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Equity and Diversity: Fall Newsletter

Direction-A Letter from the Director

Hello OPS Community,

I am Barry Thomas and I am proud to be serving Omaha Public Schools as Director of Equity and Diversity. In this role I plan to work hard with our district leadership team, school leadership, support staff, teachers, families, and students to make sure that we seek equitable outcomes in all the work that we do. Make no mistake about it this is a daunting task, but I believe that we all can work in unity to make the change that our students need to prepare them for today and the future.

My core values that I am focusing on this year are empathy and service. When we breakdown what empathy is the concept is centered around knowing yourself, knowing another being, and what connections exist between the two. As educators, if we really plan on being equity-oriented it all really starts with us being reflective and understanding ourselves deeply. Once we take that time to understand who really and truly are by setting out on the journey of knowledge of self then we can look to gain and maintain connections between ourselves and the world around us. Empathy is when we successfully find connection points between ourselves and others. There are times that this will happen quickly and with ease, but the true measure of our service is how we approach those more challenging instances where empathy is not available at face value. What makes our service “equity-oriented” is that the outcomes can create proportionate gains for all this who receive it.

So how do you begin to develop empathy with your students, colleagues, and community? I hope that this newsletter provokes you to consider your answer to that question by providing examples of opportunities that others have taken in their journey. Along your way you will see that you are fulfilling the mission set forth by Dr. Logan to ensure that every student is known, loved, and inspired.

You are just what we have been waiting for!

Reflecting our Students: Empowerment Network African American Leadership Conference

OPS Students Attend the Empowerment Network's 8th Annual African American Leadership Conference

On Friday October 25th, over 70 students from OPS high schools were invited to participate in the Empowerment Network's 8th Annual African American Leadership Conference. The Empowerment Network is an organization that seeks to transform economic conditions and the quality of life of African-Americans, North Omaha residents, and citizens of the Great Omaha area. The Leadership Conference draws upon African-American professionals to lead conversations about growth in industry, community engagement opportunities, and a number of other leadership skills that can be developed by networking. 

The students that attended networked with their classmates from other schools but also were extended student specific trainings focused on Youth Entrepreneurship. Jaylen Bledsoe, an entrepreneur that started his own IT consulting business at the age of 12, led the session on youth leadership and introduced an opportunity for Omaha teens to become members of the Step Up Youth Entrepreneurs Cohort to begin in 2020. 


On the Scene

Central High's Black Student Leadership Group at African-American Leadership Conference

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and OPS members of Kappa League Mentoring Program

North High Black Student Leaders pictured with Youth Entrepreneurship Leader Jaylen Bledsoe

The Change in Our Schools

Everyone has dreams and hopes

Through our partnership with the MN Humanities we are a HOPE School.  (Having Only Positive Expectations)

Joslyn HOPE (Having Only Positive Expectations) Leadership Group

Trusting the future through HOPE…

Starting in 2015 Joslyn staff and students started on their journey of HOPE.  We embraced the HOPE message shared by MN Humanities and believed that it would benefit all of our students, community  and staff members too.  Our goal was to have our HOPE Leadership group be student driven with adult guidance. 

In the beginning 5th graders were our first HOPE Leadership Group.  They met monthly as a group and told their stories and discussed what HOPE meant to them.  Dr. Tommy Watson would visit from MN Humanities the group monthly and provide thought provoking conversations. 

Then the group transformed into brainstorming what HOPE meant in our school and community.  The HOPE Leadership Group came up with many ways to spread HOPE and the message of being positive throughout the school and the school community. 

From a small stone….to a boulder…

The HOPE Leadership Group each received their own HOPE stone.  The idea grew to creating a HOPE Garden for the school.  The entire school created stones for the garden-including students and staff.  Then at a family night the journey continued and families created large HOPE stones together.  The leadership team and students read Rock in the Road and Howards Rock to take the Rock Garden to the next level of a Boulder of HOPE.

Other HOPE Team activities:

Creating cards for others that have positive messages for students and staff and what HOPE means to them, all school bulletin boards promoting and encouraging HOPE,  purposefully started class discussions about HOPE, shared positive notes of HOPE on lockers & desks.  They created all school themes.  For example, the year of kindness and the HOPE students led the entire school by grade levels in creating an all school kindness quilt.

Community activities: 

Supported another school in their time of sorrow with HOPE Leadership team visits and to their school and visits to Joslyn, exchanged letters with other schools, raised money for families during the winter season, created HOPE Totes for flood victims for the Open Door Mission, collected food items to help in the Omaha community, collected winter wear and made blankets for Project Harmony and the Stephen’s House.  The HOPE Leadership Team works closely with our neighbors at the Bickford Assisted Living Center.

HOPE continues to grow…

The HOPE Leadership Group created vision boards and affirmation boards incorporating “the power of positive thoughts” as all school projects driven by the HOPE students.    They created HOPE t-shirts and their own HOPE cheer and HOPE song.  The HOPE Leadership Team provides leadership at all school assemblies throughout the year.  They participate each summer in the HOPE Leadership Academy.

