Mark Evans, Superintendent of Schools
Rob Dickson, Executive Director of Information Management Services
Change can be hard. But Omaha Public Schools’ Superintendent Mark Evans and Rob Dickson, executive director of Information Management Services, both believe that in the world of education technology, change is imperative.
Since coming to the district, Evans and Dickson have worked together to install two Microsoft Innovative Experts in each building in the school district, bring in Office 365 as a learning environment and get every building in the district certified by Common Sense Media for a digital citizenship curriculum. Currently the two are beginning Omaha’s first virtual school.
“Technology has always been, from my perspective, a way of creating engagement with students,” said Evans. “It’s just a tool, but the tool used right creates engagement more than the traditional classroom setting. The virtual school is about creating opportunities for students that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
One of the biggest challenges in all this change has been funding, but Evans oversaw the passing of the largest bond measure in Omaha history. It wasn’t easy, however.
“There are always folks who are not supportive of any technology expenditures,” he said. “They’ll find any example of some tech project that didn’t work. We are all aware of those examples, just like there are examples of some brick-and-mortar schools that don’t work. That doesn’t mean you stop advancing. Our student achievement improvement was the highest ever in history, and our highest-poverty and highest-need schools are some of our biggest gainers. It’s about leveraging the power that technology has to impact quality instruction.”
Evans came to Omaha in 2013 from Andover Public Schools, in Kansas, where he worked with Dickson. A year later, he brought in Dickson, who led the first Vblock cloud data center installation in K-12 education and has advised many schools with their technology planning and integration. He was also named to the National School Boards Association’s 20 to Watch list in 2014 for his innovation and technology integration work.
The Omaha Virtual School, started by Evans and Dickson, is a blended model that also has a certified face-to-face time requirement. The K-8 program began in August, and they are working toward a high-school program for next year.
“It’s really giving students choice,” Dickson said. “We understand that students learn in different ways. For some, the traditional brick and mortar doesn’t work because of life circumstances or family. We’re going to build a high school next year that will give kids an opportunity they typically wouldn’t have.” —Jennifer Snelling