SMMUSD’s ongoing PCB saga took several twists and turns. Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s emerged in 2013. The substance has been used as a common building material for decades but was later banned after being found to be unsafe. The district maintained classrooms are safe and have been sufficiently cleaned while a coalition of parents argued the cleanup efforts are substandard and therefor a danger to parents, staff and students.

A judge ruled Malibu activists from the America Units for Kids organization acted illegally when they took unauthorized samples of caulk from classrooms. The court ruled the samples were inadmissible and ordered the organization to repay the district for the cost of repairs. The court also ordered the plaintiffs to pay for SMMUSD legal fees related to the district’s motion for sanctions.

The judge did not dismiss the overall lawsuit and the case proceeded to trial.

Both sides claimed victory following a judge’s ruling in the case.

The school district was ordered to remove all polychlorinated biphenyls from the two Malibu sites in question by the end of 2019, according to the decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson of the Central District of California.

The district said the ruling validates its modernization plans, which include the replacement of windows and doors in buildings constructed before 1979. The plaintiffs said the ruling proves the widespread existence of potentially harmful chemicals at the school sites.

Santa Monica College began offering a four-year bachelor’s degree. The creation of an interaction design bachelor’s degree at SMC follows approval from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors as part of a pilot program authorized by Gov. Jerry Brown. The local college was chosen for its ability to offer a career-oriented pathway that will meet workforce needs and avoid overlap with options in the University of California and California State University systems.

Former SMMUSD board member Ben Allen co-authored a bill in the State Senate to enforce vaccination requirements. The new rules ban personal belief exemptions for most students and local schools worked to adapt to the new rules in the face of strong local resistance to mandatory vaccines at some school sites.

Negotiations began on potentially separating Santa Monica and Malibu school districts. Both sides appointed negotiating teams to tackle difficult issues and despite a few speed-bumps, the process is ongoing.

After the City of Santa Monica renovated fields to remove potential toxic crumb rubber, the school district began developing a plan and budget to replace synthetic turf fields at SMMUSD sites.

Following a trip to Carnegie Hall last year, local music students continued to receive invitations to play as prestigious venues. Students were invited to San Jose to play at the California All-State Music Education Conference.

The district approved a round of technological upgrades funded by Measure ES, a $385-million bond for schools that voters approved in 2012. Officials approved about $34 million for new network switches and routers, an improved telephone system and a new data center.

Many local students were recognized for exception talent. Several students competed for spots in selective arts/music/entertainment programs. Stephanie Parent qualified for an educational trip to Antarctica, where she will explore the frozen continent and learn about the effects of climate change, Crossroads School alumnus Daniel Krashen was recognized by President Obama as one of the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor in the U.S. for researchers in the beginning stages of their careers.

Bruce DeBiasse was named a California Arts Scholar and attended the California State Summer School for the Arts, a prestigious program in creative disciplines for talented high school students. The four-week program at the California Institute for the Arts in Valencia helps students develop their skills in animation, music, film and theater.

Santa Monica High School senior Ben Ross was selected as one of this year’s U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, a national distinction he’s been eying since ninth grade. Ross is part of the 52nd class of the U.S. Presidential Scholars program, which recognizes 160 high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics and the arts as well as career and technical education.

New Roads School graduate Amanda Gorman and Crossroads School alumnus Spencer Greene were honored for their numerous achievements through a joint award program of the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute and Milken Family Foundation. The students received at $10,000 scholarship to attend an Ivy League school.

Samohi won the regional stage of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl and qualified for national contest.

Santa Monica-Malibu school district was one of four districts in the state chosen by The California Teachers Association to conduct a pilot training program on bias. At the same time, the District pursued its work with consultant Pedro Noguera on closing the achievement gap between students of different races. Noguera provided a list of the district’s flaws and outlined a roadmap of solutions. Noguera also said the organization was plagued with distractions, like the ongoing PCB lawsuit, that were an impediment to focusing on the achievement gap problems.

Officials began work on a long-term plan for Santa Monica High School. The 26-acre facility will see a 47-percent increase in square footage with much of the new area coming from increased height on the existing footprint.

SMMUSD realigned staff positions to support dual immersion learning. The District eliminated its English Language Development Coordinator position and created two new jobs: a parent engagement position and a new language coordinator job. The goal is to increase dual immersion language programs throughout the middle and high schools in the district.

Mark Suminski, a beloved teacher at Olympic High School, died. He was remembered for seeing potential where others didn’t. Whether improving the classroom experience for his students or making Halloween memorable for the children in his neighborhood, he found joy in the success and merriment of others.

Superintendent Sandra Lyon announced her resignation to take the top executive position for the Palm Springs Unified School District. SMMUSD hired a pair of interim superintendents to manage the district for the first half of the school year and Dr. Ben Drati, formerly assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, will take the position full time as of January 1. Eva Mayoral also announced her resignation as Principal of Santa Monica High School.

Malibu families lagged behind their Santa Monica counterparts in district fundraising participation. Less than 12 percent of Malibu families have donated to the campaign, whereas more than 34 percent of their Santa Monica peers contributed. Fundraising efforts have struggled since the district moved to a centralized model and away from site-specific fundraising. This year, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation fell short of its annual

fundraising goal again. The foundation raised $2.03 million for school programs in a cycle that ended June 30, short of the $2.5 million it was asked to collect over the last 12 months.

The school board last voted to make up for the nearly $500,000 deficit.

The District grappled with a $10-million budget shortfall that as it tried to address numerous other significant issues, including environmental litigation, longstanding achievement gaps and the possible creation of a separate Malibu district. Despite the shortfall in general-fund expenditures, the district maintained access to significant funds for facilities due to ongoing bond financing.

The Board of Education approved a contract of more than $607,000 for P.S. ARTS, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that brings a variety of arts programming to public schools. The funding will cover visual and performing arts instruction for all elementary students in transitional kindergarten through 5th grade as well as for preschool children at two district sites.

Samohi celebrated the achievements of 710 new graduates, a 4.7-percent spike on the 678 students that graduated the previous year.

The Pico Youth and Family Center launched a campaign to build partnerships with Silicon Beach businesses and entrepreneurs to help youths gain training, internships and job opportunities in Santa Monica’s high-tech industry. The so-called Digital Dream Pathways Campaign was launched with the help of Lucas Donat, an executive at TrueCar and a longtime branding strategist with locally based advertising firm Tiny Rebellion.

Two members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education declined to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance, bringing local attention to a national debate over the nature of protests before the U.S. flag. Craig Foster and Oscar de la Torre chose to kneel for the duration of the pledge, their heads and shoulders sticking out above the dais at SMMUSD headquarters as their counterparts faced the adjacent American flag.

Edison Language Academy was named a National Blue Ribbon School, an honor bestowed upon 279 public schools and 50 private institutions across the country this year.

Santa Monica College announced it will offer priority enrollment to students who live in, or graduated from, schools in its district. According to SMC, the program is the first phase of a Santa Monica College Promise program, with a planned launch date of fall 2017, to help students reduce the expenses related to their first year at SMC.