“I’m not dead yet.”

Fans of Monty Python will recognize the headline as a memorable utterance from their “Holy Grail” movie. No, I’m not dead yet, just busy.

This has been the longest span between posts since I wrote the first of 673 almost five years ago. The delay has been due to a heavy combination of professional and personal demands.

The professional stuff is the usual, just more of it. On the personal side, someone very close to me is seriously ill and may not make it to Christmas. A second radical surgery next month will determine both the length and quality of this person’s life. The end of this person’s life has been on my mind for several weeks and prevented me from posting anything because the posts would have been trivial in comparison.

But the education of our children is not trivial. I have no illusions about this blog and its role in effecting change. Perhaps it has made a difference, perhaps not. It wasn’t started so that it or I could become a change agent, it was started as a campaign tool and evolved into a place where the board and the administration could see that there is at least one person in Newport-Mesa who isn’t always buying what they’re selling.

The illness is a reminder to me that we are all destined for the same fate. Thinking about the sick person, I posted the following on Facebook two days ago:

“This morning, Laura and I kissed goodbye and I said, “See you tonight.” But the truth is that there is no guarantee of that.

“Last Saturday, a 5-year-old boy was thrown off a mall balcony by a stranger and is in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Today, at least 30 people will die as a result of preventable driving accidents. One person today will fall off a ladder to his or her death, and about 110 people will die today from accidental poisoning.

‘I said, “See you tonight,” but I don’t really know. No one knows. We can’t live each day as though it were our last. That is both impractical and irresponsible.

“But during each day, we can take a moment to remember that every human being on the planet shares the same fate. From this perspective, we have a greater understanding of what is important and what is not. Most of what we think is important is not. That which we can see and touch is fleeting. Love, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness are everlasting.”

No disrespect intended?

Ashley Anderson is a responsible, independent, accomplished adult who plays a key role in the community and who got elected to the school board by working tirelessly. Trustee Ashley Anderson is already acting way beyond her years by asking questions that others should have been asking for decades and providing the board with some unique perspectives.

But something curious happened at the board meeting of March 26 that is a “tell” – an insight into the minds of the other trustees and the superintendent.

Before I reveal this, some background… In the meeting setting, trustees are referred to as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” “Dr.” or “Member [last name],” or “Trustee [last name]” etc. The bureaucrats who sit in front of the dais refer to the trustees and each other this way.

The folks who speak to the board do the same. In all of the times I have spoken at these meetings, I adhere to this protocol.

In the locker room after the meetings, yeah, it’s Karen, Martha, etc.

Except for Anderson. During one discussion, the superintendent and Trustees Martha Fluor and Vicki Snell referred to her as “Ashley.” The super said, “Member Ashley” before correcting himself and saying, “Member Anderson.

As I wrote, this is a “tell” – an unconscious use of language that provides an accurate insight into the speaker’s mind. Tells can also be physical.

These tells reveal that the speakers do not see Anderson as a peer or as someone deserving of the same level of respect that they expect for themselves.

This view of Anderson is also evident in the responses to her comments and questions. She is talked down to, sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes not. Altogether, this behavior is an attempt, conscious or not, to keep Anderson in place by making her feel as though she is not worthy.

In reality, conscious or not, it is attempted intimidation and it is wrong. The board wants to present itself as a team – a united bunch who may disagree on things from time to time, but which can also move forward together on programs and policies. (More on this in a few paragraphs when I cover the Secret Special Meeting of April 16.)

Talk has to match action. If the trustees are truly there for all of the district’s children and if they pride themselves in separate but equal status as trustees, they should start treating Anderson accordingly.

Acronym central

The March 26 regular meeting also produced an abundance of acronyms, including MTSS, SOAR (how clever!), SAI, IEP, RtI, SIPPS, and LLI.

If you take the acronyms for the programs and policies that have been created over the years and stacked them, they would reach to the moon. And back.

Language like this only increases the disconnect between the public and the school district. But despite their claims to the contrary, that’s how they like it. The district may claim to want public input and participation, but the truth is that they would rather you just stay home and keep your mouth shut because they know what they’re doing and you don’t.

“I’m confused”

That’s what Snell said twice during the March 26 meeting during discussions. No one else said they were confused, just Snell.