Being a HOPE School…..HOPE continues…

Great opportunities for engagement with school, family and community with the transformation of our family nights-deepening engagement with our families and community.  Purposefully providing opportunities for our families to tell their story.

Examples of our Joslyn Family Nights:  (Celebrating The Arts(families created a family canvas together), Live, Love, Laugh-Created Family stones together, All Around the World(different food from around the world and letters to your future self(Dr. Tommy Watson, MN Humanities), Game On! Be Part of the Solution-interactive activities (Speaker Josh Dotzler from Abide and huge advocate here in the community-supporting families with action and Community Partner with Joslyn Championship Martial Arts Sensai Todd).

Our teachers, support staff and parents attended classes that have been offered by Minnesota Humanities and embrace the message of HOPE in several ways. 

Through HOPE we are committed to building positive relationships through heart and fidelity.

Joslyn used data and found out that the importance of Joslyn’s HOPE group is a staple of trust in our building. 

This year we are celebrating “Home is Where the Heart is At”.  HOPE continues to be the HEART of Joslyn. 

Our Joslyn staff kicked off the year with a story circle titled Home is Where the Heart is At led by Rose McGee incorporating the School Action Team (MN Humanities SAT).  This was a great way for the staff to building positive relationships with new staff members and strengthen relationships with others.

The HOPE Leadership Team of students kicked the year with students by reading the story of the Dot to all grade levels to encourage all students to MAKE THEIR MARK and BELIEVE IN OTHER AND SELF

Minnesota Humanities

Equity in Our Community (Celebrations and Triumphs Around our OPS Village)

Recovering Your Sacredness

November 7 @ 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm


Together, we can build a resilient Omaha.

Join us for an afternoon of inspiration, motivation, and insight about building personal resilience by breaking cycles of painful generational trauma. Be uplifted as Jerry Tello provides guidance on how to heal, restore, and build personal strength through recovering your sacredness.

Our keynote speaker, Jerry Tello, is the co-founder of the National Compadres Network.  He is an internationally recognized authority in family strengthening, therapeutic healing, cross-cultural issues, and motivational speaking.

Register today!

Inclusion Committee and Equity and Diversity Advisory Board

In an effort to fulfill our commitment and obligation not to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, disability, or socioeconomic status in our educational programs, activities, or employment practices we have assembled a group of educators and community members to meet monthly and form an Inclusion Committee

The goal of the Inclusion Committee is to provide professional development to OPS staff while giving them an opportunity to network with each other and community advocates. This committee also explores issues related to equity and diversity that are impacting student, staff, and family members within the district to problem solve and encourage growth. During the September meeting the Inclusion Committee worked toward developing a definition for Educational Equity for OPS. In October the advocates completed a textbook Bias Review to support the textbook adoption process currently underway with K-5 English Language Arts. 


In addition to our Inclusion Committee, a group of community experts and OPS supporters have been assembled to meet quarterly and advise the Office of Equity and Diversity through strategic planning. This Advisory Board is made up of the following individuals:

Damita Byrd, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Empowerment Network

Carmen Chagolla, Program Manager for Latino Center of the Midlands

Dr. Eleanor Coleman, Strategy Lead Consultant for Minnesota Humanities Center

Gabriel Gutierrez, Education Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Shelly Henderson, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for FIRST

Dr. Mary-Beth Muskin, Retired Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League

L. Dominique Sierra, President of Sierra Company Bilingual HR Consulting

Palma Strand, Professor of Law at Negotiations and Conflict Resolutions Program at Creighton University

Cammy Watkins, Deputy Director at Inclusive Communities

The Beauty of Application

OPS Educators and Community members are trained to detect bias

The Inclusion Committee wants to ensure that our new materials are not only representative or our students but also appropriate.

Octavia Butler, 1st grade teacher at Gomez Elementary, Assessing Bias

Inclusion Committee members took time out to review the potential K-5 materials for bias.

Our Friends from Inclusive Communities Contribute

Inclusive Communities is a leading organization for diversity and inclusion in the city of Omaha and we are proud of their partnership with OPS. JP Gurnett and Cammy Watkins pictured here. 

Reflecting our Students: Grassroots Latino Leadership Development

The Grassroots Leadership Development Program aims to promote and facilitate constructive dialogue and interaction between Hispanic citizens and public officials who are responsible for administering their local city, county, and school governments. Hispanic citizens will gain a better understanding of how local governments function and how they as citizens can play a more effective role in influencing and formulating public policy. Public officials will also gain a better understanding of the Hispanic community’s needs and concerns and a greater appreciation for our interest in government and public affairs. Here in OPS, GLDP has been an exciting opportunity for our students that has helped to shape the school district. Every year nearly 300 students are invited to participate from our OPS high schools. In addition to the national requirements, OPS also invites student leaders to complete a service learning project connected to civic engagement and action. This 10-week program welcomes leaders from all forms of community service, including but not limited to School Board President Marque Snow, County Prosecutor Don Kleine, leaders from OPD and Omaha Fire. On October 29th, Mayor Jean Stothert met with the Latino Leaders to entertain questions and share about role in the city government. 

