The intensity of John Caldecott’s accusations against N-MUSD Fred Navarro is heightened by the fact that if Caldecott is correct, it will be the second consecutive Super who has been accused of improper financial dealings.

Ex-Super Jeff Hubbard was first (he was convicted, then had the convictions overturned).

If Caldecott is correct, it calls into question the judgment of the seven school board members who voted to hire Navarro, five of whom are still on the board, as well as the judgment of former Super Robert Barbot, who was paid to help find a new Super and was paid for three years to act as an advisor to Navarro.

So, let’s see, seven plus one… If Caldecott is correct, that’s eight people who failed to see this coming.

In their defense, this type of thing happens all the time. The problem is that you never really know whom you have hired until they start working. In Navarro’s case, he’d been on the job for well over two years when he recommended to the board that they fire Caldecott. That’s long enough to size up someone, but perhaps they ignored red flags that may have popped up during that time. That happens a lot, too, resulting from decision-making based on emotion rather than rational thought.

That emotional decision-making has been my issue all along. I reported on Navarro’s track record while he was head of the Lennox school district – his job before the N-MUSD – and found a mediocre performance.

So why was he hired? I can only guess, but that guess would be because like nearly every other decision that comes before them, the board rubber stamped another (Barbot’s) recommendation. And why not? Barbot was a trusted guy and they liked Barbot. So if he vouched for a candidate, why, of course, that person had to be OK. It could easily have been as simple as that.

During his interview, Navarro probably did not get a single question asking why he failed to move the academic performance needle in Lennox or how he expected to understand the area if he commutes from Long Beach. Perhaps the commute from Long Beach is the reason he has to “squeeze in” an extra school site visit “if things work out.”

Here is what I know for certain: There are people who work for the N-MUSD who will not be sorry to see Navarro leave and are silently hoping that Caldecott’s accusations will be cause for him to resign or be fired. These people don’t dare utter a word, though, because they fear retaliation. So perhaps there is some credence to Caldecott’s accusations of a hostile work environment.

I’m ambivalent. If Navarro did something very wrong, OK, get rid of him. But my beef with Navarro is far greater, far more important and spans the time long before Caldecott accused him of anything.

My beef is that I don’t think he is an effective school superintendent. My belief is based on only one thing, which is his failure to improve academic performance at Costa Mesa’s schools, particularly the elementary schools on the deep Westside of town. I believe he is a weak leader who relies on superficialities such as “Signature Academies” and his annual state-of-the-schools to deceive people into believing that real progress is being made.

Real progress is not being made and I will repeat that if you want to see the true extent of his failure to mobilize any sort of attack on academic performance, just look at the Common Core scores for Adams Elementary in Costa Mesa’s Mesa Verde neighborhood – a really nice area in which parents are sending their kids to other schools. Ah, but you can’t look at the scores on the district’s website because they have not posted them.

Then look at his recent wish to get third graders reading at grade level in about four months’ time without providing any additional resources, just some words that were meant to inspire but instead just caused rolling eyes.

I said during my campaign that Costa Mesa’s schools are treated like stepchildren to the Newport Beach schools. Unfortunately, the members of the school board are not elected by area, but by voters in both cities. As a result, Costa Mesans are stuck with a school board member like Walt Davenport, whose area contains the worst performing schools in the district but who has consistently failed to even acknowledge that there is a problem. Davenport should resign and let a stronger voice sit in his chair, but that would be the decent thing to do and this board is lacking in that department.

From poor academic performance, to overreaction to the prom draft, to grade hacking, to the school fence fiasco, to the accusations of John Caldecott, and more, the N-MUSD is in a state of chaos. And it all happened on Navarro’s watch.

The decent thing to do with John Caldecott last January would have been to let him tell his side of the story, but they did not.

Perhaps if Navarro is fired, they can notify him via e-mail, just as Navarro notified Caldecott.

That would be the decent thing to do.

Steve Smith

 

 

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