Snell also wondered aloud about the proper response to the question after a vote tally, “Anyone opposed?” Snell asked whether the response should be “aye” or “nay.”

I’m not sure why she cares because she’s going to rubber-stamp to her heart’s content anyway.

The challenges facing the district are greater than at any time in its history, dominated by the emergence of haters and by the existential threat posed by the ISSAC charter school. We don’t need trustees who are easily confused, we need trustees who can process the information they are given and make decisions accordingly.

That’s not to say that trustees shouldn’t ask questions – the more the better. But those questions should come from needing amplification, not to help overcome confusion.

And here’s the other thing… OK, so you’re confused. Twice in one meeting. Is it really a good idea to tell the world?

You’re invited to our meeting, but please don’t attend

On April 16, the trustees and two administration officials gathered in the board meeting room to attend the second session in board governance.

The facilitator was a consultant from the California School Board Assoc. who lives in Northern California.

So, let’s do the timeline math, shall we? The consultant has to travel far to get here – probably a flight – the agenda has to be prepared in advance (probably well in advance because this was the second meeting on the subject), the superintendent and the #2 guy have to make room on their calendars, a room has to be reserved and set up (need to give notice for that), and trustees have to respond to meeting invitations.

All that has to happen way before the meeting, agreed?

So why was the meeting notice and agenda posted only the day before, less than three hours before the deadline?

Because they don’t care if you attend. In fact, they would prefer that you did not.

As you can see, the strategy worked – I was the only one in attendance:

It should be noted attendance would have doubled to two people but someone who was on their way texted me to ask if it was worth it and I said no.

During the meeting, there was a blurb on a slide that read, “Active listening – all opinions matter.” Sure they do.

The underlying theme of the 90 minutes I spent at this Secret Special Meeting was unity messaging: Don’t rock the boat. Go along. After all, you may need the support of your colleagues for something and they won’t support it if you are an outlier. (My words)

I then wondered whether a trustee, here or anywhere, would not support a colleague’s worthwhile proposal or position simply because he or she did not support theirs. Nah.

I have facilitated many meetings and this one could have used a boost. There was agenda drift and people talking over each other, to name a few flaws. Then there was the slide deck, replete with punctuation errors and formatting mistakes. In this example, I see at least three punctuation or formatting mistakes:

20190416_114636.jpg

This meeting was not free. The district is paying to have the facilitator here and guide them through this process. For the taxpayer dollars that are being spent, I expect perfect slides.

The slides are bad enough, but there are two other more important issues. Multiple times during the meeting, the discussion among the trustees was reduced to granular, anecdotal commentary which should have been halted by the facilitator. This meeting was supposed to be about high-level stuff – not the time to recount an episode or vent.

The other was some language used by the facilitator that was directive instead of being guidance-oriented. I heard, “I want you [trustees] to be…” and “You need to be thinking about…”

Those statements are outside of the scope of the usual facilitator’s role. Both of these statements should have been posed as questions, such as “What should you be thinking about with regard to [topic]?”

But, that’s just me.

The end of the innocence

Two issues facing the district – the swastika video and the charter school – are the two most important challenges facing the district in its history.

The video is forcing the trustees and the administration to confront multiple topics and trends: Whether and how to discipline off-campus behavior, how to handle the increasing use of social media by students to bad ends, and how to address hate, to name a few.

The charter school means an end to business as usual.

In both of these, strong, clear, and direct leadership is needed from the superintendent. He should be out in front of both of these issues on an almost daily basis. But he is not.

Since the OCDE approved the charter school, the super has posted one notice telling the community that the charter school would not be under district control. That was three weeks ago.

Then there is the hate. This incredibly important issue and the pending formation of a task force to address it should be the number one or two priority for the superintendent. Instead, he has delegated it to a cabinet member.

This is not an issue to be delegated. Hate is a worldwide concern that has landed solidly on our doorstep and the superintendent should be front and center condemning it clearly and directly, that is, without the usual bureaucratic buzzwords, and leading the charge to change the culture. But he is not.

This is not the prom draft.

Steve Smith

Advertisements

About meetings…

My first real job – the start of my career – was as sales manager for a wholesale hardware company. I knew nothing about sales or managing but I must have impressed the owner somehow and I got the job.

