A laugh and a cry. Plus, case closed (Captioning)

At the school board club meeting two nights ago, there was an excellent presentation on suicide prevention by the Student Services Dept.

This department is not only a good example of what can work within the framework of an otherwise stifling, inept bureaucracy, they also provide a good example of how to present information and how to present a complete, representative view of a department’s activities.

On Tuesday, the folks at Student Services did not get up and read the text on PowerPoint slides, they use the slides as prompts to expand their presentation beyond what the audience sees. This is in stark contrast to the recent agonizing and embarrassing presentation before the OCDE map committee in which a district representative got up and with few deviations, simply read what was on the screen. ($300,000 in compensation doesn’t buy what it used to.)

Student Services is in the crosshairs at this time. Patrick Turner’s tragic suicide has made us all aware that more must be done to identify at-risk students, but even more important, to address the number one deterrent to seeking help.

This was one of the two subjects of my comments on Tuesday.

The number one deterrent to seeking mental health support is stigma. That’s not me talking, that is a fact supported by numerous reputable studies.

There are two areas of stigma that need to be addressed. The first is the potential stigma students feel when they are seeking or receiving help. They feel like an outcast, which only deepens depression. Many students do not seek help for this reason and because they fear being ostracized by their peers should any of them find out.

The second area of stigma that is preventing mental health progress involves parents who do not want their child to receive counseling or therapy because of their fear of having their child “labeled” and/or because they fear that counseling or therapy will prevent them from attending a top college, or prevent them from getting a good job. Some parents do not seek therapy for their children to avoid the shame they associate with mental health intervention.

Sad, but true.

I did not see stigma addressed on Tuesday, so I mentioned it in my comments. If the stigma associated with mental health support is not erased, it won’t matter how good a program this or any district creates.

If the stigma associated with mental health support is not erased, we will continue to see teen suicide and we will continue to experience violence on campuses across the country.

IMO, addressing mental health stigma is the most important job of the Student Services Dept. And according to the data we saw on Tuesday, there are at least 2,000 students in the district who could benefit from mental health support.

Student Services also provided everyone with a belly laugh during their presentation. When the slide addressing the “Wellness Task Force” was shown, the Task Force was show by it’s acronym: WTF. Yes, there was a recommendation for a name change.

The other issue I addressed was the lack of follow-up on something I’d presented months ago, which is the subject of teen cell phone addiction. Again, not just me talking – it’s real and it’s documented. Last month, two key Apple shareholders asked for a study to examine the problem. Here’s a link to the story:


Case closed. (Captioning)

For several weeks now, the district has not hosted the archived videos of the school board club meetings. This is because ADA requirements dictate that they include access for the hearing-impaired, which means adding an open or closed captioning  option.

I wondered here why there was no accountability for the years in which the district should have been in compliant. No one to just say “Sorry” for having missed another requirement – this fumble resulting in the absence of all archived videos.

But how about the meetings since they discovered their goof? The cost of captioning years of past videos is understandable, though we seem to have enough money for skyrocketing legal fees and bureaucrat compensation, but how about just starting with the 2018 meetings? That’s not a lot of money.

There is only one reason why even just the four 2018 school board club meetings have not been captioned and posted and that is because they don’t care to do it. Your accessibility to these archives is just not important enough to the superintendent and the school board club. If it were, there would be no discussion. But it’s not.

In the meantime, you can start viewing them via a YouTube workaround here:


This is not a district-affiliated channel and more archived videos will be posted as they are ready.

My takeaway from the video discussion on Tuesday was this: The school board club is being told a lot about what can’t be done and far too little about what can be done.

It’s legal

Item 15.a.5 on the agenda was an opportunity for the school board club to rubber stamp even more money for lawyers: “Due to the complexity of ongoing litigation, it has become necessary to increase the budget allocation by an additional $138,000, bringing the 2017-18 total budget allocation to $443,000.”

And this is for just one of the district’s law firms.

I guess no one on the school board club realizes the stigma attached to massive legal fees.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD



Winning the Battle, but Losing the War

Last night at the Bear St. HQ, there was a meeting of the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, which assembled to vote on whether to approve Area Map G which creates boundaries for the new Area representation elections starting in November.

