When I ran for a school board seat in 2014, my opponent, Vicki Snell, characterized me as a “lone wolf” – s0meone whose beliefs were not consistent with the voters in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. I knew that was wrong and that this belief was the product of the bubble in which the school board club operates. The bubble consists of a lot of people telling them that everything is OK and that they are doing a wonderful job. The only way they found out about what was wrong was by reading it in the Daily Pilot, which usually prompted another worthless study session or community input meeting.

Though I lost the election, there were a third of the voters who agreed with my positions. So the lone wolf theory was debunked, but there were many times when I did feel as though I was the only one who cared about school issues, even important ones. One recent example is the case of John Caldecott, who was dismissed in a cowardly manner after 10 years of service to the district. Caldecott spent endless hours and his own money to report a series of abuses by the administration – information that in the private sector would have meant terminations.

I reported extensively on Caldecott’s news and broke some stories, too. But today, it is as though Caldecott never existed and his revelations meaningless. No one has been fired – not even reprimanded – and it is once again business as usual on Bear St.: The policies that existed then are the ones that exist today. Why? Because not enough people cared. I have not watched the recent video of the Costa Mesa “Feet to the Fire” forum, but I will bet a good chunk of volunteer hours that not one school-related question was asked and not one candidate bothered to raise the subject.

I was never a lone wolf, I just had not figured out how to get enough people interested.

That was then, this is now. Now, there is a blossoming coalition of parents, teachers and their union, and – gasp! – students, who are doing some serious heavy lifting and getting the attention their issues deserve. They are wondering, for example, why Swun Math is still around, why a well-liked and successful Costa Mesa principal was yanked from his post to fill a controversial spot at a school in Newport Beach, how a Gold Ribbon application may have been allowed to be submitted with “lies” (OC Register term), and most important, they are wondering about how all of this could happen under the noses of the school board club. On the one hand, taxpayers are supposed to believe that their years of experience are an asset, but it’s hard to swallow when we are faced with one scandal after another. If this is what experience gets us, bring on the rookies.

This coalition is approaching these topics in a more delicate and diplomatic fashion than I have or would. My approach is born of 15 years of frustration, their’s is the product of the optimism that comes with a new beginning.

There is something to be said for their focus. At this time, the point of contention that is Swun Math, the focus of which has enabled them to become lay experts on math programs. This expertise will not allow the club or the administration to offer the usual pat on the head and the reassurance that they are the experts and they know what they are doing and leave to them because everything is going to be OK if we just leave them alone.

This coalition is armed with information and a communications network and they mean business. In increasing numbers, teachers are summoning the courage to step forward not to demand change, but simply to start a discussion. At the very least, they suggest, let’s talk about it.

My approach polarized. Some battles were won – more than I know, I have been told – but others were lost, not because they  lacked merit, but because the approach was incorrect. A hammer is a good tool but a scalpel is useful from time to time, too. Shaming the club and the administration was occasionally effective. Most of the time, my pleas were met with indifference. It was the lone wolf and if you ignore it, it will go away.

The new coalition does not carry the baggage of over 15 years of frustration. The parents who are speaking up today have something I lost a long time ago: They have hope.

The coalition is facing an entrenched bureaucracy that does not like to be told what to do. And where I was telling them what to do, the coalition is making recommendations or providing information that will help them make the right decision. Most important, however, is their ability to get these issues addressed in the first place.

The coalition needs your support. They will be making their case again at tomorrow night’s school board meeting and your attendance will help greatly.

Steve Smith