In Action

OPS Board President Marque Snow and the GLDP

GLDP Students Engaged in Conversations about Identity and Change

Melissa Comine explains the Strategic Plan of Action to GLDP

A District of Inclusion

The Durham Museum was kind enough to host Omaha Public Schools principals on October 1st as they were challenged to explore conversations about race and tour the newly opened exhibit Race: Are We So Different? Throughout the day the school leaders were asked to consider how they examine race and its implications on students success in their schools. They were led through the exhibit that explored the scientific, historical, and cultural implications of race. Finally they engaged in courageous conversations that asked them to explore vulnerabilities, biases, and trauma and its impact on their leadership. 

For more information on the Race exhibit you can visit:

Where Professional Development is Personal

If OPS was to host a Table Talk series, what topics should we discuss?
Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse workforce: 2 votes (7.69%)
Serving and welcoming LGBTQIA students and families: 0 votes (0%)
Culturally Responsive Teaching: 3 votes (11.54%)
Restorative Practices and Mindfulness: 1 votes (3.85%)
Reflecting on My Own Biases: 8 votes (30.77%)
Social Justice in My Classroom/School: 1 votes (3.85%)
Leading the Equity Change: 2 votes (7.69%)
A History of Racism in Schools: 2 votes (7.69%)
Being Uncomfortable and Professional Growth: 2 votes (7.69%)
Language and its Impact on Environment: 5 votes (19.23%)
Total Votes: 26

Quick Insights (Short Media to Provoke Thought)

Title IX

School leaders,

There have been some changes in regards to Title IX investigations for the upcoming school year. I would ask that you review the attached document that outlines the guidance for investigating a student claim of sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination. Also attached are common terms to familiarize yourself and staff with in regards to Title IX.

As a reminder, OPS Board Policy 4003 states:

Employees should initially report all instances of discrimination, harassment or retaliation to their immediate supervisor or to the compliance administrator designated to handle complaints of discrimination (designated administrator). If the employee is uncomfortable in presenting the problem to the supervisor, or if the supervisor is the problem, the employee may report the alleged discrimination, harassment or retaliation (“discrimination”) to the designated administrator (such as a principal). Once the District receives a grievance, complaint or report alleging discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, or becomes aware of possible discriminatory conduct, the District will conduct a prompt, adequate, reliable, thorough, and impartial investigation to determine whether unlawful harassment occurred. If necessary, the District will take immediate, interim action or measures to protect the alleged victim and prevent further potential discrimination, harassment, or retaliation during the pending investigation. The alleged victim will be notified of his or her options to avoid contact with the alleged harasser, such as changing a class or prohibiting the alleged harasser from having any contact with the alleged victim pending the result of the District’s investigation. The District will minimize any burden on the alleged victim when taking interim measures to protect the alleged victim.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.


Barry Thomas

Director of Equity and Diversity/ Title IX Coordinator for OPS

Native Indigenous Center for Education Partner Convening

The Native Indigenous Centered Education (N.I.C.E.) program supports approximately 850 Native American students in the OPS district, with the purpose to meet the educational and culturally related academic needs of Native Americans students in OPS. The mission of N.I.C.E. is to educate and empower Indigenous students, families and communities to seek and achieve holistic well-being through academic excellence, cultural strengths and self-advocacy. One avenue to accomplish is to strengthen Native American community resources which lead to a community collaborative project to support the city of Omaha Native American residents. Several organizations held a meeting to form a collective vision on how community resources can work together effectively to support and identify joint opportunities for increased impact. The meeting was facilitated by an outside organisation to explore the following question: Over the next few years, how might we strategically weave together our respective programs and services to better assist our Native American community? This conversation led to the following five objectives:

1. Create a Native community resource hub,

2. Align voices for advocacy,

3. Create cultural congruent pathways for student achievement,

4. Reform a sense of inter-tribal community in Omaha, and

5. Increase resiliency through Native practices and healing.  A follow up meeting has been set for November 18th at Metro Community college and many participants left excited and ready for more discussion, one participant stated "finally, we are moving forward" and another said "I feel like we are finally trying to do something".

For more information please contact Echohawk Lefthand, NICE Program Director


Non-Closure (Texts That Will Stretch)

Around the Corner

Take a look at the tab above labeled "Monthly Cultural Celebrations". As you review upcoming opportunities to spotlight your school or familiy's diversity consider how this should be done with cultural proficiency in mind. If your school is planning something exceptional around a cultural tradition please be sure to invite District Leadership to join in the fun!!

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).