Mary Morrissey - OPS School Board

Incumbent Runs for Subdistrict 06

Q: What is your background in education?
A: I taught school in Omaha Public Schools  (OPS) for 26 years and was an administrator in OPS for eight years.

Q: How did you get involved in school board?
A: I replaced a member who had served on the OPS School Board for 34 years and passed away.

Q: What have been the best decisions the school board has made in your tenure?
A: Retaining the current superintendent was a good decision and gives us more consistency. Also, implementing a common language and common procedures and achievement stories.

Q: What have been the toughest decisions the school board has made in your tenure?
A: When the economy and funds dropped, we had to make some significant changes in staff. We had to let office personnel go. We tried to keep the impact from the cuts as far way from the classroom as we could. Getting money to stretch is always a challenge. For example, rising gas prices affect us because we have school buses to keep running and it costs more to drive the school buses so children can get to school.

Q: What are your thoughts on Senator Laughtenbaugh’s efforts to shrink the OPS board?
A: This is just not a good time to introduce a bill to change the size of the OPS School Board. We have over 50,000 students in Omaha and we have the largest district in the state. I think it’s important for the school board members to live in their district and be available to the families they serve. People in my district contact me with their concerns. School board members need to be accessible to the families.

Q: Tell us your thoughts on No Child Left Behind.
A: I think the goals are unachievable in the timeframe specified. Not all children learn at the same pace. No Child Left Behind mandates that every child must be 100% proficient in reading and in math. There will always be children who need a little more help. I think the way that No Child Left Behind is set up is unfair and unrealistic.

Q: Several of Omaha’s high schools are performing at less than 50% proficiency in reading and math. What will you do to improve students’ academic success?
A: School truancy is a big issue. It is up to parents to help their children be up and ready for school. But it is also a team effort between the parents and the schools. Getting parents involved is critical and the involvement should start as early as possible – in the elementary schools. Parents need to remain involved throughout their child’s education.

Q: What can OPS do to boost high school graduation rates?
A: OPS has made gains in graduation rates but they are not quite where we’d like them to be. Mentoring programs have helped. I believe the dropout rate has decreased to 2.6%. The graduation rate among Hispanic students has increased 20% and the graduation rate among Black students has increased 18%. Those are successes.
OPS has introduced credit recovery programs to help students get back on track by completing failed or missed classes so they can graduate.

Q: Tell us your thoughts on teacher merit pay and supporting great teachers.
A: In many ways, merit based pay is not the best because it depends upon what it is based. Basing it on student achievement is unfair. I think it is important to support teachers through resources and professional development.

Q: Tell us your thoughts on procedures for identifying ineffective teachers and addressing this issue.
A: OPS is very fortunate to have a teacher evaluation program that is a model for the United States. Dr. Sandra Hodges, an Assistant OPS Superintendent, helped design our teacher evaluation program. She developed a blueprint for teacher evaluation. It involves peer teaching and coaching. Part of it involves teachers observing each other and offering feedback. It provides targeted support for struggling teachers and a program of assistance utilizing our human resources department. It has been very effective.

Q: What could be changed in the current teacher contract for the benefit of effective student education?
A: I can’t comment on teacher contract matters.

Q: Omaha schools currently hold parent teacher conferences once a semester. What can be changed about parent-teacher conferences to increase parent attendance and participation in parent teacher conferences and in general with their children’s education?
A: There are opportunities for parent participation throughout the year. For example, we have Parent-Teacher Associations and Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTAs and PTOs). We have school community groups. Once a semester conferences are sufficient. Report cards go out 4 times a year.

Q: Tell us your thoughts about OPS implementing 21st Century Learning Skills.
A: We already do this. Our classrooms are equipped with technology. As early as third grade children are learning word processing. Our 8th and 11th graders will be taking their standardized skill tests on computers.

Q: How does the schools calendar, length of day and number of days attended benefit student proficiency and competency?
A: There are lots of different ideas and thoughts on year round schools and extended days. But it all boils down to money. Omaha does have an elementary focus school with extended days and an extended year. It has been a success.

Q: How much oversight should the school board provide regarding the school superintendent?
A: The school board sets the policies and practices. The superintendent’s job is to manage the school system. Sometimes that is a fine line.

Q: What do you see as the single most effective thing you could accomplish in another term?
A: I think it is important to provide consistency and continuity especially with a new superintendent.

posted at 05:58 pm
on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

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