Skip to Main Content

Equity and Diversity: Fall 2020 Newsletter

Direction-A Letter from the Director of Equity and Diversity

The Collective

When schools were just being established in the early years after the Civil War, the emancipated people instinctually pulled together and committed whatever resources they had to prioritize educating themselves and the children. They pooled whatever money, tools, and human capital they had to put schools together. They took such pride in developing their own schools that whatever money they hesitantly borrowed they worked tirelessly to pay it back.  The emancipated wanted to be beholden to none.  As literacy had been a crime for enslaved people, it served as a testament to the priorities of those just-freed to make their first act in liberation to seek education. You might believe that literacy was sought purely for economic means, but you would be applying today's social context to a different time. Compulsory education was not yet a thing during this time. As a matter of fact, much credit should go to the emancipated people for the establishment of public schools. At the time 1 out of every 5 people over the age of 14 was illiterate (excluding the enslaved population that was 9 out of 10). Literacy was not a huge economic driver. So, what then? Why were the freed people so interested in building schools and intellect? It was a yearning for the collective. Literacy key to being able to reconnect with family members that had been separated during enslavement. If you could read, it was a tremendous advantage in finding a spouse, parent, or child that had been sold away to other plantations or states. So they came together to build schools to support themselves as they tried to come together to rebuild families and then communities. The power of the collective rests in undoing injustices.

That same conviction of working as a collective was maintained as the success and triumphs of Black people during Reconstruction were being reversed and as Jim Crow laws sought to reestablish White supremacy at the turn of the 19th century. Teachers in segregated Black schools banned together to create state and local Black teacher associations with the intention of developing curriculum that empowered Black students with a sense of cultural knowledge and pride, high expectations for student achievement in academics and civic engagement, and maintaining a network of support while strategizing as leaders in local activism. Those early educators in segregated Black schools united to instruct students in their classrooms but primarily they aimed to create a new society that was inclusive.

In the same spirit of the emancipated educators and those that served in the segregated schools, the Office of Equity and Diversity has established a collective to support developing education and bringing us together. Over the past year an Inclusion Committee was created to serves as an employee resource group and community connection point to support the district on workplace environment and student supports. In its inaugural year, 2019-20, the central areas of focus were:

  • Empathy-How might we develop a culture of empathy and build bridges across the lines dividing students, staff, and administrators?
  • Advocacy- Where are the opportunities for our committee to assert change, create tension, and reform the system to create more equitable outcomes?

When surveyed the top areas of focus that this group wanted to prioritize were:

  • Encourage courageous conversations related to race, nation of origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity
  • Raise awareness, identify resources, and problem solve issues related to students of color and low SES students, specifically in math placement and attendance
  • Develop professional affinity groups to help recruit and retain teachers of color and traditionally marginalized professionals

Schools and communities are in need of OPS educators to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice efforts. The Inclusion Committee has expressed specific priorities that can be directed with their own set agendas and actions. The charge has been made and the mission has been accepted.

To complete this mission a collective, or cohort, has been developed. The Inclusion Cohort, a small group of professionals and community leaders, will be working to support the Office of Equity and Diversity as trained advocates that are able to go and support our schools and departments through professional development and consultations. As you read through this quarter's newsletter you will be introduced to the eight inaugural Inclusion Cohort members, the collective that will educate us to bring us together.

Inclusion Cohort member- Lindsay Behne

Lindsay Behne, Teaching and Learning Consultant for Social Studies

As the Secondary Social Studies Teaching and Learning Consultant, I want to ensure that all students have a high quality, equitable education that prepares them to understand the past, connect to the present, and engage in the future. I want students to participate in dialogue regarding diverse issues that impact their community and an inclusive world, and to think civically about how they can impact their schools, their community, and beyond.

Our community and schools are rich with diversity; focusing on inclusion can move us to where everyone in OPS feels they are welcome, they are safe, and they can thrive. Inclusion is not just a vision statement, it is a call to action, a call to learn and grow, and call to engage in the movement to provide equal access to opportunities for everyone in OPS.

