The parade of Mariners parents at last night’s school board club meeting started with Scott Brown, who cited several examples of what it takes to be an effective leader. Brown told the school board and Superintendent Frederick Navarro that Mariners principal Laura Sacks was “putting her own interests in front of [those of] teachers and students” and requested that they “find another” principal.

A tough act to follow, but several did and brought their own tales of discontent, much of it centering around the bungled cancellation of Project Read. One parent described a pre-Sacks meeting with Superintendent Frederick Navarro in which he expressed interest in learning about the attributes that parents would like to see in a new principal. Sacks was the result of that meeting. The parent said that communication is “awkward and institutional” and that “teachers are suffering.”

There is more from other parents, but you get the idea.

As a former senior executive with a national firm, here’s what I know: If there is a leadership issue at Mariners, it is not at the principal’s door. Problems like this start at the very top – at the Superintendent’s office. He is the one who recommended her and he is the one who sets the tone for communication and style throughout the district. If a principal does not feel comfortable communicating in a forthright manner, you can almost always bet it is because he or she has learned that style from a superior. And if he or she had that style from the start, then it was a bad hire. Either way, the superintendent is responsible for this mess.

Missing from last night’s comments was any hint that Superintendent Frederick Navarro was going to take any responsibility for any of this. Instead – just like the prom draft debacle at CdM and the Banning Ranch conflict of interest controversy, among others – Superintendent Frederick Navarro has made no substantive statement and is leaving his subordinates to take out the garbage. Nice to know that your boss has your back.

Need proof? I was told that Superintendent Frederick Navarro was not at yesterday’s Mariners meeting to discuss the alleged discrepancies in the Gold Ribbon application.

But that’s the tone in the district these days. That’s not just me talking – it comes from a lot of teachers. It’s every man or woman for his or her self.

Unfortunately, the seven members of the school board club don’t see it that way. They get sanitized reports from the district staff that are always positive and they don’t seem to understand that those site visits they make are carefully orchestrated to reflect only the best parts of whatever school they are visiting. So, they continue to believe that all is well and that any disturbances are limited to a few disgruntled employees.

Tell that to the teachers and parents in the peanut gallery last night who applauded each time a salient point was made. One time, there was mild heckling during Swun Math comments by Superintendent Frederick Navarro, which earned a stare that was a face I’d never seen. If you have time, watch the archived video of that segment to see what I mean.

Then there was the Swun Math mess. Like the partygoer who doesn’t know when to leave, the district has been hanging onto this awful program for far too long. But axing it would mean that someone on Bear St. made a mistake and that admission isn’t going to happen. Instead, there will eventually be some exit strategy, but only until the protests have died down and it looks like innovation instead of a course correction.

Superintendent Frederick Navarro tried to assure the school board club that Swun Math was working, going as far as to say that he had “…heard from other places that it’s working really well” and promised to provide data.

This is another example of a lack of leadership. This is a case in which the boss is not listening to his staff and is forcing them to bend and adapt to a program they don’t like. A good leader knows when to pull the plug, even if it’s on a pet project. Teacher morale trumps pet projects.

In the end, the board voted to wait on voting for the further Swun Math funding last night. And thank you, club member Martha Fluor, who protested Superintendent Frederick Navarro’s recommendation for a public meeting on the subject. “12:30 or 2 on a Friday is not gonna cut it,” said Fluor and recommended that the meeting be held when it is convenient for parents, not for the superintendent.

Not that it matters to him – he probably won’t be there anyway.

Steve Smith

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