The World-Herald asked candidates for the Omaha Public Schools board for their views on several issues facing the district. Here, you'll find the answers to six questions for the Subdistrict 6 candidates.
Occupation: retired educator
Public offices held: current OPS board
Education: Bachelor's degree, master's degree in education
Family: two adult children
Nancy Kratky has been associated with the Omaha Public Schools for almost as long as she's lived.
She attended OPS, graduating from Omaha South High. She student-taught at OPS while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha. And she taught in OPS for 33½ years before retiring and serving on the OPS board, where she has been since 1995.
Kratky, 76, has a few things left she wants to accomplish. Namely, helping incoming Superintendent Mark Evans make the transition into his new job.
“I want to be there to support him and let him direct the district,” she said.
“He sees the big picture,” she said. “Every time I talk to him, I like him even more.”
She was one of 10 board members who chose Evans in December.
At other times over the past year, though, Kratky has gone against the board majority.
Last April she was the only board member who did not vote for Nancy Sebring to be OPS superintendent. Kratky said she just didn't feel right about Sebring.
Sebring later resigned after it was made public that she had exchanged sexually explicit emails with a lover using her Des Moines work account. Kratky was one of four board members who voted to remove Freddie Gray as board president in August, after it was reported that she knew about the emails and didn't inform the rest of the board.
Kratky was also one of two board members who testified in favor of the Nebraska Legislature shrinking the OPS board from 12 to nine members this spring.
Kratky said she wants to stay on the board so it has some historical knowledge of what's worked.
“If we have the whole cart upset,” she said, “we wouldn't have anybody who knows about the past.”
Occupation: Vice president/project manager, Woerner Wire Works
Public offices held: None
Education: U.S. Naval Academy
Family: Married, two daughters
Matt Scanlan became a TeamMates mentor to help a north Omaha youth do better in school.
But rather than worrying about A's or B's, Scanlan said, he had to focus on the basics: “How do we remember your backpack every day? Did you do your homework?”
The experience taught the Omaha school board candidate two main lessons: More Omaha kids need access to preschool; and high school students who might not be interested in college need more options from the Omaha Public Schools.
Kids 3 and 4 years old, especially from low-income families, often don't go to preschool because their parents can't afford private options, Scanlan said.
“Those kids are missing out on prime learning time that puts them actually behind when they start kindergarten compared to the other kids that have had preschool,” he said.
And teenagers who might otherwise lose interest in regular classes need an expanded OPS career center and possibly career academies in the future.
“Maybe we could keep their interest in auto mechanics or welding,” he said.
Scanlan himself traveled a nontraditional path to his current position as project manager for Woerner Wire Works, a steel fabricating company in north Omaha.
Upon graduating from Central High in 1992, Scanlan entered the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a naval flight officer before moving back to Omaha in 2006 and working for the family business.
He said State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha asked him to run for school board. After their chat, friends of Scanlan's associated with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce also encouraged him to run.
“Change is desired by a lot of parties,” Scanlan said.
Q&A with the candidates
What role should the school board play in helping OPS narrow the achievement gap between low-income students and other students?
KRATKY: First of all, there is a sense of urgency to reduce the achievement gap. The results from our newly formed curriculum department indicate statistically significant improvement in both mathematics and reading during the past year. Additional supportive plans and programs are in place in every school. The supports may be paraprofessionals, speech teachers, gifted and ESL facilitator, counselors, Pre-K and Head Start. We also have programs after school, Saturday, summer jump start and programs to assist students and families to help the learning of students. Academic achievement must be our top priority on all grade levels with all students.
SCANLAN: The board should visit schools located in lower income areas and meet with teachers and principals in order to see firsthand the difficulties they face while trying to educate children in economically challenged areas of Omaha. Meetings should also be held between the OPS board and the community programs that provide early childhood development and after school programs.
What leadership qualities would you bring to the OPS board and what experiences are they based on?
KRATKY: My strength in running for the board at this time includes my experience and depth of knowledge of the district and in OPS. I attended OPS from K-12th grade, taught in OPS and then ran for the board. Each year I visit schools whenever a new principal is assigned. By doing this, I become aware of their perspectives and the needs and concerns they may have for the building. This has been helpful for a number of reasons, especially those regarding programs, budget and staff. With the new superintendent and new board members, some association, continuity and history are essential.
