Omaha Public Schools parents, alumni and even a former principal asked the school board to slow down or halt implementation of career academies and pathways at the district’s high schools.
About 20 people expressed their concerns at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting.
Robert Aranda, former principal of Bryan High School and an OPS parent, asked the school board to hit pause.
Aranda said the initiative is being rushed and has lacked healthy, honest dialogue. He said desired outcomes have not been explained and Spanish-speaking parents have not been engaged.
Aranda said he helped implement two smaller academies in OPS high schools.
“I share this not to gloat but to simply ask: ‘Do you all know what you’re getting yourselves into?’ I need you to really think about that,” he said. “I ask this because it involves a lot of time, resource, money, commitment, communication, failure, success, building and maintaining partnerships.”
According to definitions provided by OPS, academies are small learning communities with a career focus. Pathways are a series of four or more classes focused on a group of related careers.
Until Monday, the board had been scheduled to vote on the entire plan on Tuesday. But the district shifted gears and placed freshman-year-only academies on Tuesday’s agenda. Shortly before 11:30 p.m., the board voted 6-3 to approve the freshman academies. Board members Spencer Head, Marque Snow and Nancy Kratky all voted no.
The district will spend the rest of the school year and this summer engaging staff and families on the larger plan, with a vote on it set for Sept. 9.
Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the board planned any vote on the changes. District officials said the board’s February 2020 vote on the district’s strategic plan had allowed for changes in programming. However, OPS policy requires all major programs and course revisions be subject to board approval. That policy was cited on Tuesday’s agenda as the reason for the vote.
OPS first announced the changes in January.
The district’s goal is to implement specific academy programs or career pathways at each of the district’s seven high schools. The programs will also be implemented at the district’s two new high schools, which will open in the 2022-23 school year.
In the freshman academies, students will explore careers and focus on skills needed to be successful in school and beyond. After their freshman year, students would select an academy or pathway at their school.
Opposition to the plans began picking up steam in recent months with online petitions, emails to board members and public comments at board meetings.
School Board President Shavonna Holman said the board has been overwhelmed with the emails and she appreciates the public expressing their concerns. She said the board has known about the academies and pathways since last year.
“This is not anything new for us, however I do acknowledge that throughout the process there was some major mistakes made in regards to the lack of parent communication and involvement,” Holman said.
Holman said the district realizes the lack of communication has caused trepidation and worry.