Here are my positions on the major issues facing our school district. I welcome comments and I welcome the chance to address any issue not listed.
The number of parents choosing to send their children to private schools or to public schools in other districts will never reach zero. Trying to reach a goal of zero transfers is unrealistic and a waste of time. The best we can do is reduce that number to as close as possible to zero. We do that by providing academically and athletically superior schools, starting at kindergarten. Unfortunately, several schools in Costa Mesa are severely underperforming to the degree that it becomes a reflection on all of the schools in the area, and that starts the transfer ball rolling.
As a friend would say, “It’s not rocket surgery.” Better schools = fewer transfers.
The Flagship Program
Before stating my position, a side note… The Flagship presentation created for March 4, 2014 is replete with poor language usage, e.g., “compliment” instead of “complement,” incorrect punctuation, and sloppy formatting. Frankly, this document is embarrassing.
I support the Flagship concept. The problem is that the program lacks benchmarks, that is, there are no yardsticks or timelines by which to measure whether the program is succeeding or failing. Whether those benchmarks are test scores, grades or something else, we need benchmarks for this and every other program we introduce. We need to be able to tell taxpayers, “Here is this new program. We’re going to try it and we’ll know if it works because we’ll have set the bar at a certain level, which is _______________. We’re going to give ourselves [a year, two years, etc.] to try to make this program work.”
Hope is not a strategy.
Without the creation of metrics, there is no accountability and anyone on the board or in administration can make any claim they wish. “Students love it,” for example, is not a measurable claim of success. Neither is “It’s going great!” or “We’re very happy with the program.” We need a baseline from which to start and we need specific, measurable goals. In other words, we need accountability.
My 15 years as a columnist for the Daily Pilot includes several essays in support of teachers. What really irks me – and it irks teachers as well, I know – is a school board that goes on and on about how valuable our teachers are, then hesitates to reward them accordingly. That seems to happen every time their contract is up for negotiation. Even worse, while the board pleads poverty, they are unnecessarily extending the contracts of senior managers years before they are required to do so. The money they spend when they do this should go to the troops, not the brass. (A contract is a contract and it should not be renewed or renegotiated until just prior to its expiration. To do otherwise is unsound economic policy.)
My goal is to improve teacher job satisfaction, not only through appropriate compensation, but by reducing the amount of bureaucracy that encroaches on their day. Teachers need be free to do what they were hired to do, which does not include endless meetings and reporting.
Over the years, I have been told by teachers that they have too much to teach in too little time. I want the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to take the lead in organizing a Sacramento lobbying effort to further reduce the amount of curricula in some grades. When this happens, kids will learn more and teachers will defect less.
Athletics and Fields
The current field policy needs a complete review. I support working more closely with the administrators in the league sports in both cities toward the the goal of greater accessibility to the district’s many fields. I also support a program to offer appropriate gymnasium hours to kids in both cities for open play volleyball and basketball.
I also support a greater emphasis on athletics. We need to do a better job of coaxing kids away from screens when they have free time.
The school board has done a very good job distancing itself from the decision-makers in the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. There is far too little coordination and communication, which has resulted in two bureaucracies that can do far more together for taxpayers than they are doing apart. Great cities have great schools, and I support a vastly increased communications channel between the cities and the board.
First, there was no zero tolerance (ZT), then there was, then there wasn’t. I do not support ZT and warned against it in a Daily Pilot column years ago. Here, I do not hate to say “I told you so” – ZT was a very bad idea. Unfortunately, ZT has been replaced by…nothing.
The policy of the current school board is the “deer in headlights” approach. There is no consistency to the application of discipline and no one seems to know what to do when a crisis occurs. Though ZT is a bad idea, kids need (and want) boundaries and we need to do a better job of making those boundaries clear.
I support the use of a “best practices” approach to any new program or policy. The concept assumes that there is very little that happens in our district that has not happened elsewhere. So instead of re-inventing the wheel, or starting a program or research from scratch, we contact the school or school district and inquiry about their existing program and we ask three questions:
- What is working?
- What is not?
- If you could start over, what would you do differently?
By adopting a best practices approach we save precious time and money and ensure a greater chance of success for the program or policy.
Take, for example, Flagship. Has a similar program worked elsewhere? If so, what worked and what did not? What are we learning from the experience of other districts that we are applying here?
The Daily Pilot routinely prints columns from city councilpeople, city council candidates, committee and commission members and many other people in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach who hold positions of influence and/or authority. Now, here is your quiz: Name the last time you saw a column or a letter from a school board member printed in the Daily Pilot.
The last entry I could find was a column written by Karen Yelsey in which she advocated reserving judgment on then-Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, who was on trial in Los Angeles. That commentary was published in January, 2011.
That silence must change. As your representative on the school board, I will establish an unprecedented and valuable channel of communication with you to ensure that you are fully informed of ALL of the developments in the district, not just the ones the other school board members want you to hear.
One more thing… When you come to speak before the board, I will NOT be one of the board members who ignores your statement or your questions and sits there silently while you wonder what is supposed to happen next, as is usually the case. I will listen, I will ask questions if appropriate, and I will make sure that you are appreciated for stepping up to voice your opinion.
My Pledges to You
I will be one little vote on the school board, but I promise to be a big voice.
I promise to keep you informed of the board’s meetings and progress through my school board blog or by e-mailing updates to you if you choose to register for an e-mail option.
I pledge to be an advocate of continuous improvement; of never being satisfied with the status quo because no matter how good we are, we can always be better.
I pledge to try to inspire students, teachers, administrators, and my school board colleagues to reach beyond what we believed was capable.
I pledge to push for a “best practices” approach to education in our district.
I pledge to try to improve the partnerships between the school district and the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
I pledge to work to improve the Costa Mesa schools that are underperforming so that local parents are proud to send their kids to their local school.
Finally, I pledge to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars This taxpayer advocacy includes a constant reminder that every light bulb in the district, every computer and every paper clip was paid for by hard-working people who expect us to be good stewards of their money.
What You Can Do
I cannot be your advocate for improvement and accountability without your vote. Please vote for Steve Smith on November 4 and urge your friends, family and co-workers to vote for me as well.
Almost as important to your vote is your campaign contribution. Your contribution will help me spread the word about my candidacy and greatly improve my chances of winning.
If you have any questions on these subjects, or any subjects I have not included, please feel free to e-mail me at SmithNMUSDBoard@gmail.com.
To help bring a new, refreshing voice to your school board:
- Vote for Steve Smith on November 4
- Ask your friends, family and co-workers to vote for Steve Smith
- Make a donation. For donation information, e-mail Steve at smithNMUSDboard@gmail.com