I stayed there for five years and learned more in that time about running a business than in all the years since. The owner was a brilliant businessman. Quirky, sometimes, but brilliant.

There was the time when he emerged from the men’s room in the warehouse and hollered for the entire crew to circle around him because he wanted to explain that a new roll of toilet paper should be inserted with the first sheet hanging down in front, not in the back.

Another time, I saw him putting scratches and dents in the side view mirrors of a brand new delivery truck – brand new, day one – so that they would be less attractive to a thief.

For every quirky story, there are ten of genius. On my first day, he held up a blank sheet of 8×10 paper and said, “This is our memo form. It’s also our invoice form, our receipt form, and our copy paper.” It was his way of telling me that the company had been in business for over 20 years because he did not spend money on window dressings such as paper with logos.

At the same time he told me about the form, he also said, “We don’t have meetings here. Anything over 5 minutes long is a meeting.”

The meeting notification was his way of letting me know something I would discover in a very big way many years later: Most meetings are worthless.

I thought of my old boss and the meeting policy as I reread the district’s notification of tonight’s important meeting. Here are two of the three paragraphs:

“Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) will host an informational meeting on March 27th regarding the creation of a Human Relations Task Force to create a greater level of cultural understanding and acceptance that appreciates and celebrates the diversity throughout our community.

“While details of the task force are yet to be determined, students, staff, parents, community members, and community organizations are invited to the informational meeting.”

(I left out the paragraph about the pending partnership with Orange County Human Relations – not relevant to this post.)

This is being positioned as an “informational meeting,” which means just what, exactly, I don’t know. My spidey-sense tells me that they are trying set low expectations by designating it as “informational.” To me, that means that they plan to tell us what they intend to do and there will not be an opportunity for the community to make recommendations or ask questions.

I hope I am wrong. If ever there were a time in the district’s history when they need to hear from the entire N-M community it is now and at every step of this process.

The district has a history of hosting meetings with little or nothing to show for them later on. I have reported this for years: Meetings that have no agenda, no goal(s), and no follow-up. Then there are the meetings in which community input is sought but disregarded. Those have also been reported here.

Among the district’s Belief Statements, there is this entry: “That we serve our students and our community best when we work together as a team.”

And in the District Priorities, there is this: “C1. NMUSD will build and foster meaningful partnerships and shared commitment with stakeholders including students, parents, employees, employee associations and community partners in the development of the whole child.”

Tonight’s meeting tackles the start of the process of an important segment in the development of the “whole child.” Properly structured, the meeting could be made far more valuable if community input is allowed – and NOT via comment cards – and that some ongoing communications channel is established so that community input on this vital topic is not just a one-time thing.

Without that, it may as well be five minutes.

Steve Smith

P.S. This important meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Sanborn building at district HQ.

 

 

 

 

A big week

Tomorrow night at 6 p.m., there is a board meeting. The agenda, posted last Friday at 2 p.m., is full of the usual stuff, but there is a report that is worth mentioning.

Item 13 is the first of two reports on intervention, that is, what the district is doing to help students at risk of academic failure. These updates are important, of course, but should be of primary interest or concern are the benchmarks that are used to determine success or failure and the process for pulling the plug and reverting to Plan B.

Taxpayers don’t get much of this from the district. Too often, programs are initiated without system accountability and when that happens, bad programs tend to continue past the time when they should have been stopped.

One of these two reports should cover best practices as well. It’s good that there is an intervention program in place, but we should also be made aware of whether a similar strategy has been or is being used at another school district. If so, what has been their history? What can they report to us about successes and failures, about a Plan B, and about what we can learn from their experience?

If the answers to these questions are not presented, a trustee should ask them.

More important is the meeting on Wednesday night t 6:30. This is “… an informational meeting regarding the creation of a Human Relations Task Force to create a greater level of cultural understanding and acceptance that appreciates and celebrates the diversity throughout our community.”

That’s about as squishy as it gets. What the district’s announcement doesn’t say is whether the attendees will be able to ask questions. Without this opportunity, there is a missed opportunity to gain direct input from concerned citizens that could play a major role in the task force process.

We’ll see. Here’s the link to the meeting:

http://web.nmusd.us/pf4/cms2/news_themed_display?id=1552634380338

Steve Smith

Next steps

There is another community meeting tomorrow night to address the recent hate crimes.

