Navarro gives State of the School District update

The chief public school administrator for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa quickly dismissed with the elephant in the room.

"The question usually is what did Prop. 30 do for our schools?" Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Fred Navarro said. "Prop. 30 really kind of stopped the bleeding."

Navarro presented his inaugural State of the School District address Wednesday night after winning the top job in August.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens group Speak Up Newport annually invites the superintendent to the Newport Beach Yacht Club for the speech, much like it does with other governmental officials.

Navarro anticipated a desire to hear the effect of Gov. Jerry Brown's now-enacted ballot measure that pledged to raise money for schools by temporarily raising sales taxes and taxes on incomes above $250,000.

He said the effect could be compared to amputating a hand versus suffering a scratch to the arm.

The district still expects to cut about $3 million from its more than $230-million budget, but that's instead of $10 million.

"We are in sound financial condition," Navarro said.

A broad vision for Newport-Mesa made up most of Navarro's speech to the few dozen people in the audience.

In December, the school board laid out new priorities in academics, behavior and creativity.

Navarro said the district hopes to create college-ready graduates no matter what career path they choose.

"We really have high expectations for our students," he said.

The former principal, who at one time oversaw Costa Mesa High School, said he grew up in San Pedro where friends not headed to college could simply walk to the port and secure a job as a longshoreman.

"Well, I can tell you, to be a longshoreman is even more of a challenge now," he said.

He placed Newport-Mesa's four-year graduation rate at above 90 percent but said some students can still slip through the cracks, especially in freshman year when a suspension or other missed time could significantly lower their chances at completion.

The board wants to look beyond punitive measures like suspensions, punishing students for misbehavior but in a way that helps them learn to change their behavior, Navarro said.

"What we haven't been doing as well is using those opportunities when a kid does something wrong to teach them how to make it right," he said.

Lastly, he noted the school district has finished gathering data from students and parents about what programs they want for the future of their schools.

Over the next few months, the district will parse that information and consider implementing a plan where students could follow a specific creative or academic discipline from kindergarten through high school.

"We have a lot of good information," Navarro said. "It still needs to be massaged."

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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