Dear readers:

This post is long, but I hope you will take a few minutes to read it in its entirety, because it may be the most important and most valuable post I’ve written since I began this blog.

Thank you.

In trying to determine why the members of the N-MUSD have taken such a low profile in the Daily Pilot and social media over the years, my guess would be that they know that every comment may be held against them in the court of public opinion. If you don’t write anything, you can’t be held accountable.

But now we have deep insights into the mind of at least one board member and it is my belief that these comments represent her colleagues, too.

If you haven’t followed the exchanges on Facebook, go here: and look for the first post by Trustee Vicki Snell, then follow the replies. Or, you can read the exchanges here, followed by my analysis. But please be prepared, for you are going to read the shockingly low bar that has been set for administrative accountability and for academic performance.

Snell (to her Facebook friend): So very disappointed that you would share/endorse this blog written by someone that continues to be a hater of our schools. Mr. Smith has been criticizing our schools for the past 15 years and never has any good solutions…only criticisms and simplifications of complex issues. His blog proves he has a very superficial understanding of how schools operate and doesn’t do his homework. Kathy…I’m speechless.

Smith: Vicki, you are either grossly mistaken or you are lying: I have offered dozens of good, proven solutions to fix Costa Mesa’s schools, including posting one per week on my blog ( during my 2014 campaign. One of them, same sex schools, has just been lauded by the new superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District as “…one of several ways to potentially improve academic achievement.”

I am not the bad guy. I am not the one who has failed to offer a comprehensive, strategic, long-term plan to turnaround Costa Mesa’s schools. I am not the one who has failed to address the scandalous accusations against Superintendent Frederick Navarro, who is accused of financial improprieties by the district’s former head of Human Resources, who has also accused you and your colleagues of [Authorizing] attorneys representing the District to spend District funds to attempt to conceal public access to records, the Appellate Court decision ordered the District to release records and pay Caldecott’s attorney’s fees and court costs.”

I have some news for you… You were not selected by your colleagues to fill Dave Brooks’ seat because they thought you would bring new ideas and energy to the board. You were chosen because they knew you would support decades of rubber-stamping, do-nothing policies that have kept Costa Mesa’s schools far below their potential. Congratulations.

Snell: I feel badly about the personal attack as it is not my style. I was a victim of angry texting. I don’t believe all your ideas are bad ones, however, think it’s more productive. to work with people, do your research, and show respect for your colleagues. One person blasting everyone doesn’t get anything accomplished. Tired of the “rubber stamping” rhetoric. It’s just not true and is disrespectful of all the time we spend educating ourselves by asking questions and reviewing materials prior to meeting. No one walks in the meeting cold.

Smith: Whatever. This isn’t about Snell vs. Smith, it’s about the failure of the school board to make substantive improvements in the academic performance of Costa Mesa schools. Here is what Costa Mesans want of you: We want you, as our representative, to start demanding more of the high-salaried administrators by requesting them to develop a long-term plan to turnaround the underperforming schools in Costa Mesa. Here’s an idea: Pick one school. Start with Adams. Bring in a turnaround expert as principal and then get out of the way and let him or her do their thing.

P.S. We’d also like a response to the serious accusations by John Caldecott.

Snell: Gee Steve… why didn’t we think of that? Again…you obviously know little about what is going on in our district Your comments continually prove it. Why not attend a study session or two…they are open to public and are agendized. Your obvious snide comments about our “high paid administrators” is so disrespectful. Have you met with any of them? They work very hard to earn their salaries and are former teachers who are experts in their fields. They understand how much support teachers need when implementing change. Schools can’t operate in a vacuum….it’s not magic Steve and there are not easy fast answers. It takes research, support, training, and coaching. We’ve just had a major change in standards and curriculum. Give teachers and administrator time to perfect the curriculum before judging them. PS…which serious allegations?

