September 2020
Greetings Omaha Public Schools Community,

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, our district held a special board meeting to update our families on the current status of our 100% remote instructional model and to discuss next steps toward a safe return to in-person learning.

A significant portion of our update focused on the metrics we’re monitoring to inform our phased approach to return in-person. Health experts shared that Douglas County rates have surpassed the 5% positivity rate in community testing, a threshold that public health experts would like to see for a 100% return in-person. Test positivity rates are at 20% and above in some zip codes.

With the help of our community, through actions like consistently wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing, we are hopeful that positivity rates can decline between now and the start of the second quarter. With the help of our public health officials, we’re planning for a phased approach to begin in-person instruction and move into our Family 3/2 model. Our staff and families can look for a timeline on that phased approach in the week to come. Of course, as we have shared throughout the summer and fall, it is important to note that rapidly evolving conditions can affect our next steps.

Our team stands ready. Our Student Transportation Services team can begin transporting our students with as little as two weeks’ notice. We’ve made adjustments to our school’s air-handling systems, which will circulate fresh air throughout our facilities more frequently throughout the day. We’ve practiced enhanced disinfectant and sanitation practices and we remain vigilant as our staff work inside schools, teaching through remote learning sessions each day. Those safety practices will continue when our students return in-person. Most importantly, we’ve made early arrangements for rapid results testing, to have access to real-time data regarding positivity rates and patterns within our individual school communities.

The experiences of other school districts have indicated that once we return to in-person learning, we should expect cases to be identified and to anticipate temporary school closures to combat the risk of wider spread. Moving forward will require support, patience and flexibility from our families.

Like many of our families, we’re eager for our students return to in-person learning. We want to do that responsibly. Our ability to track virus trends will position us to make swift decisions to protect the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and families.

We will continue to look to case trend data, positivity rates and guidance from our community partners and health experts as the second quarter of our school year approaches. In the meantime, we will keep our families and the community informed.

Cordially Yours,

Cheryl J. Logan, Ed.D.
OPS Teachers Find Creative Ways to Teach Remotely
With the 2020 school year kicking off in a 100% remote learning environment, teachers are working to find new ways to keep students invested in remote learning.

“Our teachers are just getting creative,” said Dr. Carrie Carr, principal of Norris Middle School. “They’re getting creative with different ways to engage kids.”

Ms. Jody Boyer is one of many teachers engaging students in hands-on learning from a distance.

“Ms. Boyer’s art class is a great example of different activities they can do to engage their kids. They’re really getting creative,” Dr. Carr continued. “She’s got kids commenting on a padlet... a tool where you can post things to a common board. Kids are doing electronic things with art or digital things with art, but they’re also doing hands on because that’s super valuable too.”

Students in Ms. Boyer’s class received a package of art supplies to use while they’re at home.

“She’s really purposeful in the lessons that she teaches, so she made sure that the supplies she sent home with kids were specially packed for each kid, and she was really intentional for what she was going to be doing in those lessons. She’s got a bunch of different things in there – different materials – colored pencils, sketchbooks and things like that. She also has a stamped envelope in the kit, so students are doing artwork at home and the stamped envelope is going to come back to Norris, and she’s going to take the student artwork and display it around the building.”

Both students and teachers are using new tools that will benefit them when the district returns to in-person learning.

“I’m just really proud of our students,” said Dr. Carr. “They are working so hard to get connected with their teachers. Instead of having just one way to do a project or an activity, they have several ways that they can express their creativity or express what they know, and they’re also just building those solid connections with teachers right now – getting to know them and getting to know their skills. They’re building those relationships that will transfer back to when they’re in the building too.”
Gavin Flint, a librarian at Bryan High, is also working to support our students virtually.

“I’m a historical reenactor in my spare time, so I’ve just had an interest in military from different periods,” explained Flint. “World War I just happened to be one of the areas that I had been interested in before becoming the school librarian.”

Flint works alongside Bryan High history teachers to bring their history lessons to life with a green screen and a full WWI era military uniform.