I want OPS to be the model for inclusive schools and inclusive practices. I want OPS to have a sustaining system of inclusion so that every administrator, every teacher, every parent, and every student knows the purpose of this work, and commits to learning, growing, and implementing practices to ensure students feel welcome, feel respected, and feel they have what they need to succeed.

Inclusion Cohort member- Mariana Cruz

Mariana Cruz, Assistant Principal at Edward Babe Gomez Heritage

My purpose is to live a life of service by planting and nurturing the seeds for my community to flourish and grow. 

Inclusion is important to me as a former EL student and woman of color. I have a lifetime responsibility to create access, opportunities, and remove barriers for anyone who may experience them.  I want people to know that all people are accepted here, and we will ensure to make everyone feel known, loved, inspired, and accepted. 

I applaud our district for all the positive growth and changes it has undergone in the recent years. I want our district to continue to lead by example in challenging times, while always keeping those we serve at our core.  Through inclusion, we will continue to work at making every employee feel and know that we all play a crucial role in the success of our students.  To our students, know that we are working to make this the best educational experience possible.  Every day gives a chance to grow and improve. 

Inclusion Cohort member- Wesley Jensen

 Wesley Jensen, Teacher at Secondary Success Program

My purpose is to build significant relationships so that significant learning occurs, for myself, students, colleagues & the greater community. I firmly believe that such a purpose can only be achieved through the work of inclusion. 

An inclusive community is one where all individuals feel valued & that they belong. This occurs when 1. Significant relationship building occurs by allowing everyone's story & perspective to be told, especially that have been marginalized; and 2. Those stories allow for significant learning to occur and lead to significant action.

My hope is that OPS will be continue the work of building significant relationships so that significant learning can occur. In doing so, we will be able to say without doubt, "Every student. Every day. Prepared for success."

Inclusion Cohort member- Dionne Kirksey

Dionne Kirksey, Assistant Principal at Central High

My purpose is to see beyond now and to envision what it can be.  What it should be.  My purpose is to encourage people to grow and to cheer them through the process of growth.  

Inclusion is important because we all bring different backgrounds, experiences, and views to the table.  We are better if we respect and include all.  Through dialogue and common ground, we are all the same. 

I want the Omaha Public Schools to be the best school district in the United States. 

Mia Yamamoto

Upcoming Religious and Cultural Celebrations

The Hanukkah story goes back to the second century BCE, when the ancient Greeks ruled Judea and confiscated the Holy Temple. The small Jewish Maccabee army staged a successful revolt. When the Maccabees took back the Holy Temple, they discovered that the ner tamid, the eternal light that burned continuously in the Temple, had gone out — and they only had enough oil to relight the lamp for one day. Miraculously, the oil continued to burn for eight full days, the amount of time it took to obtain more oil. Then, as now, the burning flame lighted up dark days, offering a symbol of hope and gladness.

The Change In Our Schools-Spring Lake's Anti-Racist and Anti-Bias Committee

Spring Lake Elementary HOME

At Spring Lake, we believe that the diverse backgrounds of our students and their families bring a highly-valued richness to our school community. The anti-bias/anti-racist (ABAR) committee, through collaboration with our administration, aims to thoughtfully reflect on our schoolwide policies and practices to make sure that this belief is evident in everything we do as educators. Our goal is for our students and families to feel seen and heard in the classroom by giving them agency to use their voices in the decision-making process as well as presenting them with a culturally competent curriculum. All students must have access to information, social-emotional development, and opportunity in a way that best serves them.

As a means of bringing this to our colleagues, we offer a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in which our staff members have the opportunity to learn more about ABAR education and have a space to engage in meaningful conversation about this work. For our first book study, we had 30 educators sign up to take part in these discussions. Most of those teachers are coming back to join us next semester, with the addition of some new voices.

We are dedicated to honoring and respecting the multiple identities that make up who our students are. We want to create an environment in which they see themselves as a vital part of the fabric of our school.

Minnesota Humanities Center

MHC/OPS Continues Online!

We all know it’s been a year unlike any other! As OPS and MHC continue virtual learning, we want to thank ALL of  the teachers, administrators, staff, and educators who have consistently joined our virtual offerings.  Since making the shift last Spring, our registration has been steady and even growing. As we wrap-up this semester in December, 1184 registrants are participating in professional development opportunities. We are grateful for each and every participant who has stepped into this new adventure with us!

