The leadership change in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district didn’t seem to come at an opportune time.

Sandra Lyon left her post as superintendent amid a period of transition and challenge in SMMUSD, which is facing litigation over chemical testing in Malibu and exploring a possible splitting of the district as it upgrades facilities with bond money and attempts to close longstanding achievement gaps.

There’s also the annual challenge of preparing for the upcoming school year during the busy summer months, when teachers and administrators hold planning and professional development sessions to establish guidelines and map out points of emphasis.

“Experienced superintendent leadership is necessary to ensure continuity and advancement in all these areas,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said.

The local Board of Education recently hired two interim superintendents, bringing on Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau to manage the district through the end of the calendar year as the search continues for Lyon’s long-term replacement.

“The board … has brought on two people who can bring a comprehensive approach to guiding the district for the short, but crucial, time they will be present,” Pinsker said. “Each of them brings knowledge, experience, and leadership skills that can advance an intensive short-term effort that provides a framework for the new superintendent to complete the second half of the school year. Together, they can provide the oversight SMMUSD needs at this time.”

Officials said having co-chiefs will help the district keep alive its momentum on improving equity, a focus for the school board and district personnel this past year. SMMUSD is working with education reformist Pedro Noguera to close academic achievement gaps that have persisted along racial and socioeconomic lines.

Strategic planning is required to put in place Noguera’s recommendations.

“Dr. Noguera’s report identifies key areas for improvement; however, implementing the required actions steps in response to that report demands in-depth coordination among multiple people, while also sustaining effective efforts already underway in the district,” Pinsker said. “To delay action until a new superintendent is appointed would mean delaying progress for another year.”

Also factoring into the board’s decision to hire two superintendents was a stipulation related to the state retirement benefits system, which limits the number of days a California retiree can work. Rousseau, a former Santa Monica High School principal and longtime administrator in the region, can work only 39 days over the course of her 6-month stint in SMMUSD. King spent the bulk of his career in Colorado and does not have the same restriction.

Each superintendent will earn $1,071 per day.

“We are fortunate to have both education leaders on board to further our district priorities, including closing the achievement gap,” board president Laurie Lieberman said in a statement.

King and Rousseau will collaborate on all issues while serving as lead administrators on particular initiatives, Pinsker said. King will act as a liaison for Malibu while overseeing bond projects, fiscal services, safety, maintenance and operations. Rousseau will handle teaching and learning, including professional development, and data analysis.

“Their work will overlap,” Pinsker said, “and they will both be involved in all aspects of district business.”