I have noted over the years that there is often a disconnect between what the school district says and what they do. The members of the school board club (can’t call them “trustees” because they have lost our trust), for example, will gush over their appreciation of teachers, then allow an independent negotiating team to try to chisel down as much compensation as possible while the they throw up their hands and proclaim that they are not part of the process.

They have echoed the vapid phrase “every child, every day” while they have allowed schools in Costa Mesa to flounder for years.

But this new development is particularly perplexing. According to the superintendent’s weekly DOTS memo, Rea Elementary in Costa Mesa “…will become a model school site in the following areas: the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, the integration of technology throughout the curriculum, a learning lab resource, and the introduction of curriculum designed to prepare Rea students to enroll in advanced placement classes upon entering high school. In addition to the AVID project, there are also plans to provide a state‐of‐the‐art tech center and an expanded music experience for students. 

“This seems like a steep challenge for an already hardworking staff, but the project’s focus on AVID will coordinate all current initiatives through their proven approach to producing college‐ready students. In a couple of years we hope to use Rea as a model school for the entire district, demonstrating how to provide a demanding curriculum that prepares all students to graduate with college and career skills. In addition to the AVID project, there are also plans to provide a state‐of‐the‐art tech center and an expanded music experience for students. 

I like the term “proven approach” that was included in the memo and can’t help but wonder how that concept manage to take root. A “proven approach” should be the deciding factor in any new initiative. But, you already know that.

So, this Rea thing is all good, right? I believe it is, but I can’t help but wonder about this development in a larger context.

The first thought is this absurd notion that “college ready” should be the goal for all students. (BTW, including the term “career skills” in the next sentence doesn’t change anything. The education establishment still believes that all kids should go to college. We even have a presidential candidate who wants to make college free for all students. This candidate does not say anything about having the government pay for a high school graduate to become a plumber or electrician – necessary skills for which no college degree is required. And there is no money in the candidate’s proposal for higher salaries for high school graduates who enlist in the armed forces.) “College ready” is not just unrealistic, it sets up for failure those students who cannot or just do not want to go to college. Plenty of students in Costa Mesa can’t afford college. Some of them are doing an incredible service to you and me and are enlisting in a branch of the armed forces.

Which member of the school board club or member of the administration wants to be the one to tell these kids that they are making the wrong decision?

Then there is the recent admission by superintendent Frederick Navarro that he was intrigued by a theory advocated by a lawyer which states that, “…students who live in poor neighborhoods, where crime and violence are regular occurrences, may in fact suffer changes to their DNA that alters the working of their brains. Furthermore, she stressed that addressing these changes to a person’s DNA can take up to three generations to correct, and then, only if you can successfully remove families from the oppressive conditions under which they live.”

Superintendent Frederick Navarro wrote that  he has “much more to learn about this theory” and that the theory is “one that we need to explore more deeply.”

So, if he is so taken by this theory, how is it that this pilot program is at a school in an area that may be an example of what the lawyer believes? You can’t have it both ways: Either Superintendent Frederick Navarro recognizes that the theory is without foundation and thus recommended Rea for the pilot program, or he still believes that they theory may have merit, in which case the pilot at Rea is a waste of time. Pick one.

I believe theory is nonsense (I am disappointed that Superintendent Frederick Navarro even discussed it) and am pleased to see that the district is finally doing something substantive to try to improve academic performance at one of the district’s lowest performing schools.

Steve Smith

P.S. Note to Superintendent Frederick Navarro and the members of the school board club: If this staff is “already hardworking,” don’t oppose their demands for more money during the next negotiations. If we have enough money to pay one bureaucrat not to retire, we have more money for teachers.