Earlier this month, Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials appeared ready to move forward with the creation of two new positions, one to support English language literacy and one to improve parent engagement.
Not so fast.
After hearing from numerous parents and other stakeholders about their concerns over the proposed changes, the local Board of Education temporarily tabled the search for candidates until further review.
The school board will revisit the matter April 14, according to district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker.
Discussions about a new parent engagement position come as the district works to achieve the goals it outlined in its Local Control and Accountability Plan, a document linked to ongoing changes in state funding formulas.
Terry Deloria, SMMUSD assistant superintendent for educational services, said the district has made parent engagement a priority but that it hasn’t seen the results it would like. There have not been coherent guidelines established for school governance councils and other site-level planning as well as for parents in advisory and committee roles, she said.
“It’s become really clear to us in our department that we need to have someone completely dedicated to parent engagement,” Deloria said.
But numerous stakeholders worried about how the creation of two new positions would impact Aida Diaz, the district’s longtime coordinator for English language development programs. Many expressed fear that Diaz’s position will be eliminated and split into separate positions for language and engagement. Some also said they believe it would be unfair to make Diaz apply for one of the new jobs.
Parents and community members praised Diaz for her reliability and responsiveness, many saying they trust her with complicated issues.
Community liaison Elena Uliantzeff said Diaz took it upon herself to support parents and added that she has been a constant presence as well as an important link to school and district administrators.
“It’s shocking to find out that a person that is the embodiment of the newly posted job description is being told that, in order to keep her job, she needs to apply for this position,” Uliantzeff said.
Celeste Ramos, a student at Lincoln Middle School, said losing Diaz would be a blow to the district.
“This might seem like a small change, but it’s a big change for our Spanish-speaking families,” she said. “Our parents trust her and are comfortable asking her questions. She’s proven to be a reliable resource for parents. We do not know who we might get and how our parents are going to interact with the new person.”
Board member Craig Foster said Diaz has performed “an essential function” for district parents.
“We can’t lose the pieces that we have that are successful here,” he said.
“What we have is very powerful, and I would hate to lose it.”
Board member Ralph Mechur said it was telling that parents were lobbying for increased participation in district hiring decisions.
They “shouldn’t have to come here and shout at us about things they should be included in,” he said.
District officials were expected to amend the proposed job descriptions and brief the board again before launching a candidate search, board president Laurie Lieberman said.