Along with the work of an outstanding team of scholars, school liaisons and classroom assistants, your flexibility and commitment are what keeps us moving forward.  While certainly challenging at times, the virtual environment has allowed MHC to get creative too!  5 new offerings have been added  this semester.  Another first for MHC/OPS was the Community Infused Story Circle held on December 1 that centered around a very powerful excerpt from the play More Than Neighbors written by Denise Chapman of Omaha.  For this event, MHC had the privilege of also working with students from Lewis and Clark Middle School to explore important issues of place, self, and our perceptions and connections. Nearly 150 individuals attended this special online gathering.  It is but one example of how together, we have been able to build community, share stories, and offer one another personalized support and care.  It’s in that sprit that MHC will keep engaging with the District to provide meaningful opportunities that inspire connection and learning and reflection. MHC wishes each of you and your loved ones continued health and safety and we look so forward to seeing you in 2021!

Towards Communities of Care: Meals2Go

Meals2Go Information

During the Winter Recess, Nutrition Services will be distributing meals curbside at 20 schools from 11;30 am until 1:30 pm. Here is the information:


Bancroft, Belle Ryan, Belvedere, Benson, Beveridge, Bryan Middle, Central Park, Dodge, Florence, Gateway, Gomez, Hale, Indian Hill, Marrs, Norris, Sherman, Skinner, South, Sunny Slope, Wakonda 


*December 14 (Monday and Tuesday meals) and December 16 (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meals)

*December 21 (Monday and Tuesday meals) and December 23 (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meals)

*December 28 (Monday and Tuesday meals) and December 30 (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meals)

All Nutrition Servcices staff are back on duty January 4th, so Meals2Go will be available at all schools.

*January 4, 2021: (Monday and Tuesday meals) and January 6, 2021 (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meals)  

                               JP Lord will be in school and we will provide meals for the students.

Meal Distribution Times:  11:30 - 1:30

Nutrition Services Staff Hours:  8:30 - 2:00

We are working with Migrant Education and Social Workers to help identify families who need meals delivered.  If you know of anyone, please send their names, ages, address, and phone number to confirm delivery Dr. Lisa Sterba,  or (531)-299-8981.

Equity and Diversity Advisory Board-Gabriel Gutiérrez

Gabriel Gutiérrez (He/Him/His) is a South Omaha native and the proud son of Mexican immigrants. Gabriel is a full-time instructor in the Teacher Education department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) where he helps prepare future educators. He is also an affiliated faculty member of the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS). He holds a B.S. in Secondary Education and Latino/Latin American Studies and an M.S. in Secondary Education (Equity and Social Justice in Education). He is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at UNO. Gabriel’s teaching and research interests revolve around educational equity, culturally sustaining pedagogy, critical pedagogy, critical race theory in education, and the recruitment/retention of teachers and students of color. Gabriel has conducted trainings about equity and diversity for both students and educators across the Omaha metro. He has also served as an advisor/consultant on educational equity and culturally relevant pedagogy for local school districts and educational agencies.

Gabriel is a proud P-12 product of the Omaha Public Schools and an Omaha South High Magnet School graduate. Prior to his current role at UNO, Gabriel was a secondary social studies teacher for OPS, teaching at Omaha South High Magnet School. During his tenure as a teacher, he also taught in the Dual Language program. Gabriel credits his experiences as a student and as an educator as a significant influence in his interest in dismantling inequity in all its manifestations.

Check your Bias

On November 19, 2020, Camelot Education hosted a panel discussion titled, "Strengthening Climate & Culture: A Trauma-Informed Approach" at the Urban Collaborative's Fall 2020 Virtual Member Meeting.  It was an honor to host this presentation with our esteemed panel of educational leaders including: 

  • Facilitator, Andrea Kirwin, Superintendent of Schools, Aspira Education
  • Mark Ballard, Board President, Lorain City School District
  • Carolyn Granato, Assistant Superintendent Student Support Services, Newark Board of Education
  • Mark Williams, Assistant Superintendent, Plainfield Public School District
  • Laurie Mason, Director of Special Education, Brockton Public Schools

Inclusion Cohort member- Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler, Teacher at Edward Babe Gomez Heritage

I strive to educate the Whole Child and develop a love of learning in my students. The inclusion of their stories, absent narratives of history, and connection to the community are at the heart of my work. Each of our students deserves an equitable and just education experience that meets their diverse needs and their visions for the future of Omaha.  


