Last week, the Orange County Register ran a story on the highlights of the City of Costa Mesa. It was a love story – a puff piece written for whatever reason, that focused primarily on dining. shopping and entertainment.

What was missing was a single word about Costa Mesa’s schools. Odd, I thought: How can it be that at a time when education consumes so much of the state’s budget, at a time when Common Core scores have highlighted the achievement gap between the schools in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa (and showed how much help the CM schools need), and at a time when we are all supposed to be so concerned about preparing students for the 21st “C”entury (N-MUSD spelling), that there was no mention of Costa Mesa’s schools?

I can only guess, but my guess is that it didn’t fit neatly with the concept of the article, which was meant to make readers feel good at the start of the holiday shopping season.

The truth is that there isn’t much good to write about Costa Mesa’s schools these days. They continue to suffer from an indifferent school board that has failed to press the administration for a comprehensive strategic plan to improve academic performance. Instead, they wait for their twice-monthly meetings and rubber stamp the latest education spaghetti that the highly-paid top administrators have thrown against the wall to see if it sticks.

The fact is, th administration doesn’t have a clue as to how to improve academic performance in Costa Mesa’s schools. If they did, they’d have succeeded in at least one school as a test, but they haven’t. Instead, students get “Signature Academies” and other feel-good programs with cute acronyms that make it look like something is being done, when in fact, nothing is being done.

And last year’s ballyhooed Westside schools presentation meant to bring parents back to the schools? It may have attracted a few parents, but the work that needed to be done last year to improve academic performance still needs to be done.

Where is the overhaul that is necessary? Where are the heads that should be rolling because those people have failed at their jobs? Where are the experienced turnaround experts who have done this before and know what to do? Where is the substantial extra support that teachers need so they can do more of what they were hired to do? Where is the long-term, comprehensive, strategic plan that a strong superintendent would have put in place a long time ago?

And where, oh where, is the outrage of the city council majority that is pushing hard for Westside revitalization but does not demand any academic performance improvement plan from the school district? That they do not make the connection between good schools and attractive real estate – or that they ignore it – is shocking.

The answer to all: Nowhere.

Instead, Costa Mesa’s schools will continue to promote kids who are not reading at grade level, who do not have the grasp of important math principles and who suffer from the indifference of a small group of N-MUSD administrators who are collecting millions of dollars in taxpayer-paid salaries and a school board that suffers from one of the worst cases of complacency I have ever seen.

Here’s the bottom line message to all of them: If you don’t know how to fix Costa Mesa’s schools, have the decency to say so. For the sake of all the young people attending classes and trying to achieve, for the sake of all of the hard-working teachers, and for the sake of the taxpayers of both cities, if you are unwilling or unable to turnaround Costa Mesa’s schools, find people who are and get out of their way.

There is no shame in admitting failure. Weak people fail to admit that they were wrong or that they don’t know how to do something. Strong people ask for help.

Steve Smith