Telling Our Story
This week, along with Wendy Loewenstein and Eileen Heller, I decided to take on the book BrandED. It fits the direction we are moving in Omaha Public Schools around actively communicating our efforts and is a great read for education leaders out there. For me personally, it was a good follow up to Eric Sheninger's Digital Leadership. BrandED starts with three foundational elements: an image, a promise, and a result. From there, you begin to build your personal brand as you develop your school brand. Through the BrandED Strategic Plan, drivers are introduced to make sure you are efficient, and in constant clarity with ongoing transparency.
Here are my personal elements:
Some of these were through reflection during reading the book, and many of them are what I have inherited from the leadership of Mark Evans.
Through our journey here in Omaha Public Schools, we have been under constant transformation. We represent the largest district in the Cornhusker state. As part of a five-year strategic plan, we passed a $421 million bond issue—the largest in state history—to further prioritize our commitment to transformation. Just this week, we came together bringing all of our school leaders to reflect on the year coming to a close.
Willie Barney, Director of the Empowerment Network, gave a power talk about what we have done. Closing the achievement gap across our poverty areas and creating partnerships in community and philanthropic avenues, we are clearly putting students first. At one point, Willie said "Now everybody get up". We said, "We are strong! We are proud!" - those words were repeated by every leader in the room. The atmosphere was alive and energy was high.
Willie went on to show growth in areas of North Omaha where growth had been measured in several different outcomes since the Empowerment Network started 10 years ago. "Much of North Omaha had not been developed in 35 years" he said. For me, this was eye opening. I have lived in this community for 3 years now. What I have seen in the last 3 years is pretty significant.
But it isn't without challenges.
As can be seen above, we have many challenges; most large urban school districts deal with similar challenges. From my viewpoint, many of these are being approached with technology. Technology can be a powerful "how" if implemented correctly. For example, we are working with the transportation team to work on new ways to communicate to parents about the status of a bus using technology.
One critical problem we are tackling is how we handle calls. Last year, the transportation department had 3 different phone numbers:
We are also making significant progress. As Eric states in BrandED, "We have to do a better job of communicating what we do. We must be part of the exchange. It gives us the best chance at connecting with our audiences and winning support for schools." It is so important for us to communicate these achievements. Otherwise, someone else will.
We are setting records; succeeding and striving to do what's best for students. We are tackling challenges, innovating, and showing progress. One area I am super proud of is our virtual school. Omaha Virtual School is the first K-8 virtual school in the State of Nebraska. Next year we will introduce 9th grade. Much of this is through the leadership of Wendy. She is passionate about the blended environment we are building for our students. As we move forward, they will be a model for what blended looks like in Omaha Public Schools. We are strong. I am #OPSProud. Let's tell our story.