Inclusion Cohort member- Jaclyn Gibbons

Jaclyn Gibbons, Instructional Facilitator at Highland Elementary

My purpose is to serve families while developing understanding of their lived experiences. As understanding increases, thus proficiency in allyship and identifying systemic change. As we pave the way of equitable opportunity for all OPS students, the clear message that they are valued, and that the world needs their contribution becomes transparent.

Inclusion is important to me because the hearts and potential of OPS students are to be honored and cultivated. Every child deserves to feel safe, belong, and know that they are limitless. When inclusivity is intertwined with all practices, OPS can assure that we assist students in navigating their greatness.   

I want OPS employees, students, and families to celebrate the richness that our diversity brings to the community. It is my quest for OPS to be known as the school district leading the nation in representation, inclusive practices, continual development of our skills, and beliefs of equity for all learners. I desire OPS to be the model for promotion and practices of a just and inclusive learning environment for all


Inclusion Cohort member-Skyler Johnson

Skyler Johnson, Teacher at Lewis and Clark Middle

I currently teach Entrepreneurship and Global Entrepreneurship at Lewis and Clark Middle School. I also mentor students through my fraternal organization Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.  

Inclusion is important to me because I know what it feels like to think that you do not matter, and I do not want others especially the youth in my community to have that feeling.  

I want Omaha Public Schools to truly prepare “ALL” students for success.

Inclusion Cohort member- Guadalupe Perez-Aguilar

Guadalupe Perez-Aguilar, Student Advocate at Latino Center of the Midlands

My purpose is to help my community. To be the voice for those who can't speak for themselves. To be an advocate for families and students who are misrepresented by society. I am here to mentor and support each student who does not see what I see in them as future leaders.

I think it should be important for all of us. I believe all children are able to be part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and become prepared for life in society as children and adults. Children are the future, but in order for them to succeed, we must provide them with the proper tools and opportunities. We as a society should promote diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our lives. 

I would like for OPS to be more inclusive with all schools. To provide better services not just for our students, but our families as well. 


A District of Inclusion-Ayanna

Business Partner Spotlight:


Business Owner: Tina Diaz-Ciechomski

First, tell us where we can find your business online.

What inspires your work and what sets you apart from everyone else? Working on a project as a team, makes us focus on Future as a whole. We cannot accomplish a good finished product without working together to make it happen. We deliver quality craftsmanship by employing people who take pride in their work.

We believe in giving back to our community by donating time to help youth learn, our employees live in these communities so it’s giving back to their friends and family. We are located in South Omaha where a lot of trades people worked when they immigrated to Omaha. We are a bilingual business so we can accommodate language barriers!

What is your background and how did you develop the skills to start your business? I was brought up by parents who were hard workers and owned properties, so I learned about construction helping my dad work on houses that had to be repaired after a tenant moved out.

I also learned from my husband who was a carpenter working on our own home and side jobs; he was a great teacher!! Finally, I went to school for construction management, where everything that I learned in the construction field made me understand it more clearly.

What has been your biggest success to date? My biggest success has been working on larger construction projects alongside general contractors. We were awarded jobs doing work for the local government, including schools, hospitals, and single-family housing.

What has been your biggest challenge? Being a woman-owned, minority business has been one of my biggest challenges, because women are still seen as not having the capacity to do this type of work. And now during this time inclusion is just starting to become more relevant when it comes to hiring minorities. I’ve been in business since 2000 so this wasn’t something that was available to help my business grow!!

If you could go back to the beginning knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently? I think I would have still done the same things but added more teaching. Having a mentor would have really been a big help!