“I’m just trying to show them more of the human side of WWI, because a lot of the time you learn history and you just see these numbers and casualties and that doesn’t really tell you anything,” Flint said. “For me, history is alive and trying to get that out to the kids to help them see the human side of it is a big deal to me.”

“When we have students in the building I would actually do these in person, and I would go in and actually have a student come up as a volunteer and dress them up in the equipment to let them see what it was like,” Flint continued. “Then the student could actually tell the rest of the kids like, ‘Hey this is super itchy.’ The kids get to interact with the helmets and some of the tools and just kind of see what that stuff was like back then.”

“Now, by having them interact with other kind of electronic tools and things we can do like discussion boards, it helps us know that they're getting it and understanding.”

Flint and Boyer are great examples of teacher creativity in the remote learning model.

“We’re excited to see students back in school soon,” said Dr. Carr. “But in the meantime, I’m so proud of how our staff and students have worked together in the remote environment, and I know they’ll keep impressing.”
Benson High School Academies Prepare Students for
Life after High School
The Omaha Public Schools mission is to prepare all students for success in college, career and life. Benson High Magnet School’s Health Professions and Freshman Academies are part of that mission.

“I feel like I learn so much just being in there, because the teachers are a good resource,” explained Paw Thlay Wah, a senior at Benson in the Health Professions Academy. “You get to interact with professionals that are in that field. It’s a hands-on experience. That’s not something you usually get when you’re in high school.”

Benson’s Health Professions Academy and its Freshman Academy recently achieved Model Academy status, awarded by the National Career Academy Coalition. This identifies both programs as exemplary career academies.

“We went through what’s called a baseline review where they come in and we just show them what we’re doing,” said Tom Wagner, principal of Benson High. “They give us some advice on what to do, things that we could improve upon.”

“It’s a huge deal. The amount of extra hours and extra work that teachers put into their classes just above and beyond to make sure these kids have an unreal high school experience,” said Angela Johanek, high school curriculum specialist at Benson High. “I think they do it because they understand how important it is and they recognize what a life changer this can be for kids that graduate.”

“Being with a health academy teacher, they have connections. I’m able to learn so much,” continued Wah. “Those connections that they have and me being able to ask them for help, it’s really helpful.”
“I think one of the biggest benefits students get is exposure. They get exposure to the idea of a future,” explained Johanek. “High school is where students spend a lot of time developing who they want to be, figuring out who they are right now. And there’s a lot of big open questions for students, whether or not they want to continue on to get a job, go to college, two-year, four-year, stay at home. There’s a lot of big choices that students face."

Adjusting to high school can be a big task, and Benson High prepares their students to succeed starting with the Freshman Academy.

“The first year of high school is the most important grade level in any high school,” explained Wagner. “They have the most time left in the school, they have the most time to make their mark on the school, and they have the most time to think about what they want to do after high school.”

“The biggest takeaways that I got from the Freshman Academy was to always be on time and not be late,” said Carl Sweiner, Benson High sophomore who was in the 2018-19 Freshman Academy. “Hopefully in the next few years, I’ll be able to go out and look for a couple internships to prepare for college and my career.”

“High school is the foundation for the rest of their lives,” said Wagner. “They’re picking up habits and work ethics that are going to stick with them for the next 50 years. If we can shape that into something that’s going to benefit them, benefit the community, then we’ve succeeded.”

“The impact that we can have on those students is amazing,” said Jane Laughlin, high school curriculum specialist at Benson High. ”To get recognized for that work is... it’s hard to put into words because everybody worked so hard for our kids. To have someone from the outside come in and say that what you are doing is working. What you are doing is making an impact.”
Students Find Their Wings at
Burke Air and Space Academy
Breaking into an aviation career can be a daunting task, but Burke High’s Air and Space Academy is giving OPS students a leg up on the competition.

“Since 2011, we have dedicated our program to building options and opportunities for all students who would like to investigate a career in aviation,” said Andrew Brooks, Burke High curriculum specialist and director of the Air and Space Academy. “Burke Aviation has developed direct pathways for our students to experience the real world of aviation and begin a lifelong career.”