SCANLAN: My experience as a Naval officer and now, vice president of a company, has taught me that a common sense approach would include an environment that would incorporate teamwork, open and honest communication, and an expectation that all parties would have equal input into program and curriculum ideas. There must be a shared belief that the focus in education needs to return to the children.
How well is OPS preparing its graduates for the working world? Is it a high priority to improve this area?
KRATKY: This has always been a high priority. We want each student to have abilities needed for their future and the future of Omaha. Academic skills, social skills and the financial proficiency needed to manage their budget needs to be infused at each grade level to ensure each students' basic and adequate functioning. The preparation for success starts at the beginning of their journey through school. Individual identification of needs must be addressed very early with assistance provided before problems become even greater. The early identification process needs to progress steadily and quickly.
SCANLAN: OPS is doing a good job preparing its graduating students for college. An area where they are failing is not effectively preparing its graduates who will enter the work force directly out of high school. We must face the fact that some students graduating from high school will not be attending college. We should help interested students prepare for careers in skilled labor, healthcare and other industries that have a high demand for talented applicants. We should help change the attitude from the idea that graduates need to find a job after high school, to OPS should help students transition to careers after graduation. The future of Omaha depends on a talented workforce.
Do you think OPS needs major changes or minor tweaking as it strives to become the best district it can be?
KRATKY: OPS needs both major change and minor tweaks. Major changes would include a plan with all functions of the district directed toward high student achievement and transparency with all records and reporting. Extensive public relations work by an outside firm needs to be done (and should have been done) on a daily basis showcasing our strengths. Transportation and curriculum cost and efficiencies are undergoing an audit and this should provide additional information to foster changes. Minor tweaks would be to hone in and improve daily operations such as updating and keeping school web pages current.
SCANLAN: OPS needs a major change in the existing climate between the administrators and teachers. A team atmosphere is needed to succeed in educating the children of OPS. We need more accountability by the OPS board for every dollar that is spent educating our children. OPS needs to play an active role in providing more early childhood development to lower income areas. The Career Center needs to be expanded and partnerships need to be formed with other Omaha metro area school districts to expand opportunities for students that want to pursue skilled trade careers.
Do you think the public has confidence in the OPS board? If yes, then how will you help maintain that confidence? If no, then what would you do to restore it?
KRATKY: The public has lost confidence in the board due to the influence of the legal staff. Because of past legal advice on issues regarding Nancy Sebring and the superintendent “buyout,” the board has changed its relationship with the legal counsel to be advisory only, with no administrative decision making. In my opinion this should have been done at least two years ago. Taxpayer money will be saved by changing this operation and direction. Ineffective programs have been phased out because they did not support district goals. All programs should focus on improving achievement for all students.
SCANLAN: I believe the public has lost confidence in the OPS board due to the increasingly large number of public mistakes made by the board. I will help restore the public's confidence in the OPS board by working with all parties to ensure the focus of education is the children. The OPS board needs to provide a more professional atmosphere that provides leadership to the administration to effectively and efficiently educate the children of OPS. Taxpayers' dollars need to be spent responsibly, and there needs to be accountability to ensure that every dollar spent is improving the students' ability to succeed.
How would you describe the proper relationship between the school board and the superintendent, and how much autonomy should Superintendent Mark Evans have?
KRATKY: The function of the board is to set policy, oversee the budget and hire and fire the superintendent. As the school board sets policy, it is the superintendent's responsibility to fulfill policy through his administrative work. He needs enough autonomy to promote his ideas and suggestions and communicate and share those plans with the board to avoid conflict/embarrassment. Board members must insist they have all the information they need if they are to exercise oversight of the district. I personally wish him well as he moves into the position of the largest school district in Nebraska.
SCANLAN: The outgoing school board approved the hiring of Superintendent Evans and has proven a lack of oversight on the previous administration. As a newly elected school board member, I would strive to achieve a working relationship with Superintendent Evans; however, I would expect the new superintendent to be able to prove that he is open and willing to change the current culture within OPS. An effective school board always oversees the administration and is highly concerned with the children's education and the taxpayers' money.