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start their own business? Search out organizations that help small business, do your homework, and learn about your field of interest. Look at other businesses that are successful in your line of work, and ask them questions. Build relationships with as many companies as you can!! Lastly, love whatever it is that you set up to do, and always appreciate the people who are there supporting you on your road to Success!!!

Where Professional Development is Personal-#C3

Susan Mayberger, Dr. Donna Polk, Dulce Sherman, and Willie Barney provide examples for educators, support staff and community members on how to create change in society while focusing on Access and Opportunity. Over the course of the webinar series educators, school supporters, thought partners, and innovators will communicate messages, stories, and directives that support the key concepts of Education Equity with a promise to inspire and provoke participants to continue in their journeys for change. The professional development opportunity and community platform will be a shared space for participants to join and learn from each other as we seek to make our schools and community a more inclusive environment.

The Change In Our Schools-Mount View Elementary

Racial Equity Team at Mount View

In the spring of 2020, our country was gripped by Covid-19 restrictions and predictions. As an elementary principal, I was preparing to start school in August with new health and safety protocol as a top priority. On May 25th George Floyd was murdered and opening school in the fall took on another meaning. I knew that I needed to focus on masks- but so much more.

Through racial conversations with stakeholders, it was suggested that some families of color may not feel comfortable at Mount View. Tough words to hear, but a challenge that had to be faced-now more than ever before.

As a white woman leading a school where 53% of our students are black, I needed more information, so I went straight to the source. I reached out to about 20 of our black families and had open, honest conversations about race.

During one of the calls, a mom and I were in tears. We both had sons headed to the protests downtown that evening. When I told her I was scared about my son attending, the words sounded trite. She, too, was scared. I was embarrassed and apologetic that the fear she felt for her black son’s safety was so different than the fear I felt for my white son’s safety.

Knowing that the conversations about race had to be ongoing, it was decided that we would begin a Racial Equity Team. The team is comprised of community members, parents and staff members. (A student voice will be added in the very near future.) We use school data and our School Improvement Plan to drive our bi-monthly agendas. We observe and discuss challenges being faced and brainstorm solutions that will disrupt barriers to success for our students of color.

Along with co-leaders Keisha Partridge and Keeley Bibins, the team and I will continue to travel this amazing road toward racial equity at Mount View.

Meg Searl

Mount View Principal

Title IX

This EquiLearn Virtual Roundtable provides an overview of the IUPUI Girls STEM Institute and gives an evaluation of the program's impact through interviews with participants and their parents/caregivers.

Quick Insights-Podcast/Article





What's CODE SWITCH? It's the fearless conversations about race that you've been waiting for! Hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. We explore how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between. This podcast makes ALL OF US part of the conversation — because we're all part of the story. "We're talking to people who have been marginalized and underrepresented for so long, who are so hungry to see themselves represented fully and with nuance and complexity," says Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of Code Switch, Apple Podcasts' first-ever Show of the Year for 2020. "People recognize that, because we had been having these conversations for so many years in advance, we're a trusted place where they could go to better understand all the stories about race filling up their newsfeeds and social channels." Their weekly podcast launched in 2016 but truly came into its own during this historic, transformative year, as Meraji and co-host Gene Demby examine issues of racial, ethnic, and cultural identity through frank one-on-one discussions and incisive non-fiction. In a year dominated by discourse about race, this indispensable show furthered them by providing powerful and timely insight, offering diverse and empathetic personal perspectives to a broad audience. "There are certain lenses that we are bringing into, both as journalists and the people that we're bringing to these stories," Demby says. "But also, we are specific people with specific fascinations and broad curiosity. If we're telling these stories, you should assume that they're going to look and sound like us."


Around the Corner-Racial Equity Institute


Omaha Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, citizenship status, 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 address inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Superintendent of Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).

Las Escuelas Públicas de Omaha no discriminan basados en la raza, color, origen nacional, religión, sexo, estado civil, orientación sexual, discapacidad , edad, información genética, estado de ciudadanía, o estado económico, en sus programas, actividades y empleo, y provee acceso equitativo a los “Boy Scouts” y a otros grupos juveniles designados. La siguiente persona ha sido designada para atender estas inquietudes referentes a las pólizas de no discriminación: El Superintendente de las Escuelas, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).