For those readers who may have missed it, I will briefly tell the story of the parent orientation at my daughter’s high school several years ago. The principal stood before the parents and said, “We don’t worry here about the same things that other schools worry about. We don’t worry about open-toed shoes or T-shirts with messages. If you’re worried about those things, this may not be the school for you.”

As a parent, as a former coach of boys and girls in three sports, and as a casual observer of kids, I was relieved to hear this. My life experience had taught me that in most cases, high school kids did not need parents to figure out what is right or wrong or what deserves to be fought over and what doesn’t. Long before they get to high school, kids are wired one way or the other. Most of them know right from wrong – even those who are determined to prove otherwise.

Kids also have a surprisingly good track record of self-policing. The T-shirts were meant to attract attention and they succeeded, but with the wrong crowd. Nearly all of the other students could not care less whether the shirts read, “Dump Trump” or “Dump Clinton,” and it was only the intervention by the administration that brought the spotlight to the shirts and the school.

This bundle of thoughts and memories came to mind as I read the recent Daily Pilot story about the kids at Newport Harbor who protested Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy by wearing T-shirts reading “Dump Trump.” First, the T-shirts were banned, then they weren’t, and the whole time, the kids got what they craved all along: attention.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times school administrators play right into the hands of the minors than whom they are supposed to be smarter. All the administrators at school had to do was ignore the shirts and the whole thing would have died a quiet death by 3 p.m.

But administrators can’t do that. Somehow, they believe they have to justify their salaries by sticking their noses in everything and the initial reaction always seems to be the same: Ban whatever it is that is causing the controversy. Pogs, Pokemon cards, or Trump – if there is any hint of disruption, ban it.

The real hoot came, however, in last Friday’s “District Office To Staff” (D.O.T.S.) memo in which Supt. Frederick Navarro described what went down, then praised everyone but the landscapers for the way they suppressed this mighty protest. And I almost laughed out loud when I read – or did not read – that he actually avoided mentioning that the T-shirts read “Dump Trump” as if no one knew and he would be re-igniting the controversy if he mentioned the “T word.” Congratulations, Donald Trump, you have now joined the ranks of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series as “He who should not be named.”

My first thought was, “Where was Supt. Frederick Navarro during T-shirtgate?” Want to know?… I’ll tell you: He was in the same place he was when the prom draft came up, when there was no air conditioning in schools, when the roofs at three schools leaked mightily while they were trying to install air conditioners, when the district was caught red-handed in a conflict of interest over the Banning Ranch survey, when the district doubled bus fees because the bus program had been poorly run for years at a deficit of millions of taxpayer dollars, when the lousy Common Core scores came out, when the CdM cheating scandal broke, and when every other controversy has arisen: He was nowhere.

But in he rides on his horse, “DOTS,” to save the day by letting everyone know what a good job they did. This is the same memo that urged teachers to achieve an “amazing breakthrough” by getting elementary school kids to read at grade level in 5 months and how’s that workin’ for ya’? Here’s what: It ain’t.

But the nonsense in the memo is what passes for leadership. Instead of writing about the tough stuff, N-MUSD employees get fluff stuff. More writing and worrying about the wrong things.

Here’s my recommendation: Instead of wearing about T-shirts, try spending more time trying to improve academic performance at Newport Harbor, where only 39% of the students met or exceeded Common Core standards and only 56% met or exceeded them in English.

Ah, but that’s hard to do. Huffing and puffing about T-shirts is easy.

Steve Smith

P.S. I’ve got a more appropriate name for these useless weekly memos : “Communication Response to Appropriate People.” You’ll know it as C.R.A.P.

 

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