Tuesday’s school board club was sparsely attended. Not unusual.

What was unusual was witnessing an exceptional presentation by a member of the administration. It was so good that it should be used as a model for everyone else.

Here’s the background…

The district has a “Student and Community Services Department” that provides essential non-academic support to students. This support includes comprehensive mental health services that provide counseling and intervention to troubled kids.

The presentation by the department’s director, Phil D’Agostino, revealed a program for suicide prevention. This is in response to AB 2246, a bill that, “…would require the governing board or body of a local educational agency, as defined, that serves pupils in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, to, before the beginning of the 2017–18 school year, adopt a policy on pupil suicide prevention, as specified, that specifically addresses the needs of high-risk groups.”

D’Agostino’s PowerPoint slides were properly formatted, proofed, visually inviting, and his explanation of the program provided more than enough justification for supporting this endeavor.

D’Agostino used the term “best practices” to describe the program’s development, which means that they are not experimenting – they are using what has worked elsewhere in similar situations and adapting it to the N-MUSD. Wow.

He also clearly articulated the connection between addiction, mental health, and suicide, and provided case studies to help everyone understand the gravity of the situation in our schools. D’Agostino reminded us that in times of crisis, one of the first people troubled kids turn to are teachers.

But there is more, and you need to be sitting down before you read this…. D’Agostino also said that the department would “Hold people accountable to make sure [program strategies] gets done.”

Yes, you read it correctly. For the first time I can ever recall, a district official actually expressed the concept of accountability.

The N-MUSD’s Student and Community Services Department and its intervention programs are a tremendous asset to everyone in Newport-Beach and Costa Mesa. It is, IMO, the crown jewel of the district.

That’s the good. The bad is that although there were some queries and comments from a few club members, no one thought to ask the most important question. No one thought or bothered to ask, “How will you measure success?”

The ugly happened on a different topic. Money man Jeff Trader explained the 2017-18 budget and did an excellent job. (For now, we are in the black.) It was so good, in fact, that he received more praise, some of it from club president Karen Yelsey.

It was apparent to everyone in the room that we have an extremely capable replacement for former money man Paul Reed, perhaps even more capable because Trader takes a more businesslike approach to his work and does not offer the unprofessional remarks and slides that were a hallmark of Reed’s tenure.

But it was ugly because it was a reminder that this panel authorized a lot of your money to pay Reed not to retire, believing that he was indispensable. When he finally retired, though, finding his replacement was easy.

To what office do we go to get our money back?

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD