Airline executives should be required to eat airplane food on a regular basis. Architects should be forced to work in the office buildings they design. And members of the N-MUSD school board club should be required to sit in the audience and listen to one of their meetings at least once a year.

It may help them understand the frustration of the rest of us who are trying to be good citizens by staying involved, but leave these meetings shaking our heads. Last night was no exception.

In a compact meeting that lasted about 75 minutes, there was not a single word spoken about improving academic performance in Costa Mesa’s schools, which is and has been the most important subject of this administration.

Instead, we get one administration member using his time to play “education bingo” (more on that in a moment), one school board club member using part of her comment time to state that she wants to “work with the Daily Pilot on story placement” (more on this, too), and another one letting us know that she placed second in her age group in the 5K walk in Costa Mesa’s recent Community Run.

As often does, club member Walt Davenport declined to say anything. What could he say? “The schools in my Area are still floundering.” Doubt it. So instead of following the lead of his fellow club members and telling us worthless information about where they had been and what they had done – none of which contributed to improved academic performance – he kept silent. I almost thanked him.

One brave teacher stood up to express her concern about the district’s disrespect for the union negotiating team. But it’s always been like that. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the school board club members would just stop saying month after month how much they appreciate our teachers. Don’t tell us – tell the district’s negotiators!

So, about that education bingo… In 1999, I was working in a very successful ad agency as a copywriter. The company had just been bought and the new owners held a big meeting so everyone could find out what was going on. One of the graphic artists created “corporate bingo” cards and passed them out to a few people. In case you don’t know, corporate bingo is a game played by marking your card whenever some executive uses a phrase that appears on your card. It’s like regular bingo (now banned by the district as a fund raiser, BTW), except it uses words. It’s also known as “buzzword bingo.”

Cards may have words or phrases such as “revenue stream,” “bandwidth,” and “due diligence,” all phrases used not because they have any real meaning to the rest of us, but because the speaker believes in his or her heart that they are accurate descriptions of reality. They’re not – they’re buzzwords, meant to impress but in the end leave the listener without any substantive information.

I thought of the corporate bingo game as I heard one member of the admin use the terms “big picture (twice),” “dashboard,” “transitioning,” “dialog,” “action plans,” “critical questions,” and “aligning priorities” in his brief remarks.

None of it meant anything – it’s just the language of a bureaucracy that holds no one accountable for anything.

Did anyone on the dais ask this person what this program is supposed to achieve and when it will be achieved? No.

Speaking of which, club menber Vicki Snell asked a good question last night. She wanted to know the status of the field study that was going to sort out the conflicting information about which youth groups use which fields and all that. The response she got was the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. But did Snell press the issue and ask when it would be completed or why it had not been completed after all this time? Nope. Her response was, “Oh, okay,”

Club member Martha Fluor questioned the Pilot’s story choices after the paper did not run anything on the Gold Ribbon awards received by 12 of the district’s schools.

The new Gold Ribbon awards should not be confused with the old Blue Ribbon awards, which used academic performance as a large part of the decision process. A Gold Ribbon award, on the other hand,  “seeks to recognize outstanding educational programs and practices.” See, there’s nothing in there about great academic performance, it’s all fluff: “programs and practices.”

Because there is no tie to academic performance, schools such as Killybrooke, Pomona, Sonora and Paularino got Gold Ribbons. The average Common Core score (met or exceed the goal) for these 4 schools in math is 35 and in English it’s 42.

If the Pilot did run a story on Gold Ribbons, it should be an investigation into the criteria for awarding the prize.

But instead, we get indignation from the dais.


Steve Smith