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 3 candidates.
Public offices held: None
Education: Dartmouth College, University of California at Berkeley Law School
Family: Married, four sons
He first said “no.”
D.C. “Woody” Bradford, a longtime Omaha attorney, told friends he was too busy volunteering and lawyering to campaign for and hold a seat on the Omaha school board. But he kept thinking and talking about it, with friends and with his wife.
“I can't say that I wasn't concerned about the state of the schools,” he said.
Bradford, 73, wants the Omaha board to change how he thinks it has long worked.
Instead of approving policies and directives from the superintendent and administration, he said, he wants the board to develop its own policies and hand them to the superintendent and administration.
“Boards should set policy, and the superintendent should carry it out,” he said. “That's the way it runs in every business I'm aware of, and the school board is a big business.”
He also wants the board to lead more often in other areas, including seeking out suggestions from the community and Omaha Public Schools teachers.
“The board was not leading in a positive manner,” he said.
Bradford has lived in Omaha almost his entire life, except for his college years. He went to college and law school in New Hampshire and California, respectively.
He graduated from Benson High in 1958 and has practiced law here since 1967.
“You wonder how you want to spend the rest of your life,” he said. “This, I figure, is a good deal, it's something I should be doing. It's not a vacation, but I don't take many vacations, anyway.”
Occupation: Special projects coordinator, Wounded Warriors Family Support
Public offices held: OPS Board of Education, 2011-current
Education: Bachelor's degree in elementary education, Kansas State University
Family: Married, four children
Faith: United Church of Christ
The way Marian Fey sees it, she's just getting started.
Fey, who was elected to a four-year term on the Omaha school board in 2010, faces another election this spring because the state shrank the board last month and ordered new elections.
“I have started many things that I would like to see through to completion,” said Fey, who became board president in January.
She wants to see the Omaha Public Schools complete its strategic plan, a process she has moved forward. OPS has been without a long-term plan for some 15 years.
Fey, 44, also wants OPS to strengthen how it holds schools accountable for academic growth. For instance, she said, the district has goals for schools but not clear consequences if schools don't meet those goals. Such outcomes could include more training for principals and teachers, she said, or even changing school leadership.
With the strategic plan, Fey said, conversations have begun among board members, interim OPS Superintendent Virginia Moon and incoming Superintendent Mark Evans.
Fey expects the community to help form the plan this summer.
She also sees the district's “defensive posture” changing. It's becoming more acceptable for OPS officials to publicly name areas in which the district can get better, she said. OPS no longer needs to always go on the defensive, she said.
“I'm starting to see effective change, and I'm so hopeful with the leadership that's coming with Mark Evans,” she said. “OPS is not a failing district, and we're going to see the result of all this work.”
What role should the school board play in helping OPS narrow the achievement gap between low-income students and other students?
Bradford: The board should play the lead role. It needs to: a) Overhaul its decision making process by providing the opportunity for all voices to be heard. b) Insure that all policies lead to putting the teacher and student in a positive relationship. c) Energize parents with positive approaches that work to help them support the education of their child. d) Support existing programs that work to close the gap. e) Make sure the public is aware that the gap is growing and unless it closes, the entire community will suffer. f) Set forth realistic goals that produce hope and opportunity.
Fey: The board is uniquely positioned to set policy that prioritizes strong leaders in all buildings and requires that the majority of our resources goes to classroom instruction. Solid instructional processes and accountability measures assure that initiatives are working toward closing the achievement gap and allow for benchmarks to chart progress and make adjustments as necessary. With a new superintendent and the changes currently being implemented by the board, OPS is poised to make some bold moves grounded in solid research and with the support and backing of the community and parents.
What leadership qualities would you bring to the OPS board and what experiences are they based on?
Bradford: I am a positive thinker who believes in looking forward and not backward. As a practicing lawyer for over 40 years, I have spent most of my professional life dealing with people of different points of view. Often I found that those differences could be resolved by collaboration building toward a consensus resulting in action. My experiences include past service as president of the following organizations: Omaha Schools Foundation, Urban League of Nebraska, Girls Inc., and Omaha and Nebraska Bar Associations.
Fey: In my short time on the board, I have gained a valuable working knowledge of both district and national educational perspectives. I am currently leading OPS to more efficient, effective and transparent processes initiating changes that benefit both the district and the community. My background as both a successful nonprofit entrepreneur and arts educator as well as my longstanding involvement as a community volunteer support my efforts to position OPS as an educational leader both statewide and nationally.
How well is OPS preparing its graduates for the working world? Is it a high priority to improve this area? Why?
Bradford: For those with family and financial support, OPS does a good job preparing its graduates, but for the low income student with little or no parental involvement, its record is poor and it should be a high priority. If OPS cannot find a way to educate those living in poverty and low income, this community will lose not only the reward of their potential contribution, but more likely they will remain unable to find a job. As a result, OPS will have failed in its mission.
Fey: Graduates of OPS should be prepared for whatever next steps they choose to take. The district technology policy committee I chaired is one example of how OPS can help our students become relevant in today's job market. Assessments like the Compass Test can assist a district to evaluate the college-readiness of its students, and rigorous vocational education partnered with meaningful community-based internships are positive steps towards post-graduation goals.
Do you think OPS needs major changes or minor tweaking as it strives to become the best district it can be? Briefly describe those changes or tweaks.
Bradford: For the most part OPS has in place the ability and resources to carry out its mission, but it has not done so. The board needs a major reorganization to properly align itself with the superintendent, the administration, teachers and parents. Its process must be open, transparent and contain a system of accountability.
Fey: Based on the work of the board with staff and the community, I anticipate some major changes to come to OPS in a bold, new strategic plan and the use of data to guide decisions and practice accountability. Look for hiring from outside the district for both building and administrative positions. Additionally, I anticipate a more forward thinking district in the areas of alternative education as we seek to take advantage of the interest and generosity of our community partners, parents, and current state laws that allow for innovative choices for families. The successes at Wilson Focus School are an example of what all parents should expect. The district should continue to hone the instructional framework that has led to highly significant growth and gains in state testing.
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?
Bradford: No, but confidence can be built if the actions of the board become open and the board becomes accountable for them.
Fey: I look forward to the opportunity to continue the confidence-building initiatives I have undertaken in my first two years on the board. Working with the staff, teachers, students, parents and the community to create a cutting edge technology policy allowed for me to create broad ownership of a process that will benefit the entire district from the classroom to district operations. It provides for accountability, efficiency and forward thinking. Similarly, I have worked to restore communication pathways between the board and those we serve creating a more transparent and effective board. I believe that the entire city benefits when we have open and honest conversations about decisions that face the board and I have made it a priority in my first two months as board president to hold those discussions in public.
How would you describe the proper relationship between the school board and the superintendent, and how much autonomy should Superintendent Mark Evans have?
Bradford: The board hires the superintendent and sets policy and he carries it out. It should be a good positive relationship, with each working to achieve excellence. Mr. Evans, as superintendent, should be free to carry out the policies of the board with as much talent and imagination as he can muster, and the board should be willing to take the responsibility of overseeing and supporting his efforts.
Fey: A healthy board-superintendent relationship is a partnership that involves ongoing communication and open discussions about the challenges and opportunities facing the district. We should all be working toward the same goal of high student achievement and what is best for the students and families of OPS. Clear policies, such as those recently adopted by the board to provide transparency and accountability of administrator contracts and clarifying the role of the superintendent, are key to establishing that partnership. The board needs to set expectations and work with the superintendent to align resources to district priorities.