Do you know what the Santa Monica-Malibu school district did this past summer?

While students have been out of school, traveling, attending camps and pursuing their interests, local education officials have been busy addressing a variety of academic and non-classroom matters in recent months.

As the 2016-17 school year begins, the Daily Press takes a look at four key issues facing the school district.

Change at the top

Families will notice that SMMUSD has not one but two chief executives.

Following the departure of Sandra Lyon, who left to become the top administrator of the Palm Springs Unified School District, the local Board of Education appointed Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau to serve as interim co-superintendents for the rest of the calendar year.

Officials have said they wanted two temporary leaders to avoid jeopardizing their retirement benefits and also to keep alive the district’s momentum on closing the achievement gap.

“We are living in an era of great challenges and great potential,” the interim co-superintendents wrote in a letter to SMMUSD families. “It is a particularly thrilling era in education and we are fortunate to have excellent staff, supportive parents and committed community members who are willing to collaborate and do whatever it takes so that all of our students have every opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Consultants from Leadership Associates are conducting the search for Lyon’s long-term replacement. A new superintendent is expected to join the district Jan. 1.

Achievement gap

As evidenced by the keynote speech given by Pedro Noguera at the recent SMMUSD employee convocation, closing the achievement gap is a chief priority of the district this year.

The district last year hired Noguera, a renowned scholar and education reformist, to improve equity in local schools. Gaps in academic achievement have persisted for years along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The district’s goal this year is to implement strategies recommended in Noguera’s report, which was presented following numerous classroom visits and meetings with staff. The report outlined a variety of obstacles.

“Our primary responsibility this fall will be to turn the report into a specific plan of action to make both excellence and equity realities for all of our students,” King and Rousseau wrote.

Eyes on Malibu

As much as some advocates in Malibu would want otherwise, the enclave city remains part of the local school district.

SMMUSD officials are awaiting a court ruling on the lawsuit filed by Malibu activists to challenge the district’s handling of chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools. The district has spent millions of dollars on consultants and legal fees since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls in Malibu a few years ago.

Meanwhile, a district committee continues analyzing the obstacles to a possible splitting of SMMUSD into distinct Santa Monica and Malibu entities. The committee, which features representatives from both cities, is scheduled to meet Tuesday night at district headquarters and Aug. 30 in Malibu.

Budget deficit

SMMUSD is seeing red.

Officials were informed in late June that the district was facing an approximately $10-million budget deficit, which chief financial officer Jan Maez said will require some “pretty difficult choices” on the part of the school board.

Adding to the financial strain was another shortfall in the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation campaign, which raised $2.03 million in a cycle that closed June 30. The district was expecting a $2.5-million contribution.

jeff@smdp.com

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