If you look at the collection of innovative education initiatives that are at various levels of implementation in Omaha, we have the potential to be on the cutting edge of education reform and community revitalization. There’s no question, we have world-class and nation-leading best practice projects being implemented in Omaha. With greater collaboration, we will see even better results.
We are seeing positive trends in a number of areas for North Omaha and African-American students: graduation rates are increasing; reading scores have improved; writing scores have improved; the number of students receiving scholarships has increased; the percentage of students going on to post-secondary/college experience is increasing; and, the number of students graduating from college has increased. We celebrate these achievements and continue to push for even greater progress.
Consider these advancements: (this is not a comprehensive list, but highlights some of the large-scale initiatives launched by various organizations that align to the strategies) Early Childhood: Omaha Public Schools (OPS) Head Start and Early Head Start, Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties, Educare, Early Childhood Initiatives, and neighborhood-based high-quality early childhood development centers (including faith-based and home-based) are doing tremendous work to ensure our children are prepared to enter school. Add in the Sixpence Early Learning Fund, Buffett Early Childhood Initiatives, and the First Five Nebraska Campaign, the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska are on the leading edge for early childhood development. We have a lot of work ahead to assure that more children have full access to high-quality early childhood development and education, but the platform is set by the work of these strong organizations and efforts.
Kindergarten to Middle School
OPS has implemented the following:
• Created the principal leadership institute
• Hired executive directors to partner with principals
• Aligned resources to invest in high poverty schools through REACH
• Created nationally recognized professional development programs
• Renovated school buildings with up to date technology and security
• Invested in new school construction
• Reinforced teaching instruction to support consistency
• Added more services for students and parents, including social workers and behavioral health specialists
• Launched cultural proficiency efforts
• Partnered to create the only focus school in the state of Nebraska
• Introduced innovative models at Wakonda and Kennedy
• Expanded after school efforts, including Community Learning Centers – with key organizational partners
• Implemented breakfast and other food programs
• Led the efforts that resulted in the creation of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The Learning Community is supporting after school and extended day programs focused on early childhood, academic improvements, and implementing nationally recognized elementary learning centers in North and South Omaha.
The community has supported OPS through additional innovative efforts, some of them also nationally recognized for their approach:
• The African-American Achievement Council
• Pastors and Faith Leaders Adopt-A-School initiative
• Midlands Mentoring Partnerships
• Collective for Youth
• Communities In Schools
• Building Healthy Futures School-based Health Centers in partnership with Charles Drew Health Center
• Midlands Mentoring Partnership, including the Village Zone Mentoring Program
• Partnership for Kids
• United Way funding and support for wrap-around services
• Juvenile Justice Reform and GOALS; Mayor’s Truancy Initiative
• 100 Black Men’s Saturday Academy
• Highly successful after school programs, including
Girls Inc., Boys & Girls Club, ENCAP, Hope Center for Kids, North Star and many others.
While some of our highest increases in academic performance have occurred in the Kindergarten through sixth grade levels, the following initiatives are having a positive impact on high school graduation and better preparing students for college and careers:
High School & Beyond
OPS led the way when they increased the number of students taking the ACT (now a state requirement); launched International Baccalaureate programs; expanded dual credit and dual enrollment offerings; increased magnet options and career academy choices, including engineering, criminal justice, arts, health, business, etc.; expanded options available through the career center; and, partnered with Step-Up Omaha! to link students with career exploration, summer jobs, and internships.
Again, the community has supported OPS with many initiatives, including, but not limited to:
• The Urban League Youth Empowerment Series,
• Whitney Young Academy and STEM Programs
• D2 Reengagement Center
• Avenue Scholars
• College Possible
• University of Nebraska Academy
• MT JAVA
• Northstar Foundation/Outward Bound
• Adopt-A-School Partnerships
• STEP-UP OMAHA! Summer Training, Employment Pathway and Urban Pipeline.
In addition, Nebraska colleges and universities are partnering with Omaha Public Schools to offer specific and targeted programs to increase college retention and graduation rates. The business community is getting more involved by offering internships and career exploration opportunities. Philanthropic organizations are supporting many of these major programs and also providing valuable scholarships.
The Collaborative Challenge
It’s encouraging to see that the work of OPS and many community partners is having a positive impact in targeted areas. Where do we go from here? As a community, we now need more intense focus on student achievement through high expectations, equity, collaboration, and alignment, while pushing for excellence at all levels. As we continue to increase the high school graduation rates, we need measurable improvements in math and science scores, more students scoring well on ACT, more students in Advanced Placement classes, fewer minority students in Special Education classes, reductions in suspensions and expulsions, and marked improvements in our 7th grade to 12th grade assessment scores. We will only reach these goals through more collaborative and more aligned efforts.