A few decades ago, Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan was a lot like school board member Sarah Brumfield is today: starting her family and seeking ways to get more involved in her community and her children's education.
Barrientos-Patlan, 54, grew up in South Omaha and graduated from South High. She has since become involved in numerous organizations, including “A Hand to Hold,” which works with families to find missing children, and the Burlington Road Neighborhood Association, which she started with her husband, Virgil Patlan, a candidate to represent District 4 on the Omaha City Council.
Brumfield, 29, moved to Omaha from Canada in 1997 and graduated from Ralston High School. She ran for an Omaha Public Schools board seat last November to get more involved in the education of her daughter, who is a second-grader at Liberty Elementary School in downtown Omaha. Brumfield and her husband are expecting another child in August.
Brumfield says the different life stages she and Barrientos-Patlan find themselves at represent the biggest difference between the two candidates for the Subdistrict 9 — southeast Omaha — seat on the Omaha Public Schools board.
“I can think like a board member, and I can think like a parent,” Brumfield said.
Barrientos-Patlan says she wants to improve things for everyone, including her four children and her 17 grandchildren.
“Quality of life in every area is my main function,” she said.
As a member of the OPS board, the candidates also would have different goals.
Barrientos-Patlan wants to focus on getting parents more involved in their children's education.
OPS should do more to accommodate families who don't speak fluent English, she said. For instance, some permission slips are only in Spanish and English, she said, but OPS students speak 99 different languages.
Parents that don't speak English might wonder, “What does that report card mean?” Barrientos-Patlan said. “Parents should know what's going on.”
If a child's parents are more involved, she said, she thinks the child is likely to do better in school.
She also wants to help parents navigate OPS.
“I just want to be their advocate, a conduit to make things work,” she said.
Barrientos-Patlan also wants OPS to bolster the training its building security guards receive. All guards should at least know physical judo, she said.
Brumfield spent many of her formative years in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She glimpsed Omaha while watching the College World Series on a Canadian sports channel. “Rosenblatt Stadium was basically the very first thing I saw in Omaha before moving,” she said.
The family moved because her father got a job helping companies handle the Y2K technology transition. She stuck around Omaha, though, graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. And in 2009, Brumfield became a U.S. citizen.
She was a data entry technician with Mutual of Omaha when she was elected last year. After the Legislature shrank the size of the board this spring, she and two other board members had to run again for the second time in six months.
Brumfield's goals still include improving communication on the board.
The board also should host its committee meetings at night so more teachers can participate, she said.
The district's website also could be easier to use. Sure, minutes of board meetings can be found on OPS.org, she said, but not easily. The district also could engage with parents more often on Twitter and Facebook.
“It's just really common sense things that could be improved,” Brumfield said. “It's nice to know what's going on.”
She also wants to explore ways schools can have more regular feedback with parents. For instance, she noted that she has to sign a book every night that her daughter returns to Liberty Elementary the next day.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1074, email@example.com, twitter.com/jonathonbraden
Occupation: South Omaha child and community advocate
Public offices held: None
Education: Iowa Western Community College
Family: Married, four children
Party affiliation: Republican
Occupation: Administrative assistant
Offices held: Current OPS board member
Education: Bachelor's degree, biology, with minor in Native American studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 2008
Family: Married, one child
Q&A with the candidates
The World-Herald is providing interviews with candidates for the Omaha Public Schools board, asking them for their views on several issues facing the district. For other coverage of this and other school board races,check omaha.com/ops.
Should OPS increase career education offerings and, if so, how? With a new technical high school, more career-education classes at each high school or other ways?
Barrientos-Patlan: Yes. OPS should never have taken career education out of the high schools. Not everyone is going to be a doctor. We need the trades.
Brumfield: Yes, OPS should have a vocational technology high school again. It's important for all students to take a career-education class.
Reputations and enrollment have suffered at some OPS high schools. How do you go about restoring those that are lacking and begin balancing enrollment at OPS high schools?
Barrientos-Patlan: Some buildings, including South High School, are overflowing with students. If elected, I would work with other board members to see how we could even out enrollments. And the board could look at helping schools rely less on classroom trailers.
Brumfield: Some OPS high schools are more well-known than others. The district could help change that. OPS should highlight the unique programs in all its high schools and make everyone more aware of the programs. Every high school has something that sets it apart.
When test scores at a school are far below the district average, is it appropriate to replace the principal or other staff?
Barrientos-Patlan: Dismal test scores should be a red flag for district administrators. Staff should examine those schools to make sure the principal and the teachers are doing their job. Principals need to know everything about their teachers.
Brumfield: The district should look at the big picture when test scores slip. Is it an administrator issue? Something going on with a group of teachers? OPS should address the problem before thinking about getting rid of someone, but sometimes that's the only option.
Should teachers be paid extra — bonuses — when students score well on standardized tests?
Barrientos-Patlan: No, that would encourage teaching to the test, and teachers shouldn't do that.
Brumfield: OPS should look into this more and see what results other districts had when using such a system.
The No Child Left Behind Act has focused attention and resources on the lowest-achieving students. How would you ensure that other students aren't overlooked?
Barrientos-Patlan: Every school should have something in place for every child. Teachers should have an individual excel plan for every student.
Brumfield: Schools need to consider the entire student. Just because a student is excelling in math doesn't mean the student can be left alone; maybe the student needs help in English.
Should the district set a minimum grade-point average for students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities?
Barrientos-Patlan: Of course. Kids need to have that responsibility for their lives. The district should set a minimum grade-point average between a 2.0 and a 2.5.
Brumfield: Yes. Students should have to maintain a 2.3 grade-point average to participate in such activities. If they fall below that mark, OPS should help the students improve their grades through an expanded tutoring program.
Correction: Omaha school board candidate Sarah Brumfield wants board committees to meet during the evening so teachers can participate. Previously this story incorrectly listed when Brumfield wants board committees to meet.