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Daily Pilot

Editorial: School board wise to reach out

9:54 PM PDT, May 5, 2012

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The Newport-Mesa Unified School District deserves commendation for reaching out in a recent series of meetings asking parents, students and educators what they want in their next school superintendent. We're glad the community will have a voice in selecting the next schools chief.

Valuable ideas about achievement and integrity have been suggested, but of particular interest to us is a late April meeting in which the District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC) was asked for input on how to help children who are not native speakers. Students from the Westside of Costa Mesa, where struggle is more common than not, perform much lower on standardized tests than their counterparts on the wealthier Eastside and in Newport Beach. Economic disparities are the main reason for this, but knowing the cause is not enough; the gap must be closed.

Though the schools in wealthier neighborhoods generally have stellar scores, it is our hope that the next superintendent of schools makes improving Westside campuses a priority. This is a tough assignment, given that many of the children live transient lives between motels and low-cost apartments. With working parents and sometimes many people to a residency, it's often hard to find an adult to help with homework or a quiet place to study.

This is not a small group. Some 5,000 students in the Newport-Mesa are classified as native Spanish speakers learning English.

We hope that the next schools chief has a track record of improving low-performing schools. We want a leader able to point to a resume that shows how he or she took an underachieving, and preferably minority, district and turned it around. And this assignment comes with an interesting dynamic: Eastside and Newport schools are often among the best and wealthiest in Orange County. So we will need a leader who can work well with everyone, regardless of background, as Newport-Mesa has incredible economic diversity that spans everything from Harbor Island to Mesa del Mar to Shalimar.

This effort will take tutors, after-school programs, bilingual teachers and a continued collective commitment to programs like Save Our Youth (SOY). Youth sports, which keep kids out of trouble, healthy and focused, are also good community builders, forging bonds among players and families.

In all honesty, it's going to take financial resources that are hard to come by in this era, as even the wealthy have reduced charitable giving because their portfolios took a beating. But there is an obligation here to lift the poorest among us and education — an obligation that does not stop with the school district — remains the best way.

The government is broke, and we cannot rely entirely on it to help, so it will take considerable giving by the community, which we believe could be inspired if the school board picks the right leader — someone who can reach out to the network of charities, public agencies and grants that support disadvantaged children.

This community, with its great wealth, should be able to reach out collectively and work with the school district to improve our struggling schools. This is not only the right thing to do for our children, but also an educated population is a good thing for society. And again, to the school board — thanks for asking for opinions. This is ours.