That dedication and commitment to the program has paid off, as the Burke Air and Space Academy was named Nebraska Career and Technical Education Outstanding Rule 47 Career Academy of 2020. This award recognizes outstanding achievements of career education programs in high schools across the state.

“Truly, this was a huge honor for the program, and it really shows that our care for our students and commitment to their futures are paying off,” explained Brooks. “The purpose of the academy is to prepare students for their future careers, and this award shows that it is working.”
Students of the Air and Space Academy are able to choose from three pathways: aviation mechanics, technology and flight.

In the aviation mechanics pathway, they get to work directly with industry-standard tools and real aviation businesses like Duncan Aviation and Jet Linx to gain real-world experience in the field.

For the aviation technology pathway, students are actually able to be certified in high school be commercial drone pilots. Plus, we have a partnership with the UNO Aviation Institute so that they can transition directly into that program to continue their education.

Students focused on the powered flight path can graduate high school having completed the testing portion of their private pilot’s license, and these students will be able to work with Jetlinx, Oracle Aviation and Advanced Air to gain flight experience and open doors toward being a pilot.

“We’ve been working hard for years in this program, making sure that we are doing everything we can to provide the best, most effective education to our students to prepare them for future aviation careers,” said Brooks. “The Burke Air and Space Academy truly is where leadership can take flight.”
CHI Health and Omaha Public Schools Partner to Honor Teachers Across the District

CHI Health wants nominations of Omaha Public Schools' teachers changing the lives of students. Each month, they'll surprise a Top Teacher nominee with a treat basket for the teachers' lounge and a personal gift card. CHI will draw winners on the last Friday of the month. CHI Health will select one winner at the elementary, middle and high school level.

Anyone can nominate a Top Teacher at

If you would like to view the latest CHI newsletter devoted to youth issues, please click here.

Thank you for your support of our teachers and for your support of the Omaha Public Schools.
... to all OPS National Merit Scholar semi-finalists. From Burke High, Nicholas Hammans, Laura Kirshenbaum and Natalia Trejo-Andalon. From Central High, Carolyn Dillman, Edward Easton, Emily Engel, Anna Festersen, Killian Green and Mila Herszbaum-Harding. From North High, Jackson Long.

... to the 2020 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award winners; Melissa Bauldwin of Burke High, Mary Ann Colasacco of Dundee Elementary, Ranae Duncan of Bryan High, Diane Eubanks of Buffett Middle, Justine Garman of Benson High, LaJoy Green of North High, Amy Hiddleston of the Accelere Program, Kristy Lee of Marrs Middle, Deborah Merrill of Adams Elementary, Thomas Miller of Buffett Middle, Rodney Mullen of Central High, Anthony Razor of Burke High, Nick Wennstedt of Bryan High, Craig Wiles of Crestridge Elementary and Lindsey Wilson of Morton Middle.

... to former North High Principal Gene Haynes for receiving the Dr. Jack Lewis Sports Person of the Year award. Haynes came to the Omaha Public Schools in 1967 as a teacher and coach and served as the Head Basketball Coach at Omaha Tech before entering school administration.

… to Daniel Varela Moreno of South High for being awarded the Nancy A. Fredericksen Scholarship.

… to Cale Christopherson of North High for receiving the Omaha North Faculty Scholarship.

… to fourth-year teacher Kelcey Schmitz of Benson High for earning the Leadership Development Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and Nebraska Language Arts Council. This award is presented to Language Arts/English teachers showing outstanding work in their first five years of teaching.
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Omaha Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), marital status, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, gender identity, gender expression, citizenship status, veteran status, political affiliation or economic status in its programs, activities and employment and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. The following individual has been designated to accept allegations regarding non-discrimination policies: Superintendent of Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531) 299-9822. The following persons have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Director for the Office of Equity and Diversity, 3215 Cuming St, Omaha, NE 68131 (531) 299-0307.