With the 2016-17 school year around the corner, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district continues its search for a superintendent who will help close longstanding academic achievement gaps.

The emphasis on equity was made clear in the job description for Sandra Lyon’s long-term replacement, which was recently posted on the SMMUSD website. Applications are due next month.

In addition to having successful experience as an educational leader, the best candidates will have “a commitment to diversity and social justice” and be able to implement strategies and programs to improve outcomes for historically under-performing students, according to the job description.

The search for Sandra Lyon’s long-term replacement comes as the district attempts to curb achievement gaps that have persisted along racial and socioeconomic lines. Education reformist Pedro Noguera was hired by the district last year to assess obstacles and recommend new programs, and the future superintendent will play a key role in guiding SMMUSD through Noguera’s plan.

The district is working with consultants from Leadership Associates to conduct the search for Lyon’s long-term replacement. The school board is expected to interview finalists in mid-October and approve the new superintendent’s contract at a November board meeting. The incoming leader will start Jan. 1.

“Any contact with board members, in an attempt to influence the selection process, will be considered a breach of professional ethics,” the description reads.

The district is looking for a superintendent who will “always keep student success as the major focus of the District’s work,” reads the job description, which incorporated input from local education leaders and community groups. Lyon’s tenure was marked by several major non-classroom issues, including an ongoing legal battle over chemical cleanup in Malibu, the implementation of bond-backed facility upgrades, a heated debate over the recently implemented centralized fundraising model and a campaign by Malibu activists to create a separate district.

Lyon left SMMUSD at the end of June to serve as superintendent of the Palm Springs Unified School District, and Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau were hired as interim co-superintendents through the end of the calendar year. The district hired two temporary leaders in part to avoid jeopardizing their retirement benefits and also to keep alive the district’s momentum on improving equity.

King recently attended the Santa Monica High School summer graduation, where the 10 future Santa Monica College students spoke about their educational journeys. He also appeared at the Young Collegians celebration last month and met recently with Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman.

Rousseau, a former Samohi principal, said she’s trying to apply an outsider’s perspective to identify obstacles to improving equity.

“I’ve seen a lot of good things happening,” she said. “However, with any organization, those good things can happen and not have a key and central focus. … The Noguera report pointed out things he saw, so what we need to do is operationalize the findings and be able to develop a course of actions that put into effect our response. We know the things Dr. Noguera pointed out are institutionalized. I’ve tried to find the nooks and crannies that prevent us from providing equitable opportunities.

“It’s not a Noguera report driving our work, but our commitment to excellence … and ways of assessing ourselves so we know we’re moving in the direction of creating equity.”

jeff@www.smdp.com