The agenda called for the the committee to receive a presentation by the N-MUSD in support of Map G, followed by public comments and committee questions.

I was one of eight community members who spoke. This is what I said:

I am a 31-year resident of Costa Mesa.

  • I attend most school board meetings
  • I ran for a school board seat in 2014
  • I was twice elected to the Site Council at a Westside CM school
  • I was an active member of the PTA in every school my kids attended 
  • I was an active booster for two Estancia High School sports teams while my son was a student there
  • I regularly conduct research into innovations in education
  • I was a resident of Costa Mesa’s Westside for 17 years
  • For 15 years, I was a columnist for the Daily Pilot newspaper and wrote extensively on district issues
  • I Currently write a blog featuring district news and opinions 

I’m providing you with these highlights to let you know that I am not part of what the superintendent referred to at the last board meeting as part of the  “underinformed member of the public.”

To the contrary, sometimes I wish I didn’t know all that I do.

If we are honest and clear, we will acknowledge that the initial impetus for this meeting and this process is because the Newport-Mesa Unified School District does not have and has never had a Latino trustee, despite the fact that Costa Mesa’s Latino population stands at about one-third and has been at the level for many years. And as a result, the district was sued to come into compliance with the CVRA.

You heard tonight about the district’s outreach effort, how they held five community meetings, ran ads in a Spanish language newspaper, etc.

What they did not tell you is that despite that fact that this is all about Costa Mesa’s Westside representation, only one of the five meetings was held there.

They did not tell you that the number of Americans who read newspapers has declined dramatically and that includes the residents of Costa Mesa’s Westside. Newspapers are not an effective channel for this type of campaign.

They did not tell you that the Area representative, Walt Davenport, was not at the Westside meeting and his only contribution to this process was to vote on a map choice.

They did not tell you that the map selection committee members were handpicked by the superintendent.

Most important, they did not tell you that despite what they believe was a sufficient outreach effort to the community, the response was poor.

If no reason other than input from the Latino community on this decision is woefully inadequate, Map G should not be approved.

Thank you.

After the district presentation, the public comments, and the rebuttals, it was time for the committee to speak. The first committee member (I’m leaving out names because it’s irrelevant) said that she was “heartbroken” at the “controversy” that was presented. That was a small victory and more on that in a few paragraphs.

There were more questions and comments from the committee and the district representatives scrambled to provide answers. Nine district representatives answered committee queries. Everyone in the room witnessed a disorganized, confused assembly of district representatives who clumsily passed the speaking baton back and forth and did not seem to understand some of the simple questions that were being asked. The superintendent gave an irrelevant answer to one question and had to answer it again.

One speaker included extensive information that was not requested and when on for so long that I came very close to muttering, “Wrap it up.”

The only person who managed to provide succinct, coherent responses was the district’s attorney.

After a couple of committee member questions, it became clear to me that they were going to vote in favor of the map. The thrust of my comments – that the district’s feeble attempt at community outreach is enough to deny this map approval – was addressed by one committee member who stated, long story short, that getting people to attend these types of meetings is a challenge everywhere.

If that is true, and I believe it is, then perhaps someone should say, “What we’re doing isn’t working and we need to try something else.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in this or any other establishment. The status quo rules because there is no incentive to change it. This, too, is an informed opinion: In my career, I have led or assisted dozens of campaigns to attract people to events. Each time, it was an opportunity to improve our pitch and if an effort failed, we NEVER repeated it. Why? In part, because I was in charge of generating business, and if there were too many failures, I’d lose my job.

Now for that follow-up I mentioned a few paragraphs ago… Merely switching to area representation is victory enough and Map B approval would have just been icing on the cake. But the unanticipated victory last night was watching a group of experienced education executives -the committee – see for themselves how far this once proud district has fallen. At at time when the superintendent, the board, and the other representatives should have been at the top of their game, they represented themselves and their case like amateurs.

