The Omaha Public Schools board has made its decision: On a 6-3 vote, the board has said that, yes, OPS will have career pathways or academies at all high schools, for all students. This is one of the most wide-ranging and complicated actions ever undertaken by OPS. Now that the gears are set to start turning on this OPS project, the district has a vital responsibility to build trust on this issue with the public and school staff.
Parents have rightly complained that the district launched this sweeping plan as a top-down initiative that originally wasn’t even going to require a public vote by the board. Parents have expressed concern about confusion over the ramifications for their children. Staff have voiced doubt whether the district will have the necessary resources and coordination to properly implement the program.
But with the decision now made, the district must demonstrate that this project will be implemented with a high level of transparency, clarity and competence. Otherwise, the controversy and polarization that have marked this issue will likely continue. Such a course would undermine the initiatives’ chances for success and erode the strong confidence the public has expressed for OPS through the overwhelming passage of bond issues.
The central argument made by Superintendent Cheryl Logan and others is that this initiative will expand important opportunity to all OPS students rather than to only some. In an economy where the educational requirements for well-paying jobs are steadily increasing, schools have an obligation to maximize the academic benefits for all students, so that none are left behind.
Just as some OPS students are helped by programs such as advanced placement, Logan says, so the district now must use innovation and increased resources to provide expanded, high-level instruction and opportunities for the full breadth of the district’s students.
Under the plan, OPS will designate Benson, Bryan, Burke and North High Schools as “academy” schools. Groups of students with a similar career interest will take classes together, and the classes will proceed from one to the next in a series. The plan classifies Buena Vista, Central, Northwest, South and Westview High Schools as “pathway” schools whose students will attend classes with a wide range of classmates who have many career interests. A series of four or more classes will focus on a group of related careers.
The district showed appropriate flexibility, in response by input from parents, by modifying the plan so that students can customize their own pathway if they are interested in a career not covered by an offered pathway. School counselors would work with the student on an academic path forward.
The complexity of this initiative, projected to cost about $22.3 million over five years, is hard to exaggerate. OPS will need to have systems in place to meet the enormously varied needs of students. It will need to pursue effective communication with parents and guardians. It will need to provide the leadership and resources to gain the confidence of staff that a project of this ambition and scale can succeed.