Over the past ten years, the Empowerment Network has worked with Omaha Public Schools (OPS) and dozens of community partners to develop a comprehensive education plan for North Omaha, referred to as the Cradle to Career Initiative. It continuously evolves and integrates best practices from leading efforts around the nation. The collaborative approach builds on the feedback and insights from thousands of parents, students, principals, teachers, community leaders, elected officials, business executives, faith leaders, community activists, and representatives from hundreds of organizations.
The findings and recommendations from the North Omaha Cradle to Career Initiative have been wrapped into the Empowerment Network’s Stair-Step Model that was initially submitted as part of Promise Neighborhoods federal grant applications. While Omaha did not receive the highly competitive federal grant, the model and framework received some of the highest scores in the country. The U.S. Department of Education recognized the model as a highly recommended strategy. Even without the federal grant and designation, the Network and collaborative partners have stayed committed to working together to implement the plans and strategies.
State of Education Summit
As a key part of the plan, each year the Empowerment Network, OPS and community partners convene at the annual “State of Education in North Omaha Summit” with important updates on trends, progress, gaps and next steps. The Summit typically includes presentations from the OPS Superintendent, board members, OPS Executive Council, principals, teachers, parents, students, community-based agencies and many others. The Network also worked with OPS to develop the North Omaha Cradle to Career Scorecard. It provides a comprehensive, data-driven look at how schools in North Omaha are performing. Information and recommendations gathered during the sessions enhance the plan even further. Monthly meetings are held to support communication, collaboration, and alignment.
The annual summits typically have a special focus and core objectives. In the past, the Network has invited highly successful principals to share their best practices. Teachers have shared their insights and requests with parents and community members. Parents have presented strategies they have used at home to improve the academic outcomes for their children. Students have given voice to their needs and offered ways to help them reach their full potential. This year, Black Male Academic Excellence is the special topic. The Network has partnered with OPS, Nebraska Public Television, POV and PBS to support the Revive! Magazine’s “Salute to Excellence” which recognizes African-American high school students in OPS who have achieved a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher.
Village Focus Schools: Expand The Reach
Past summits have helped to focus more attention on:
1) Improving the graduation rate and increasing reading/math scores.
2) Accelerating the replication of successful programs.
3) Increasing the number of students in Gifted and Talented programs and taking dual enrollment and AP classes.
4) Expanding innovative models like the Focus school in North Omaha.
5) Supporting major OPS initiatives like the bond program, strategic plan and student assignment plan.
6) Increasing the number of children attending high-quality early childhood programs.
7) Expanding college and career opportunities.
8) Encouraging the effective use of data.
9) For the past two years, a special emphasis has been placed on increasing family and community engagement. Many successful programs, policies, and initiatives have been launched and expanded as a result. The next phase is the Village Focus School model building on the REACH strategy and success of Wilson Focus School.
The platform is set for the dramatic acceleration of our progress and the best way forward is working together. What would happen if we worked in a more comprehensive and collaborative way? What is possible if we pulled together and aligned our efforts like never before?
The collective visionary goal of the North Omaha Cradle to Career Collaborative: 100% of students will move along the pathway from the cradle to successful entry into the career field or business of their choice. Yes, 100%! Along the way, we have established critical benchmarks:
1) All students will be prepared to successfully enter kindergarten.
2) All students will achieve academically—on grade level or above.
3) All students will graduate from high school with a marketable skill, prepared for careers, college/post-secondary training.
4) All students will enter, and graduate from college/post-secondary training and successfully enter the career of their choice or launch a successful business.
Each goal has specific measures, strategies, and identified actions, with an emphasis on evaluation, outcomes and longitudinal data.