of combined experience. The quartet did not run for re-election; new board members will be sworn-in next month.
For Evans, the move here will bring him and his wife of more than 30 years, Stacey, closer to some family. Stacey grew up in Lincoln, where her grandmother still lives, and has relatives there and in Omaha. But the couple is leaving Mark Evans' parents, who live in Wichita.
"The only reason you do that, I mean, this is the only reason," Evans said, "is you believe you can make a difference in the lives of 50,000 young people."
2005-present: Superintendent, Andover (Kan.) Public Schools
2001-2005: Deputy superintendent, Wichita Public Schools
1998-2001: Associate superintendent, Wichita Public Schools
March-August 1998: Interim superintendent, Wichita Public Schools
1993-1998: Principal, Wichita High School West, Wichita Public Schools
1991-1993: Associate principal, Wichita High School Northwest, Wichita Public Schools
1987-1991: Assistant principal, Wichita High School West, Wichita Public Schools
1985-1987: Teacher, Wichita High School South, Wichita Public Schools
1981-1985: Teacher, Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, Catholic Diocese of Wichita
2003: Fellowship, Broad Institute Urban Superintendents Academy
1998: Superintendent certification, Wichita State University
1985: Master's degree in education administration, Wichita State University
1981: Bachelor's degree in education and social studies, University of Kansas
Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, email@example.com, twitter.com/jonathonbraden