I have no expectations for any changes in anything the district is doing and I make no apologies for my attitude. I’ve seen too many of these fake community meetings to believe otherwise: Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.

These meetings are the result of a scandal that the district could not contain. Whether it’s the Mariners Gold Ribbon fiasco or these hate crimes, the format is all the same: A bunch of district administration bigwigs show up, act concerned, talk about the importance of a dialogue with the community and then listen intently while stroking their chins in an effort to take it all in.

So, for new readers, let’s recap: The community input and recommendations for the fence around Adams disregarded the area’s recommendation and installed a different fence configuration. When asked at a community meeting why they did this, the district rep said, “We changed our minds.” I know because I was there.

After reaching out to the community for input, the district ignored the community’s wishes on the Collegiate Calendar and on the area maps.

So, forgive me if I am cynical, but there is a track record of these fake meetings. Until I see some comprehensive, long-term, strategic plan to battle hate on campuses, I will remain skeptical.

Sorry, kids

I give no quarter to the students who thought it was all a big joke and are wondering why everyone is so upset.

In human history, there is no greater symbol of hate and evil than the swastika and this incident has exposed an undercurrent of intolerance and bigotry that must be addressed.

But the district will position this as an anomaly – bet on it. They’re already doing it by focusing on whether and whom to discipline. That’s the strategy – Identify the bad apples, throw some discipline at them, and proclaim that the problem is solved. It worked with the Mariners mess, the prom draft, and many other problems that this administration has faced over the past five or so years.

This is not about things like underage drinking or smoking a joint or cheating on a test, or any of the other common teenage mistakes. This is no longer about the red cups and the swastika and the salute, it’s about a sick culture that has to be identified and addressed.

This is not the prom draft.

Was there a cover-up?

I was 18 when Sen. Sam Ervin led the Watergate hearings. I saw all the witnesses – Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Alexander Butterfield, who may singlehandedly have brought down the Nixon administration by revealing that the president was taping everything.

With Watergate, it wasn’t the crime that brought Nixon down, it was the cover-up, and it was a major lesson that many of those in power across the country still have not learned.

What the community needs to know NOW is whether the previous hate incidents mentioned in the Times story – including at least one death threat – were reported to law enforcement. I wrote the questions in the previous blog post but here they are again:

  1. Were the desks with swastikas reported to or seen by any district personnel?
  2. If so, who saw them and which supervisors or law enforcement agencies were informed?
  3. Were the stalls with swastikas reported to or seen by any district personnel?
  4. If so, who saw them and which supervisors or law enforcement agencies were informed?
  5. Were any district personnel aware of this death threat?
  6. If so, who knew and when did he or she know it?
  7. Were any law enforcement agencies informed?
  8. Did the district notify parents of any of these hate incidents – or any others?

Were these incidents reported or covered up?

Here’s why it matters…

Imagine that you are new to the community. Your family is Jewish. You’re researching the local high school options and NHHS looks pretty good to you and you’re seriously considering sending your kid there instead of a private school or another school in the district.

Wouldn’t you like to know that swastikas have appeared on campus and that a death threat was leveled at a student?

Of course, you would. No parent would knowingly put their child in such an environment – in harm’s way, actually – but you would not have the benefit of this vital information if it was never reported.

It’s no longer the crime, it’s the cover-up, and the district should get out in front of this today and tell the community whether these other hate incidents were reported to law enforcement. They should do this today even if it’s simply to get out in front of another scandal that is easily verified by a check of law enforcement records.

But they won’t.

I’m guessing that none of them watched the Watergate hearings.

Steve Smith

Cover-up? Time’s up!

Just when you thought you’d heard or read all of the shocking details of the swastika incident, there is more.

In their report on the story, the Los Angeles Times quoted a student who said that he has seen other anti-Semitic incidents on the Newport Harbor campus and has been a victim of an anti-Semitic action:

“I pee in stalls with swastikas written on them. I write on desks with swastikas carved in them,” Maxwell Drakeford, a 17-year-old senior, said at a town hall meeting Monday night. “I’ve had kids throw change on the floor and say, ‘Pick it up, Jew boy.’ ”

And this:

“Several Jewish students said the anti-Semitism displayed over the weekend was no unexpected spasm of hatred but the outgrowth something more entrenched — literally etched into the desks and bathrooms of their school.”

