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City Life: It's in the school district's DNA to resist change

January 31, 2012|By Steve Smith

One Newport-Mesa Unified school board member said this about the underperforming schools on Costa Mesa's Westside: "We can't just accept those scores. We have to help those kids improve. We need to do something about it. We need to see all our scores in that 50th percentile."

In response, I wrote: "My prediction: Nothing will happen and instead of building the missing support system and watching the kids hit the ground running next month when they return to school, we'll watch them continue to flounder. And a year from now, I won't have to write a new column about the latest low scores; I can just send this one."

I've waited far more than a year to reprint these quotes. The trustee was Serene Stokes and these excerpts are from a Daily Pilot column I wrote in August 2000.

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Since that column, many of the children in three of Costa Mesa's failing elementary schools — Wilson, Whittier and Pomona — have left our school system. Of those who graduated from Estancia or Costa Mesa high schools, two-thirds were not prepared for even the lowest standards of admission to the University of California.

Still here since that column are four of the seven school board members: Dave Brooks, Martha Fluor, Dana Black and Judy Franco. Combined, they have served for more than 78 years.

Ironically, in 2006 I publicly supported current board member Karen Yelsey in her bid to unseat Stokes. Today, I could write about Yelsey what I wrote about Stokes in 2000, but with one difference: Stokes may not have taken any action, but at least she expressed sincere outrage. Yelsey has done neither.

The school board must now find a replacement for Jeffrey Hubbard, who was terminated as school superintendent after his recent guilty verdict on two counts of misappropriation of public funds when he was superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

When choosing Hubbard's replacement, we should not care how amiable or benevolent the candidate is, or whether he or she can place cute pictures in a PowerPoint presentation. Those are subjective attributes that contribute little to school performance. The critical requirement for the new superintendent is experience in turning around underperforming schools.

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