One of the great challenges of anyone who has questioned the school board’s policies, decisions, or behavior is that they are usually treated as an adversary.

One recent example is the process to replace Swun Math. Newport parents Erica and Jeff Roberts showed the board that the program was flawed and was not well-received by many teachers, parents, and students.

But instead of thanking them for bringing this to their attention, the Roberts became pariahs and were treated as though they were trespassing on hallowed ground. Just think what would have happened if from day one, the board and the administration had said something like, “OMG, we did not realize this! Thank you! We are going to get to work now to investigate this and if it really is as bad as you claim, we’re going to find a new math program!”

Had they done that instead of doing what they always do, which is circle the wagons around anything that is being attacked, this election year may have been completely different.

The treatment of the Roberts – who spent tremendous hours of their personal time trying to do what the district would not – was the catalyst for the formation of the Newport-Mesa Community for Students. That, in turn, helped inspire some of the seven challengers to run for one of the four open seats this year.

All because of the perpetuation of the “Them vs. Us” mentality.

Anti-social media

Which brings us to today’s example.

I was alerted yesterday to a post by school board president Vicki Snell announcing an update to the progress of the new aquatics facility at Estancia High. It was the usual puffery – nothing special or unexpected. It should be noted that I was alerted to this – I do not get notices of Snell’s posts because she unfriended me some time ago.

But I believed it was important for readers to know the history behind the pool and the bungling that caused it to be drained prematurely and refilled at a cost of about $100,000.

So I wrote: “Had this project not been bungled by low initial funding, it would be at or near completion. Then, the pool was needlessly drained, wrecking the aquatics program, and refilled at a cost of $100,000 to taxpayers. Yet another Keystone Kops episode by the school board. Drain the swamp… Vote for new trustees: Michelle Murphy in Area 2 and Dr. Gina Nick in Area 4. Read about other mismanagement at

And Snell replied: “Low initial funding? Ah Steve, I can always count on you to (1) get the facts wrong to fit the message (2) your lack of understanding or desire to understand the complexity of the process of decisions, and most importantly (3) disregard any accomplishments/progress made for our students and community. You have been bashing the Estancia Zone and district since 1999… it really doesn’t matter who is Sup[ervisor] or who is serving on the Board, your diatribe doesn’t vary. So sad.”

And I replied: “Yes, you’re right, Vicki – it’s all my fault. All of it: The $100,000 pool draining, the poles around the baseball diamond that had to be removed, the 7-year stink at Estancia, the rats on campuses, the Mariners Gold Ribbon mess, Swun Math, the rubber stamping, and so much more – all of it. My fault. I’m really sorry.”

Snell replied, but not with any words. Instead, she posted this:

Yes, that is correct: The reply of the president of our school board was to post a gif of a baby walking around in circles in some sort of baby seat.

The California School Board Assn., is very clear on the conduct of trustees. One general passage reads, “Board members occupy unique roles because they are also citizens, and, in some cases, parents.  This unique status causes Board members to have a special responsibility when they are acting as citizens or parents because their elected positions carry a great deal of prestige and visibility.”

Add to that this passage from the N-MUSD website:

“…all students face some sort of challenge in their lives and they need the proper modeling, reinforcement of positive social behavior, and guidance toward appropriate responses to adversity to be successful both in and out of the classroom.”

I have no doubt that Snell’s prestigious proper modeling will be a major reinforcement to the positive social behavior of our students.

A short time after she posted her “Be Best” gif, Snell took it down. At least, that’s my best guess. What I know for certain is that several people with whom I have been in contact can no longer access the page. Alas, it was too late: I was not the only one who was shocked at this post and captured it when we saw it.

It is truly conduct unbecoming the president of our school district. And in fairness to her six trustee colleagues, I cannot envision any of them posting something so inappropriate.

At a time when there is a national push to promote social media civility – one that includes a campaign by the First Lady of the United States – the president of our school posts a gif of a spinning baby in response to a blog post.

The right thing for Snell to do is apologize to the students in the district for her lapse in judgment. And it would also be appropriate for any one of her six trustee colleagues to address students publicly at tonight’s board meeting and say that they do not condone her conduct in this instance.

Unfortunately, there is little to no chance of either of those things happening.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I replied to Snell’s unbecoming conduct with this:

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Steve Smith