But here is the most disturbing quote:

“At least one of the students has received a death threat, the parent added.”

A death threat.

These are hate crimes, folks. Hate crimes.

So here are the questions to which Newport-Mesa residents need answers NOW:

  1. Were the desks with swastikas reported to or seen by any district personnel?
  2. If so, who saw them and which supervisors or law enforcement agencies were informed?
  3. Were the stalls with swastikas reported to or seen by any district personnel?
  4. If so, who saw them and which supervisors or law enforcement agencies were informed?
  5. Were any district personnel aware of this death threat?
  6. If so, who knew and when did he or she know it?
  7. Were any law enforcement agencies informed?
  8. Did the district notify parents of any of these hate incidents – or any others?

If the district did not follow through by reporting these incidents to law enforcement agencies, they may be responsible for the cover-up of terrible crimes. If they did not inform parents, they failed to give those parents important information that they may need or want when determining where to send their kids to school. No parent – particularly a Jewish parent – would send their kid to a school knowing that such an environment existed.

This is serious business, perhaps the most serious in all the years I have been covering N-MUSD affairs.

Newport-Mesa residents need to know the answers to all of these questions. Any district personnel or trustee who knew about these past anti-Semitic incidents but did not report them to law enforcement needs to step forward and explain why these hate crimes were not reported to them or to the community.

And to those people: You should consider resigning.

And if you need some perspective on just how serious this is, the Times also reported that, “In 2017, K-12 schools surpassed public areas as the places with the most reports of anti-Semitic incidents.”

Based on my prior experience, I doubt that the proper reporting has occurred. I make no apologies for my skepticism and would like to be proven wrong here by seeing any documentation that these other incidents were reported. Otherwise, I will continue to believe what Matt Hernandez, a 2016 NHHS grad believes. Hernandez was quoted in the Times as saying, “I’m sure this has happened in the past,” he said. “It’s just this time, someone posted it on Snapchat.”

This is not the prom draft.

Steve Smith

 

 

More is more

(One of my favorite comedians of all time is “Professor” Irwin Corey, “The World’s Foremost Authority.” Corey coined the term “Less is more.”)

With regard to a response to hate crimes, more is more.

The two trustee statements and quotes I read are good, the super’s is not.

The district is holding two meetings regarding the recent hate episode. The first is tonight, the second is Thursday night. Here is the announcement sent to the community by the super:

“I would like to follow-up on a communication sent yesterday regarding the actions taken by some students who created inappropriate and offensive anti-Semitic symbols, and engaged in possible underage drinking. While these actions did not occur on any school campus or school function, we condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in all their forms.

We continue to work with the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach Police Departments in this open and active investigation to determine the appropriate course of action.

Many times off-campus student actions, under the care of their parents and guardians, negatively impact our educational environment. We take our responsibility to students seriously when they are in our care and when their actions outside our care impact our learning environment. We do not shy away from this responsibility and we encourage our community to walk side by side with us on this journey.

We are hopeful in our ability to partner with parents and our community at-large to join us in doing what is right and instill high values in our youth.

“We appreciate our culturally diverse population and we will continue to do all we can as educators to encourage a culture of understanding, care, and inclusivity. This is a time to come together to ensure that we have a common understanding of good values and moral judgments to instill upon our youth.

In partnership with local community groups, two meetings have been scheduled for parents and students to discuss this matter. English to Spanish interpretation will be available.

  • Monday, March 4 at 6:00 p.m. at Newport Harbor High School – 600 Irvine Avenue, Newport Beach, CA 92663
  • Thursday, March 7 at 6:00 p.m. at Corona del Mar High School – 2101 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660″

If you were playing “Newport-Mesa Hate Crime Response Bingo,” you can X out the following boxes:

  • Culturally diverse population
  • Educators
  • Culture of understanding
  • Inclusivity
  • Common understanding
  • Educational environment
  • Learning environment
  • Partner with parents

Please do not misunderstand my position here. I am pleased that at least two trustees have spoken clearly and directly on the matter. Well done. I am pleased that the district is holding these meetings so quickly.