Smith: Vicki, you can talk all you want about your study sessions and experts and research and support but the bottom line is this: At Adams (right near your home), 78% of the students failed to meet the state’s Common Core test standards for English and 67% failed to meet them for math. The scores are even worse at other schools. So all those meetings and experts and blah, blah, blah have resulted in no significant academic improvement in many Costa Mesa schools. You talk about disrespect… How about the disrespect shown to hard-working Westside parents who have been ignored for years and who send their kids to underperforming schools because you and your colleagues don’t have the courage to admit you don’t know how to fix them. Attacking me is a cheap tactic to divert attention away from the massive failure of the trustees and the board to do anything meaningful to correct the problems in Costa Mesa’s schools. As for those serious allegations you asked about… You and your colleagues and Superintendent Frederick Navarro are facing them. Read it here:…/caldecotts…/

Snell: All test data from SBAC is low nationally as was expected. A new test and new standards taught in a new way. I’m not arguing that we need to do better…especially with the underserved students… and expert teachers and administrators are working hard and new things are happening. Adams has a new model and other schools are piloting new programs. Your solutions of standup desks and all girls schools are not the answer. You, my friend, are not an expert. You’re a critic…and there isn’t an easier job than telling everyone what obviously needs to be improved. I have been subjected along with the rest of the board as well as my kids schools with your attacks for years. Talk about cheap tactics…really…

That’s it, so far at least. What you read was a trustee trying mightily to make a case using emotional responses and personal attacks instead of a taking rational approach to the most serious problem in the district. Snell does not offer one single piece of data to support her case, but instead tries to divert attention from the failure to improve academic performance in Costa Mesa by putting the monkey on my back and telling me how disrespectful I am and how I need to get more involved.

She wants you to know, first, that “I don’t believe all your ideas are bad ones,” but later writes that my solutions “are not the answer.” You’ll have to help me with that one because I don’t have a clue. Through all of this, though, please note that she fails to offer even one solution of her own.

She wants you to know that “All test data from SBAC [Common Core] is low nationally as was expected.” There, you have the evidence of the low standards that have been set. In her mind, because the scores were low in Tuscaloosa, Poughkipsee, or anywhere else, it’s OK that they were low here, too. It’s OK that in the desirable Mesa Verde section of Costa Mesa, at the tract’s only elementary school, 78% of the students failed to meet the state’s Common Core test standards for English and 67% failed to meet them for math. It’s not OK. It’s shameful, and the sooner that the school board starts holding people responsible for this debacle, the sooner we’ll see real academic improvement in Costa Mesa.

But the Common Core scores are not the only evidence of poor performance. Teachers get kids who have been promoted without the grade-level skills they should have. That’s not me talking, that’s teachers.

And Snell wants you to know why the board rubber stamps everything without substantive questions during board meetings: “[District administrators] work very hard to earn their salaries and are former teachers who are experts in their fields.”

Those “experts” failed to create a Common Core approach that worked. Those experts have failed to find an approach to educate the youngest Costa Mesa students to grade level, and those experts have created a working environment in which teachers are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation.

If those are the experts, I’ll take the amateurs any day.

But the reliance on these experts is why the board consistently votes 7-0.

I have no dreams of changing Snell’s mind or of getting any trustee to understand these arguments because what I am battling is not really about Common Core or academic performance or John Caldecott’s accusations. The real problem is decades of a culture in the administration and on the board that perpetuates complacency and indifference, and which has resulted in year after year of low academic performance in Costa Mesa’s schools.

I am battling a rigged election system in which residents of Newport Beach have a say in who will represent Costa Mesa and vice-versa. Through the years, this method of electing trustees has kept the radical representatives – the change agents – down to no more than one on the board at anytime.

Snell’s defense is no surprise, it’s just evidence of what I’ve been claiming for years: The system is broken.

And just think… All this got started not because Snell wanted to start a dialog about academic performance but because she was disappointed that a friend did.

Steve Smith