The Newport-Mesa Unified School District appears to have made a sound choice in hiring Fred Navarro as its new superintendent. Navarro's resume reflects valuable experience working with under- and high-achieving schools; that type of range should suit him nicely as the leader of a district that contains some of both.
We have long wanted a leader who can see the potential in the campuses on Costa Mesa's Westside. Those schools, which serve immigrant and lower-income populations, have long struggled to keep up with wealthier Eastside and Newport Beach neighbors, at least when it comes to performance on standardized tests.
Citing this achievement gap, many parents, even in upscale Mesa Verde, transfer their children to Huntington Beach and to private schools. It would be nice to see that practice end, as nothing anchors a community quite like a neighborhood school, but it will require strong leadership to lure some of those families back.
Navarro also knows the territory. He previously served as Costa Mesa High School principal before becoming assistant superintendent of education in the Anaheim Union High School District and then superintendent in the Lennox area of Los Angeles. NMUSD trustees praised Navarro for helping improve performance in those areas and working closely with families to improve parental involvement — the key to making any school better.
Those experiences should enable him to serve pupils in Costa Mesa who are learning English and come from less-privileged backgrounds. But because of his previous experience in NMUSD, he is also familiar with the needs of high-performing schools in wealthier, upper-middle and middle-class neighborhoods.
Some of the Newport schools are near the top of the heap countywide when it comes to statewide test-score and nationwide high school rankings, and preserving these achievements is paramount. No one should presume that just because those schools are in wealthier or middle class areas that they will just take care of themselves. Moss should not be allowed to grow anywhere.
It is Newport-Mesa's mix of low-, middle- and high-income students that creates an interesting challenge for any leader. It takes just the person to work well with these very different constituencies. And for this reason we are glad the trustees have used the term "collaborator" to describe Navarro because it will take someone who can work with everyone to maintain the district's strengths and address its weaknesses.