a conversation with…
Matt Navo
Portrait headshot close-up photograph view of Matt Navo smiling
Matt Navo is the executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) with more than 30 years of experience in K-12 systems. Before his current role, Navo was director of systems transformation with the Special Education Policy and Practice Division at WestEd. He served as the superintendent of Sanger Unified School District from 2013 to 2018 and has prior experience as a special education teacher, secondary instructor, counselor, resource teacher, junior high learning director, high school assistant principal, elementary and alternative education principal, director of special education and area administrator.
a conversation with…
Matt Navo
Matt Navo is the executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) with more than 30 years of experience in K-12 systems. Before his current role, Navo was director of systems transformation with the Special Education Policy and Practice Division at WestEd. He served as the superintendent of Sanger Unified School District from 2013 to 2018 and has prior experience as a special education teacher, secondary instructor, counselor, resource teacher, junior high learning director, high school assistant principal, elementary and alternative education principal, director of special education and area administrator.
Portrait headshot close-up photograph view of Matt Navo smiling
You have more than 30 years of experience in K-12 systems, including serving as the superintendent of Sanger USD. How does your time spent as an LEA leader inform your work as the executive director of CCEE?

For me, every time we think of a challenge, a problem or a dilemma that we have, I think of it through the lens of my experiences as an LEA superintendent. And I think that that application helps me in how to support the team in doing work when they may not have that same experience. We have a really experienced team. For example, on our executive team, you have Michelle Magyar who has served in various state-level roles, including with the State Board. You have Dr. Stephanie Gregson, who was deputy director of the California Department of Education. You have Dr. Chris Hartley, who was Humboldt County superintendent. You have Sujie Shin who’s been with the CCEE since its inception. They and their teams are incredibly talented and experienced, and we all bring a different lens to a challenge or dilemma. Stephanie brings her CDE lens, Chris brings his county office lens, Sujie brings her data lens, Michelle brings her statewide lens, and I bring the LEA lens, and then together we are able to formulate possible solutions in a way that I think is constructive and helpful to the field.

The CCEE was established in 2013 to support local educational agencies in achieving their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) goals. How has CCEE managed this work historically and how do you do so now?
What we are designed to do is advise and assist all LEAs in accomplishing the goals that they have identified for themselves in the LCAP. We do that in two ways. We do that through our statutory obligation where we have great flexibility, and we can react to the needs of the field in real time. And then we have another side of work that comes from legislative initiatives that the Legislature and the Governor have identified as important initiatives to help LEAs accomplish their LCAP goals. So, historically, we have managed those two priorities in the same way that we do now. The only difference now is we’re very intentional about getting feedback from the field regarding their needs. We ask them every year, what are you struggling with? What can we do to help you improve? And where are opportunities for us to enhance our work to better support the needs of the field?
How has CCEE’s role in California education changed since its inception and what are the primary objectives of the CCEE today?
When we first started, there wasn’t a lot of understanding as to what the CCEE was and what we were designed to do. There was a lot of creativity associated with the organization, and a large portion of the first three years under Carl Cohn were devoted to being boots on the ground with people in the field. Then Executive Director Tom Armelino came in and shortly into his tenure, we were dealing with COVID. So, the organization really only had a short time to try to figure out its orientation within the system before the entire system was turned upside down. And now that we’ve come out of that, we’ve basically tried to reorient ourselves around new needs because COVID created new needs for LEAs. We prioritize three initiatives, [including] continuous improvement, which is where we work with the field to adopt a mindset of curiosity that institutes ongoing improvement in their work. We also prioritize student success, which is about strengthening supports in the system around teaching and learning. And then we prioritize student-centered approaches, which is really the well-being of students and their families and schools. We have just over 40 different statewide initiatives that are curated under those three priorities.
Landscape close-up photograph indoor school classroom view of a teacher reading a children's book to her students as they all smile in joy
What are the purposes/goals of the CCEE’s three centers?
We divided the organization into three centers to give people greater clarity as to who to contact to accomplish specific goals. The centers are focused across the priorities of continuous improvement, student success and student-centered approaches.

The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leading is primarily responsible for improving teaching and learning. They oversee the direct technical assistance, the Learning Acceleration System Grant and the Intensive Assistance Model for teaching and learning.

The Center for Innovation, Instruction and Impact is focused on curating data for continuous improvement. They are responsible for supporting the entire organization and the data that is curated, analyzed, and used to help support our work as well as the field. They have the Data Research Learning Networks, bright spots, and Learning Networks associated with helping the field improve outcomes for students.

And then you have the Center for Transformative Systems for Equitable Educational Outcomes. They are responsible for the Statewide System of Support and building coherence and accountability across statewide systems.

How does CCEE engage with LEAs across the state? What are some key services/resources it has available to them?
There’s direct, widespread and systemic work that we do. So, for example, we might be in direct, intensive support contact with LEAs for direct technical assistance, providing them with direct services in partnership with county offices of education. Then there’s widespread, targeted support, which means that we might be doing something that is with a small network of districts focused on a particular issue. So that would be a composite of LEAs who are working on chronic absenteeism. And then we have systemic, universal support where everything that we’re doing with LEA partners is really about forming a different type of system for the state. And an example of that would be the System of Support with the Geo Leads and working with the Geo Leads in the county. Those are just a few examples.
Last year, CCEE created microlearning modules as a training tool for individuals providing instruction for students. How can LEAs use these videos and what subjects/grade-levels are available?
There’s a wide variety of K-12 subjects. The microlearning modules were developed through a conversation with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. And at that particular time, when I came in, in 2021, we were still in the midst of COVID and there was a large need for substitute teachers, and there was very little training statewide that was being done to support substitute teachers.

When we look at an initiative, we decide whether it’s a universal, targeted or intensive initiative. So, in this particular case, we needed something that was universally accessible to all LEAs that they could use to support training for substitute teachers.

However, people realized this is not only for substitute teachers, but new teachers can also use this, and veteran teachers could have this in their toolbox as a way to find examples [of classroom management practices]. We then encouraged LEAs to take it to their HR departments so when they hire a new teacher and want them to be equipped with strategies to use in the classroom, this could be a tool where they have access to resources, and they could watch veteran teachers actually demonstrate. And so that’s how we’re encouraging people to use it now — it’s beyond just substitutes. The content is rich, the content is clear, and it comes from those in the field who have expertise.

CCEE’s Intensive Assistance Model was the subject of a recent Policy Analysis for California Education report. What are some early insights you can share from the school-improvement pilot? Are there any future plans you can preview?
That Intensive Assistance Model was really designed to complement direct technical assistance. We knew when we were working with districts and supporting them through direct technical assistance, that it alone was not enough and that there had to be a model at the school site level that they could point to as the North Star for how they wanted all schools to look and function. In doing so, we developed the Intensive Assistance Model, which meant that we not only targeted the district leadership in terms of how to transform a system, prepare a system and build coherence across the system to improve teaching and learning, but we also focused on the school site level. We identified five districts of eight schools who volunteered to be part of this first three years of learning.

The unique thing about this project is that it’s the most intensive teacher support project that we can find in the entire country. It was modeled after another state that was doing something very similar, and we added a bit more to this model. You’re talking 130- to 150-days of elbow-to-elbow support for teachers from experts in leadership, literacy, language development, math and professional learning communities. What we’re finding right off the bat is that teachers want this kind of support.

When you look at a system, particularly a system that’s plagued by incoherence, they lack the basic infrastructure to give teachers time to collaborate. They have what people would call prep time, but prep time is different. Prep time is a teacher’s way of preparing for the next day. Collaboration time says, no, this is our time as a grade level or as a subject matter content area to come together and be very specific and structured about the types of questions we ask each other and then work together to address the needs of the kids in that grade level or the kids across this department.

The future of this is to try to continue to expand this work to the degree that we can, but it really is that each of these schools’ goal is to become a National Model School. And if they can become a National Model School, then we will identify people within those schools who will be coaches and who can support other schools in this work. So, as a district comes to us for direct technical assistance, we will have a curated a number of teachers and administrators who we would define as experts in this work who we will connect them to, and they will essentially do the same work that is being done right now with experts from across the country.

CCEE launched a podcast, “Rising from the Margins,” in late 2023. What do you hope to accomplish through this new medium and what can listeners expect from the series?

The podcast was created because we have a call from our CCEE board to tell stories and best practices from across the state. We noticed there was so much happening in the field that was difficult to tell in a memo or a paper and realized that a podcast would be a better opportunity to tell the stories of these districts. The stories of how they’re coming out of COVID and how they’re addressing the issues that are challenging for them.

Our hope is that we raise people’s awareness. That the story of Inglewood USD, for example, being in receivership, that’s not the story. There’s a different story that everyone in the state can learn from, because at one point, Inglewood was recognized by the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. The story is how they got to receivership and what other districts can learn from them so they can avoid not only being in a situation like that, but then learn what they are doing to get out of it. They’ve adopted the Intensive Assistance Model across all of their schools. They have basically said, this is our strategy for improving our outcomes for our kids and it is a priority. There are lessons learned from these podcasts that LEAs can apply to themselves.

How can LEAs stay up to date with the latest CCEE-related opportunities/news?

The easiest way is for people to go to our website (https://ccee-ca.org) and sign up for our Listserv.