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Opinion: A Conversation with Superintendent Fred Navarro

Sandy Asper sits down with Fred Navarro, the new superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Sorry folks this is going to be a puff piece. I can't help it. I like the guy, and have the beginnings of real trust.

I call it a puff piece because it's written through the prism of Dr. Fred Navarro's "newness." He's only been the top guy in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for two months and when he left, as principal of Costa Mesa High School, the district had not experienced the years of Jeffrey Hubbard. It's a very different school district now.

Good handshake, great eye contact, and my conversation with Dr. Navarro started off well. I told him that I had not heard one negative thing about him and that a good friend of mine had almost ruined my ear while he bent it praising Navarro ad nauseum. Others seem to think he walks on water.

He talked openly, if cautiously, about the financial bind we might be in if the district doesn't get it's money from the state. The worst case is a loss of $16,000,000 which would mean, according to Dr. Navarro, draconian cuts that he says will be kept away from the classroom. They always say that; yet I believe that he will actually try. That's great because the district has lost $25,000,000 in the last four years and it is arguable about how much those cuts have directly affected the classroom.

It was heartening to hear that he hoped to have a good, honest relationship with the union, and he and Kimberly Claytor (president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers) planned to meet twice a month. As it turns out, the reality is actually better than that.

"I appreciate the fact that Dr. Navarro has inherited a host of issues and is willing to face them head on without taking the challenge as an offense," Claytor said. "He has made time to listen to the residual issues and impact they have had on our district from our members point of view. No doubt he is listening to all interest groups with the same ear toward understanding."

I asked him about his relationship with the school board citing Dr. Hubbard's unusual closeness to the trustees. He answered that he expected it to be friendly and professional and then added that he, "wears t-shirts at home and suits to work." Loved the analogy and was happy to hear it.

We talked about the rental agreement that Mater Dei has with Apple; in that every student and teacher has an iPad, which can be rented, paid for by the month, and then ostensibly owned at the end of four years. Dr. Navarro said that he is very much in favor of new and better technology, pointing out that it's sometimes easier to do things like that in a private school, but that Newport is moving toward tablet technology.

He pretty much disabused me of my idea regarding the poorer students lack of access to computers. He told me that while in Anaheim they discovered that 75-85 percent of these students had access to a computer. I didn't ask the second and third level questions about where these computers reside....are they in libraries, homes, friend's homes? And the do the families have that access as well?

We talked briefly about Common Core Standards, and don't feel unintelligent if you don't know about this, probably half the teachers in the district don't either. We briefly touched on online registration, technology at Davis and Harbor View, evaluation of teachers, which he says is complex. But he did say that he felt that testing was only a part of that quagmire.

Although I worry about Dr. Navarro and the culture that has become Newport-Mesa in these past years, because it's going to take real strength and resolve to create a new and better path, I think he has the "right stuff".

Dr. Navarro listed the best parts for him of returning to Newport-Mesa as "rekindling, reconnecting, establishing new relationships".

The best part for me right now, is Fred Navarro.

Just Sayin...

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