It was not news to the community members who were present last night, and it would not be news to the growing number of people in Newport-Mesa who are becoming aware of the poor academic performance (50% of all N-MUSD students failed to meet 2017 math standards), the lack of accountability ( Ex: No apology from anyone for draining the Estancia pool and wrecking the aquatics program and wasting $104,000 to refill it.), and the string of scandals and mismanagement including the EHS pool, EHS stink, rats in schools, Mariners Gold Ribbon application, the Boss/Huntington lawsuit alleging that, “… the school district and superintendent, created a workplace culture of fear and intimidation that compelled them to leave their jobs after the board of education failed to investigate their claims.” (LA Times 1/29/16), grade hacking, the prom draft debacle, skyrocketing legal fees, Swun math, no archived videos, and more.

But now, the cat is out of the bag.

In a strange twist, last night’s debate was a battle after a war had already been won. That war, area representation, was won months ago.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD



His name is Patrick Turner

I have self-debated for several days as to whether to weigh in on the suicide of CdM student Patrick Turner just over a week ago. It was the superintendent’s latest memo to the district staff that has caused me to offer a few thoughts.

Though I may appear to be taking yet another opportunity to find fault with the superintendent, that’s not where this is coming from. What he wrote and what he failed to write are not his challenges alone.

Administrators in education have a tendency to generalize situations, that is, to present issues or challenges in broad strokes. That’s not always bad thing – sometimes that is the best option. But this is not one of those times and the memo talks of Patrick at arms length: He is “the CdM student” and “this student.”

His name is Patrick Turner.

My other concern is over the national approach to the terrible problem of teenage depression as it relates to pressure in school. Patrick is just one of millions of American kids who are facing what they believe are challenges too great to overcome: According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 in 2015 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Further, anxiety and depression in high school kids has been on the rise since 2012.

The problem at the school level is that this tragic trend is too often measured in suicides when, in fact, there are millions of students who are anxious, depressed, and/or fearful who do not take their lives. They need help. Coming out with a statement only at a time when the problem hits home is indicative of a lack of understanding of the full scope of the problem. Again, this is a national problem, not just a problem in our district.

There are many readers reviewing this post who know a teen who is suffering. I know of one. This teen does not seem to me to be suicidal, but this teen needs counseling. The teen’s parents, however, are concerned about the stigma attached to seeking mental health support.

Which brings us to the next challenge, which is to determine how to de-stigmatize mental health counseling. Kids know that support is there, but many of them fail to take advantage of counseling opportunities because of the stigma attached. In its own way, the stigma of teen mental health counseling adds another layer of pressure, which is the pressure to keep it a secret.

A Rand Institute study revealed that “… the stigma that is often attached to depression and the potential for negative reactions from family members as primary reasons why [teens] have not sought treatment for their depression.”

If we are going to make any progress on this awful problem, we have to make it local, and we have to make it loud. We need to address kids who need help, of course, but we also have a duty to let the so-called “healthy” kids know that it is way wrong to stigmatize a fellow student who is receiving counseling.

We must also reinforce the belief that just as there are cures for physical ailments, there are cures for mental health issues, too.

We have a long way to go.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer. N-MUSD

Breaking News: Estancia Pool May Reopen Ahead of Schedule

At the school board club meeting on January 30, there was an update on the status of the reopening of the pool at Estancia High School. This is the one that was drained and closed before any plans were in place to replace it.

At the meeting, the school board club was told that “progress is going,” and that during the week of Jan. 29:

  • The acid tank and the metering for the acid tank is getting ready to be installed
  • The joints on the deck are being caulked
  • Vendors are working on the pool lights

The bottom line: “With these various vendors, we may be able to beat our schedule.”

Everyone left at the meeting was thrilled.

Great news. Of course, the board should not have had to hear such a report and I shouldn’t have to write about a re-opening because it should not have been closed in the first place. But that principle is lost on the school board club and the superintendent.

What is also lost on the superintendent is the need for a formal, public apology for closing the pool. What is a formal, public apology? It should mean extending an invitation from the superintendent to the aquatics team members, their coaches, and their parents to a regularly scheduled school board meeting, using the words, “I’m sorry,” and taking complete responsibility for the entire mess.

But that’s not how it works in the M-MUSD. When a problem arises, the superintendent is most likely to:

  • Avoid making any public statement and let a subordinate take the heat
  • Do the stall, stifle, and stymie and wait until everyone forgets about the problem
  • Conduct a fake investigation – perhaps including some fake community outreach meetings in which district representatives act attentive and concerned. 
  • Throw someone under the bus

A formal, public apology is NOT apologizing to an empty room. (Just in case there is any thought of handling it this way.)

