Most decisions are made emotionally. The choices we make for cars, restaurants, and vacations are not based on rational thought, but on perception and feelings.

This is true of the important decisions in our lives, too. We do not vote for the most qualified candidate, we vote for the person we like. Our healthcare choices are also emotionally-based as well. Ask someone why they like their doctor and you’re far more likely to hear “He/she is so nice!” than you would, “He/she has state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and he/she has a board certification in (specialty).”

So it is no surprise that the choice for the N-MUSD superintendent of our schools was not based on past behavior – a key indicator of future performance – but all of the fuzzy, emotional reactions.

Take a look at the facts and tell me if you would have hired Frederick Navarro to lead one of the top districts in the state…

There are five categories of STAR results: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, and Far Below Basic.  For any parent, Proficient should be the lowest level they would want their child to achieve because Basic is nothing to write (or e-mail) home about. The official definition of Basic is:

“Basic: This level represents a limited performance. Students demonstrate a partial and rudimentary understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.”

Here is the Reader’s Digest version of the 2012 California Standards Test results for English-Language Arts (ELA) in the Lennox School District – around the time Navarro was being scrutinized for the super’s job here at the N-MUSD. Shown is the grade followed by the percentage of students in that grade who scored Basic or worse. EX: 2/41 = Second grade/41% of the students scored Basic or worse. All data is from the Ca. Dept. of Ed.

Buford:  2/55   3/72   4/37
Felton:     2/59     3/63     4/44
Huerta:     2/54     3/65     4/49     5/51
Jefferson:     2/55     3/63     4/45     5/51
Moffett:     2/61     3/74     4/43     5/55
Lennox M.S.:    6/47     7/52     8/59

If you review these logically, you have to think, “These numbers are not good enough for a district of our caliber.” But if you decide emotionally, you look past these important numbers and make this key decision only on whether you like the candidate.

Ultimately, that is what happened. As a result, the past 2.5 years have been filled with more controversy, poor communication, financial challenges, and sinking morale than in any of the 28 years I have been a resident of Costa Mesa.

The problem is exacerbated by the seven Trustees, who continue to give Navarro a pass on all of the major decisions. At the last board meeting, for example, Asst. Supt. for Money, Paul Reed, presented some preliminary numbers showing that the district’s school bus program has been operating deeply in the red to the tune of almost $6 million. Reed explained that operationally, they had cut to the bone, and reported that the heavily subsidized bus fares had not been raised in almost 20 years.

There is a lot of money riding here and some important decisions need to be made. But during that exchange, not one Trustee thought to look down the dais to Navarro and ask, simply, “Supt. Navarro, do you have any thoughts on this subject?”

What taxpayers have as a result is the worst possible combination of district leadership: A superintendent who either cannot or will not roll up his sleeves and do the heavy lifting, coupled with a school board that doesn’t care whether he does.

Steve Smith

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