Amid a search for a new superintendent, a survey from Omaha Public Schools reveals the community wants the school to go in a different direction. The results reflect similar concerns in districts around the nation.
Following Superintendent Cheryl Logan’s resignation, announced in December, the school district commissioned GR Recruiting to conduct a survey about how teachers, parents, and other residents feel. The results were shared with the school board on Monday.
The survey reveals 57% of respondents want the board to “find a superintendent ready to take the district in a different direction,” local KETV Omaha reports, noting, “Nearly six out of ten [respondents] were staff members, and less than half identified as parents of current or future Omaha Public Schools students.”
Among the top concerns: staff and recruitment and retention, academic outcomes, mental health services and special education.
Staff recruitment and retention:
Two out of three respondents said “staff recruitment and retention” was a critical issue needing addressed, which perhaps reflects the number of school staff participating in the survey.
Elsewhere public schools have been reporting staffing shortages as many teachers retire or leave the profession for other reasons.
In 2021-22, only half of the open teaching positions were filled, according to a survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a 2022 survey, 90% of teachers in the National Education Association said burnout and stress related to the pandemic was a somewhat or very serious issue, along with 85% saying the same of student absences related to COVID.
Ironically, the teachers’ unions support of school closures compounded these issues, as previously reported by The Lion.
One in three respondents said academic outcomes were among the biggest issues that need to be addressed.
Nationwide, test scores have plummeted, even as many students are being held back or attending summer school for additional help.
For example, test scores for 8th graders in history and civics released last month show declines for the first time since 1998. Just 13% of students scored proficient in history and 22% in civics.
National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr doesn’t believe that COVID is the only reason for the steady decline in civics and history, either.
“For U.S. history, I would say that I was also very, very concerned, because it’s a decline that started in 2014 long before we even thought about Covid,” Carr told reporters, according to Politico. “When you look at what they don’t know – and it’s not just about reading, it’s about content, facts, information about our constitutional system – students don’t know this information.”
Mental health services:
Nearly 30% of respondents in the OPS survey said mental health services need to be improved by the next superintendent.
During the pandemic, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory of a mental health crisis among young people in light of national surveys showing an alarming increase in suicidal thought or actions.
At the time, Murthy’s report was criticized for failing to account for how failed pandemic policies contributed to the crisis.
“Think of the embarrassment and anxiety of a hearing impaired student who can’t understand his masked teacher and classmates,” Rebecca Sheehan wrote in an op-ed for The Lion last year. “What would help more: investing in more school psychologists and face shields, or providing the option to remove their masks?”
One in five of those surveyed by OPS identified special education as an area of concern.
Districts across the U.S have faced criticism for failing to meet federal requirements for special education programs, leading in some cases to investigations and even school takeovers.
A Colorado investigation recently found that Denver Public Schools violated federal requirements for special education, failing over 1,000 disabled students in the process.
Texas Education Agency (TEA) took over the Houston Independent School District last month, in part due to the district’s noncompliance with special education requirements.
At OPS, Logan’s replacement is expected to be hired for the 2024-25 school year. Matthew Ray will serve as interim superintendent in the meantime.