Good communication will solve 90% of the all of the world’s problems: Personal, political, environmental, educational, everything. Improved communication has many facets, one of which is transparency. As a form of communication, nothing trumps transparency.
I learned the communication lesson at age 25 when I went to work for “Len,” the smartest businessman I’ve ever known. I learned more in the five years at that job than I have learned in all the years since.
The most important lesson Len taught me was the liberating power of communication. “Talk it up,” he’d say to everyone. And talk it up we did. Small things, big things, everything. The result was a smooth-running, successful operation in which everyone felt included – even the people packing orders in Len’s warehouse.
The increase in the level of transparency over the past few years is a welcome development. The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach get high marks for their transparency efforts and their attempts to communicate with residents.
But the applause stops at the school district, which has gone the opposite way. One clear example is the new website, for which I initially had high hopes. The new website is more readable, but it lacks anything beyond what is either good news or what is required by law.
The district has problems right now – lots of them. In fact, there is more turmoil at this time than in any of the 28 years I have been a resident of Costa Mesa, an era that includes:
- A multi-million dollar embezzlement
- The arrest and conviction of a sitting board member for drunk driving
- The trial, conviction, and conviction reversal of an ex-superintendent
- And more…
The items on the “more” list are mostly events that have occurred since the school board hired Fred Navarro as the superintendent. That list is lengthy and I’ve recapped it in past blog posts.
But instead of communicating about any of the controversies, or even the possible controversies such as Common Core, the current district administration and the school board have shut down. According to my records, it has been well over three years since any board member has had a commentary published in the Daily Pilot, which is the area’s loudspeaker. The new website has no messages, either. Even if the school district is hesitant to air their dirty laundry (what you and I know as “transparency”), something I understand, there isn’t even a weekly or monthly note from the super or any board member. Nothing. The closest thing you’ll see is the video from the super’s 2014 “State of the Schools” speech. You can watch it or you can just read my summary: Everything is great.
What taxpayers get instead of good communication is more bureaucracy. One look at the recent reshuffling of the district administration will provide you with a clear example of how resistant the district is to improving communication. Instead of providing real leadership and getting out in front of all of the district’s woes, the superintendent is surrounding himself with more bureaucrats. And that wouldn’t be so bad if it were justified, that is, if he could draw a line from these new people and these new positions to improved academic performance. But he won’t because he can’t. Instead he used the tired old buzzword bingo term “seamless” to describe what he was trying to achieve. Tell that to the teachers, parents, and students at Costa Mesa’s struggling Westside elementary schools who are looking for a turnaround plan. Not a new language class or two – a plan.
Instead, performance suffers, as in the case of Estancia High School principal Kirk Bauermeister, who has been yanked from the school to go and shuffle papers on Bear St. Maybe Bauermeister wants to move, I don’t know. But I do know this: Bauermeister is a good principal and a good man and though it will not be impossible to find someone as good, it will be very difficult. Bauermeister was more than a principal. He immersed himself in community affairs and was not afraid to take on the most difficult assignments. So why is he being moved? I don’t know because beyond the usual PR blather, there is no substantive explanation, no quality communication.
On the other side are the members of the community who understand the power of communication and who frequently exercise their right to communicate with the district administration, the school board, and taxpayers.
One coordinated communication effort has been taking place over the past couple of weeks as some concerned citizens began passing out flyers at a few local elementary schools. The flyers explain to parents that they have the right to withdraw their children from the testing for the new Common Core curriculum, or any other assessment testing.
I was observing this group as they handed out flyers at Kaiser Elementary school and found what I expected: They were calm and considerate. And when the principal came out to remind one activist to remain on the sidewalk, he complied without hesitation. There was no unruliness and no resistance to adhering to established law. You can see the same thing when they speak before the school board – calm, thoughtful, respectful.
All they want to do is communicate. In this case, they want to communicate the opt-out process and the form to parents, something they wouldn’t have to do if it were communicated on the district’s website. But it’s not.