I am NOT pleased at the super’s response. “Inappropriate and offensive?” That’s straight out of the School Superintendent’s Handbook, Chapter 9, page 14.

“Inappropriate and offensive” is what you say about a kid who swears at a teacher. It is not what you say about students who express support and admiration for monsters who murdered six million Jews.

Anyone attending either meeting should ask the following question:

“What are the details of your plan to prevent this from happening again?”

At the end of the day, as I wrote in the last post, unless the district develops some comprehensive, long-term, strategic plan to deal with hate and haters, this is all just a show.

Steve

 

 

You know the drill

Sparing the details of a bunch of kids doing something horrific, then doing something stupid by posting it online, the most important statement is this:

This is an opportunity that can and should be seized.

Sandy Asper said it first, in a recent e-mail to the Newport-Mesa Community for Students.

Her e-mail read, in part:

“Make the week of 3/11-3/18 The Week of Responsibility or something like that….

  1. Show Schindler’s List to all students and parents…perhaps at a local theater. (it’s on You Tube and others for $4,00)
  2. Invite Holocaust survivors to speak…Eva Schloss 88 is speaking at Chapman March 6th
  3. The event at Chapman

https://www.chapman.edu/research/institutes-and-centers/holocaust-education/rodgers-center/holocaust-art-and-writing-contest/index.aspx

  1. Writing, Art, Drama things that can be done without adding to the teacher’s workload.”

Great stuff.

What we have gotten from the district so far is, for the most part, the usual outrage. One notable exception is the statement from the superintendent, whose statement went further along than those that have addressed past scandals, but still did not take the final step.

The quotes from the two trustees I read were good – further than I would have expected –  but they did not go far enough.

Everyone expressed outrage and/or mentioned discipline. There were a few words about how much discipline could take place because the party was off campus and maybe some of the participants were graduates, etc.

It was not enough.

Asper nailed it. Yes, it’s a problem, but it’s also an opportunity. Today, when more people are discovering their inner hater (not me talking – stats support it) and, worse, have fewer qualms about expressing it, there needs to be a plan.

What we’re getting, however, is containment.

I pay no attention to the talk from the district. Talk is cheap and this is, to me, just more language that supports sweeping stuff under the rug. ‘Oh, it’s horrible and we do not tolerate this and we want to create a positive environment and we’ll get to the bottom of this and blah, blah, blah.

It’s as though you could take the district statements the prom draft, insert swastikas, or anti-semitism or whatever and voila! you have your statement.

When they start to follow Asper’s lead and commit to a long-term anti-hate program, I will know we have made progress.

Beyond that, there needs to be some discussion about the social media aspect. I would like to know what that person was thinking when the decision was made to tell the world about it. Was it to be cool? Was it to support and promote hate? What did they think was going to happen? What else is out there that we should know about???

Haters on our campuses are here. They have been and they always will be. The difference today is that social media has upped the game. Had this same incident occurred 15 years ago, the distribution of the images would be slower and the audience much smaller.

Today, however, anyone can broadcast anything to the world in minutes.

Trying to end hate on our campuses is futile and realistic expectations must be set. Please do not misunderstand, the statements from Trustees Metoyer and Fluor are commendable, but unless some action is taken – something permanent and meaningful beyond the discipline – this will be a wasted opportunity.

We’ll see what they do. Or don’t do.

Steve Smith

 

What It’s Not About

At the regular meeting of Feb. 12 – the one for which the agenda was posted the prior Friday – I spoke to the board about the Estancia Zone informational meeting in which they participated a week earlier.

The purpose of the evening was to inform Mesa Verde parents on the programs and people in the Estancia Zone schools in an effort to attract them instead of having them send their kids down the hill to Huntington Beach or elsewhere.

I thanked the trustees for attending, praised Charlene Metoyer for the way she ran the session, and said that the schools principals who spoke would give any Mesa Verde parent confidence.

Metoyer got high marks that night for asking the audience if there were any more questions. That sparked an important discussion.

I told the board that an otherwise enjoyable evening was marred by a comment made by  Trustee Vicki Snell. Snell said that Mesa Verde parents do not send their kids to Adams El because kids from Costa Mesa’s Westside are being bused there.

This is the second time I’ve heard her make this claim.

