The former leader of a high-performing north Omaha elementary school has been reassigned.

Mary Austin, who last fall began her 15th year as principal of Central Park Elementary, is now the special project administrator for Educational Service Unit No. 19, which services the Omaha Public Schools.

In that role, Austin works with the ESU's tutoring and instructional programs, said Dennis Pool, ESU administrator and an OPS assistant superintendent.

OPS's human resources department reassigned her, Pool said.

The district is one of two in Nebraska with its own ESU; the units help school districts with staff development, technology services and teaching materials. The 12-member board that governs OPS also oversees ESU No. 19.

The Lincoln school district also has its own ESU. The state's other 15 ESUs serve multidistrict areas.

Austin will be paid the same amount in her new job as at Central Park: $83,541.34. She did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

She was removed from the school in September by interim OPS Superintendent Virginia Moon.

Chris Proulx, head of the OPS teachers union, had said other employees told him Austin was not working at Central Park because of how a student had been disciplined.

At the time, Austin acknowledged that staff members had restrained a student because the boy had been running around the office, shouting inappropriate words and knocking things over.

Central Park teachers, however, defended Austin's record of tough discipline and academic success. During her tenure there, the school consistently outperformed its OPS peers on state and national tests, especially when considering the school's demographics.

For example, about 79 percent of the school's third- through sixth-graders scored proficient or better on state reading and math tests given last spring, compared with the district average of 65 percent in reading and 57 percent in math for those age groups.

The school also has a higher percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty. Last school year, 89 percent of Central Park's students came from such low-income families, compared with the district's average of about 72 percent.

Cathy Christensen, who retired as Washington Elementary principal in 2007, is Central Park's interim leader.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, jonathon.braden@owh.com

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