And FWIW, were I the superintendent, I would have handed this project off to someone other than the person or people who (mis)managed it in the first place.

But that’s just me.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


In a Nutshell

If I had to pick one example of the N-MUSD’s ongoing lack of accountability, the lack of transparency, and the lack of fiscal responsibility, it would be the disastrous closing of the Estancia pool.

Horrible bid planning from the outset. Bad process. Bad decision. Delays. Wasted money. No accountability. Tens of thousands of gallons of water wasted. Wrecked aquatics program. No accountability. Fake investigation. No apology. No ownership.

A train wreck.

Costa Mesa Brief has produced a 9-minute video called “A Pool of Mistakes.” Written and narrated by Sandy Asper, this video captures this entire debacle in a clear, organized way. If you haven’t seen it, it is important that you do so you understand why more people each day are starting to question the district’s leadership. Here’s the link:


Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Breaking News: Collegiate Calendar? Not so fast: Union has some issues.

School board meetings do not start at 6 p.m., they start at 4 p.m. That’s when members of the public are able to speak on any agenda items that are on the closed session that is held until 5:30 when there is a dinner break.

On Jan. 16, Nicholas Dix, Executive Director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, spoke at the “pre-meeting” to let the board know that the union has some issues regarding the adoption of the so-called collegiate calendar and the process – or lack of it – that was used to make the final decision.

In his comments about the impact of the calendar, Dix said, “[There are] also other 
also other issues that impact secondary students in trying to determine what type of calendar would best meet those needs and those interests.”

About the process, Dix said, “We are very concerned about that recommendation as it relates to the process.”

At that meeting, Dix provided the board with a copy of the Calendar Committee agendas that “point out the process problem.” Specifically, Dix took issue with the fact that it took five meetings of the committee to address the calendar for the 2020-21 school year.

“We have a very big concern regarding the process as well as the scope and the original charge of the calendar committee. So it really becomes frustrating because the reasons we have policies and procedures and processes in place is so that we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Stay tuned.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


What he said

Here is the transcript of the superintendent’s remarks Tuesday night as referenced in an earlier post:

“There are times that comments are made where people aren’t completely informed and don’t have all the information and I think that the board – we do spend time with you discussing personnel issues – not that we’re going to share anything with you right now.

“But it’s important for the public to know that we have our standards for our employees and that we look into things but we also look into things because our first obligation mainly, and ethically, is to help our team get better; to help our employees get better. That’s always the first thing.

“You know very well that if we don’t do; that if we move on like some inexperienced administrators do or have in this district and other districts, you can’t really discipline an employee if your don’t follow all the right steps.

“So you know on the surface people don’t know what’s going on and yet there’s a lot going on. so I ant to say that our HR department has done a great job and we move out not to scapegoat anybody but to make everybody better in their job.

“Ms. Metoyer and I were principals at the same time  and that was our message and continues to be our message.

“Some under informed comments were made but I want to assure you that we have very high standards for our employees and we look at everything but our first goal is to make ourselves a better organization and that is we have very talented people that we want to invest in. Everybody brings value to the district that is employed  here so we want to keep you informed and on top of that and let everybody know that that’s the way we operate.”

He spoke a little more but it was meaningless and I did not feel like transcribing it.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


I’ll do this all day

Here’s another leadership example, fresh from CBSNews.com:

DETROIT — A police department in the Lansing, Michigan, area missed an opportunity to pursue criminal charges in 2004 against Larry Nassar and the department’s chief has publicly apologized to the victim who accused the doctor of molesting her during treatment for an abnormal spine. Meridian Township made the apology Thursday to Brianne Randall-Gay and announced changes in how it handles sexual misconduct investigations.

“I think I could apologize every day for the rest of my life,” Chief Dave Hall said at a press conference. “… I think the apology from me was sort of a healing moment as well because Brianne showed us some grace, and I really appreciate that.”

Did you catch that the chief not only apologized but made changes in policy so that this doesn’t happen again?