I told the board that this was insulting and it was wrong. I told them that if they want to attract more students to Adams, they need to do just one thing: Improve academic performance. I told the board that IMO, the school is lacking a long-term, comprehensive, strategic plan and that “putting the monkey on the backs of Mesa Verde parents is not a paln, it is an excuse.”

I spoke for exactly one minute, thirty-one seconds.

As I was returning to my seat – to my back, Snell said, “I’d like to make a comment. I was talking about my personal experience as my children went to that school and that’s what I was talking about. I wasn’t talking about currently, I was talking about my personal experience, which I have a right to do.”

As she was responding, I was walking back to the podium.

When I arrived, Snell, apparently forgetting that she is no longer board president and does not run the meetings, said, “Thank you. You’ve had your three minutes.”

Metoyer asked me politely to stand down, to which I replied, “May I make one statement? One sentence?”

“I would really rather you didn’t.”

It wasn’t what Metoyer said, or how she said it, it was the look on her face that caused me to back off. I returned to my seat, collected my wife, and left.

Here’s what: I did not speak for the three minutes allotted to me. Not even close. Despite that, and despite the fact that after years of attending board meetings and watching speakers return to the podium to exchange thoughts with trustees, I was not allowed to do so.

I was selectively denied the privilege of completing my three-minute appearance.

That was then.

Until lunchtime today, I had planned to attend tonight’s meeting and tell the board the sentence I was going to say that night. But I met my wife for a terrific lunch (Taqueria Zamora on Main St. in Santa Ana if you’re ever in the area) and remembered something that I had forgotten: It would have been a waste of time. Nothing will change until we get at least two new board members elected next year.

Vicki Snell has no idea how to raise academic performance at Adams to the point where Mesa Verde parents once again send their kids there. Worse, she is relying on a superintendent who doesn’t know, either. How do I know he doesn’t know? Because he has had about six years to do it and he has failed.

But there’s even worse news. Not only does Snell not know, she will cling to her board seat just because she wants to while the community suffers for her inability to step aside and let someone else try.

I heaped a lot of praise on the board, Metoyer, and the principals that night. I even offered a recommendation that they put together the aforementioned plan. Despite all that, Snell chose to reply to her comment about Mesa Verde parents.

Had I been afforded the same right as past speakers and allowed to state my one sentence, I would have looked at Snell and said, “It’s not about you.”

Steve Smith

 

It gets worse…

Last week, the California Department of Education issued a list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. This the first such notice in four years.

There are 781 schools on the list. 481 of those schools are receiving Title I federal aid for low-income students. 300 are high schools where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate. California is required by federal law to identify these schools, which will get federal aid of about $150,000 per school per year (Comprehensive Support and Improvement aka CSI).

There are two N-MUSD schools on the list, Monte Vista High School and Back Bay High School. Monte Vista made the list due to the low graduation list and Back Bay made the list due to low performance.

Say what you want about the unique status of these two schools but the bottom line is that they appear on an infamous list.

As I just posted, each of our schools has the facilities, the teachers and the leadership they need to succeed. Any school that is underperforming is doing so because there is no long-term strategic plan in place to achieve specific goals in a specific period of time.

Oh, and if there is a plan, it ain’t working.

Regardless, the superintendent will not be held accountable for the performance of these two schools. He will continue to get raises, bonuses, and praise from the trustees (perhaps now only five of the trustees) who will not require him to submit a plan – or a new plan – to fix whatever is wrong in these schools.

We used to be better than this.

Steve Smith

 

What leadership looks like

Maybe you’ve heard about the Air Force general who showed up to the SOTU wearing his medal ribbons, aka ribbon rack, upside down. He wasn’t making a statement, he was making a mistake.

The man in question is General Joseph Lengyel, who is a four-star general and chief of the National Guard.

When it was pointed out to him, Lengyel said, “Well, we’re all human, including me. And, as I made a final check in the mirror just before I walked out the door, I missed it… Plain and simple. I hope this is a lesson for everyone who wears the uniform, and really for anyone …They put erasers on pencils for a reason. When you make a mistake or miss a detail, own it and move on. One thing is for sure…My ribbons will NEVER be upside down again.”

Did you catch that part about owning mistakes? That’s what leadership looks like.

Steve Smith