Stripping our identity



Staff Editorial

Omaha Public Schools proposes district wide name changes

Omaha North High School opened its doors in 1924, becoming the third high school in Omaha Public Schools (OPS).

For many years our school was simply referred to as “North High” because of the fact that it was the only “North” school within the Omaha Metro area. However, when Millard North opened in 1981, we lost our status as the sole North High School.

The need for a clarifying factor was apparent, and in turn, “Omaha” was added to the beginning of the school’s name.

The distinction was proven crucial when yet another “North” school opened in the Omaha Metro area: Elkhorn North in 2010.

As time went on the name “Omaha North High School” served the school in just the right way. Not only did it help differentiate from other districts, it also strengthened community connections.

“This school represents a beacon of hope and pride in its community,” said Chase Magnett, English teacher.

Now decades after a name alteration, OPS has proposed the removal of the “Omaha” component from not only Omaha North High’s name but all other OPS high schools as well.

According to OPS’ Director of Communications Kala Morrissey, this idea was formed amidst a rebranding process that initially started at the district level in the 2016-17 school year.

“We looked at survey data and feedback from families…and we combed through that information, and we looked at how people were already describing our district,” said Morrissey. “We used those words in that verbiage to define what our brand was at the district level.”

The “district brand identity” was formed based off this feedback as well as color marketing science. In the end the district made minor changes to their logo.

The rebranding process moved to schools in the 2018-19 school year.

“[OPS schools] were kind of in a similar situation where they had really strong histories, they had a brand, but it really hadn’t been defined as far as the logo,” stated Morrissey.

The allegedly undefined logo led the district to pick out exact shades for school colors so that their printing could remain consistent.

“Instead of just going to a vendor and saying I want light blue and yellow, we’re solidifying…here is the exact color makeup of the blue that is at North so we can get that to a vendor, and they can match it exactly,” said Morrissey.

Minor tweaks were also made to school logos so that the district could have complete ownership over them.

In the present stage of rebranding, the district plans to drop “Omaha” from all their high school’s names.

Currently, only a handful of schools regularly use “Omaha” in their names. Schools with cardinal directions in their names are the ones who utilize “Omaha” the most. Seeing that not all high schools use this distinction in their name the district figured no one should to, again, maintain consistency.

Not only does the district want to reach consistency across their high schools, but also across all of their schools in general. The fact that OPS elementary and middle schools do not use “Omaha” in their names has solidified the districts’ decision to drop “Omaha” from their high school names.

The district also thought that a school’s residency could be assumed without “Omaha” being in their title seeing as though they reside within the Omaha Public Schools District.

Curriculum Specialist Michelle Porter stated that she, along with members of the Omaha North leadership team, heard word of a proposed name change in June.

Afterward, district representatives met with them twice in November to discuss the subject.

During these meetings, the Omaha North team brought up their concerns regarding the name change. These included being confused with other districts and lack of communication with stakeholder groups.

It seems the students, staff, and the surrounding community of Omaha North purposefully weren’t consulted regarding this decision.

The people it would be affecting most.

According to Morrissey, OPS used information from previous survey information to gauge the public’s opinion.

“We went back to the verbiage that our families and our community were already saying as part of the survey and feedback that we had already collected,” said Morrissey.

Word started slowly spreading to stakeholder groups in mid-October and many have since formed opinions on the topic.

Class president Jayla Canon, 12, believes that dropping “Omaha” from the school name would add fuel to the negative preconceived notions often associated with Omaha North and the North Omaha community.

“People look at us sideways all the time and I just think if they take the ‘Omaha’ away its going to change how people categorize us and I don’t think it’s going to be a good thing,” said Canon. “It’s going to cause way more issues than people just already calling us ghetto or [referring to us as] ‘over there’ or ‘that part of Omaha.’”

Canon believes “Omaha” should remain for a plethora of reasons, one of them being the pride that the name instills.

“It shows that everybody is proud of where they’re from and who they are,” stated Canon.

Many are concerned over being confused with other districts. Students, staff, and alumni alike are used to people assuming they’re from Millard North if they don’t specifically say they’re from Omaha.

“I was at a fraternity dinner when my oldest was in college, and we were sitting at a table and one mother said, ‘Oh Millard North, great school,’ and I said, ‘Well that may be true but I’m talking about Omaha North,’ and it was like ‘oh,’ dead silence,” said alumni and former Omaha North teacher Gay O’Neill. “But unless we say Omaha North, that will never go away.”

There’s also the issue of assuming everyone has knowledge of the OPS district. While people within the Omaha Metro may be able to identify OPS, it is harder for others who live farther away. There are various other “North” schools that span all across the country.

“The accomplishments athletically and academically should not be confused with any other North High whether it is in Elkhorn, Millard or Minneapolis, MN,” said alumni and former OPS Special Education teacher Babs Weinberg.

Overall, it can be extremely tiring for students to repeatedly correct people when they assume we attend a suburban school.

“Kids shouldn’t have to explain themselves,” said alumni Karen Sides.

There’s also the issue with consistency. While OPS is making the argument that dropping “Omaha” will create more uniformity across the district it will, unfortunately, lead to more chaos internally within Omaha North High School. According to Morrissey existing Omaha North branded items, such as gear and official documents, will continue to be used until they are replaced or depleted. As a result, inconsistencies with branding will continue for years to come.

The argument that all levels of OPS schools should be consistent in their naming is also ridiculous seeing that elementary and middle schools are not competing with other districts in statewide events or competitions.

There’s also concern on how the name change will be implemented across third parties such as College Board, ACT, and college applications or scholarships.

Despite these concerns it seems the district is set on implementing the name change.

“I think this will really help to create that consistency for our entire district, but especially for the specific school community,” stated Morrissey.

According to Principal Dr. Collette Nero, “feedback from the leadership team and students is being considered” and “there is more to come on this issue.”

Morrissey stated that a timeline for when this new policy will be implemented is unknown. Recent feedback may still be reviewed.

“We’re continuing to work with the leadership team at North,” said Morrissey. “I know there are some minor tweaks that we’re looking at for collateral pieces.”

Even after being offered reassurance, it’s hard to comprehend that this is at the forefront of the district’s to-do list. With a teacher shortage running rampant, time shouldn’t be wasted on something as insignificant as branding.

“Right now, our staff is overwhelmed with massive class sizes, even after eliminating positions that should not have been eliminated, we have many open positions within our building,” said Magnett. “We’re not able to properly care for our students because we have overcrowded classes and not enough colleagues to even make sure we have plan times. If you want to have children receiving a good education, you have to staff classrooms.”

While OPS is going through trying times, they should continue to uphold practices that instill pride in the communities in which they are serving. Our name is Omaha North High School, and nobody should be able to take that away from us.