Apparently, the rules of leadership don’t apply to the N-MUSD. There has been no apology to the aquatics teams, to the coaches, to taxpayers who saw $104,000 of their hard-earned money flushed down a pipe, and to the parents of the team members who spend their time shuttling their kids back and forth, sell food at the snack bar to raise money, spend money for equipment, and more.

There has not been a single word uttered about any change(s) in procedure that will prevent this blunder from happening again.

Why? Because we have weak leadership, that’s why. We have people in charge who think that admitting a mistake and taking responsibility is a sign of weakness when in fact it is a sign of strength.

So here’s what: The aquatics team members and their parents are seething, not just because someone drained the pool and wrecked their season, but because the superintendent continues to dodge his responsibility for the mess that happened on his watch.

Great example for our students: If you screw up, don’t admit any responsibility. Just conduct a fake investigation and throw someone under the bus. In time, it will all blow over.

Until the next mess, then it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Nice do-over. Not.

Mistakes happen. We all get that. What is really bothering many of us who are irate over the events with the Estancia pool is the failure of anyone in a district leadership position to take ownership of all that went wrong.

Instead, we get spin, such as this Facebook post yesterday by Trustee Vicki Snell, which was sent to me because she made the very mature move of blocking me from receiving notification of her posts:

Setting The Record Straight!

Yes, the recent approval of $9M toward the Estancia Aquatic Center was an expansion of the original project. What led to this expansion? The construction bids on our original scope came in $3M over what was projected by the architect and our construction consultant. Why? A few thoughts…costs are currently high in this market and our bid group was small due the specifics of our requirements. After working with a new expert, it was clear the bids were way off. We listened to the community and our experts and reworked the scope to add a team room, sun shades, modernization of the locker room, and expand the bidding group to be more competitive with a design-build process. We expect to get more for our money by doing the project all at once vs piecemeal and complete the process sooner. We will continue with a new consultant to insure we get what we pay for. Remember…we are a school district not a construction company or an architectural firm. We use experts as we need them without paying benefits and pensions. They are easy hire and easy to fire!

And my response:

Nice spin, but it won’t wash with those of us who have been on top of this mess. You failed to mention that:

1) District incompetence drained the pool, which wrecked the EHS aquatics program and wasted 100,000 gallons of precious water.
2) Had the highly paid N-MUSD staff and consultants properly calculated the estimate last year, this debacle never would have happened.
3) Refilling the pool cost $104,000 in wasted tax dollars
4) No one in the school board club or in the administration has had the decency to apologize to taxpayers or – more important – to the EHS aquatics teams and coaches for the tremendous damage these mistakes have caused
5) There is a fake investigation into the error. The superintendent is in charge of it which means that either nothing will happen or some poor shlub will be thrown under the bus.

We need more responsible leadership on the board. Read what is really happening in the district at stevesmith714.wordpress.com

Just keeping teeing them up. I’ll just keep hitting them out of the park.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

This is What Leadership Looks Like

  1. The head of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency resigns after a false missile alert is sent out, even though he had no direct part in the mistake.
  2. Two months after she took over GM as the CEO, Mary Barra apologized for deaths linked to the delayed recall of 1.6 million vehicles, admitting that GM should have told customers about ignition problems sooner. Barra had no involvement in the defect or its handling.
  3. Last September, Uber’s new CEO issued an apology to Londoners just days after city officials said they would not renew the company’s license, even though he had no part in their problems there.
  4. Last December, Amtrak’s co-CEO apologized profusely for the high-speed train derailment that hurled passenger cars onto a freeway, killing three people and injuring 100, even though he was not driving the train.
  5. NHHS Principal Sean Bolton responds to the recent suicide of a CdM High student with a proactive message that every parent should deliver and every student should hear.No one asked Bolton to do this, it’s just what leaders do.

The superintendent of the N-MUSD has not accepted responsibility or apologized for the Estancia pool draining, the Mariners Gold Ribbon scandal, the prom draft, the grade hacking, the Estancia baseball poles, the Estancia stink, John Caldecott’s termination via text and e-mail, Swun Math, rats on campuses, the 50% of all N-MUSD students who failed to meet state math standards, and, oh, you get the picture.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD