On Thursday, Aug. 17 teachers, administrators, and faculty members throughout the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) gathered at Santa Monica High School for the annual convocation with new Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati.

Drati was hired earlier this year and has spent his first few months forming relationships with various schools, administrators, and teachers.

Drati said, “In the last seven months I have gotten the opportunity to learn more about the district and I am happy with everyone’s hard work and commitment.”

He showed his appreciation for SMMUSD recent achievements like Malibu High School being ranked 45th best school in California, three SMMUSD schools recognized as National Blue Ribbon schools and Lincoln Middle School named 2015 California Gold Ribbon school.

However Drati believes the district can still improve on their main mission of excellence through equity.

Drati explained why he felt prior efforts have failed. He said there has been a lack of consistent implementation of systems, structures, processes and practices. There has been failure to build capacity in support of equity because prior initiatives were abandoned. According to Drati, isolation and fragmentation across and within school sites has created divergent approaches to key initiatives, along with a lack of cohesive focus.

He proposed a three-pronged approach for the next year. His plan includes creating a culture of shared accountability through a systems approach, teaching cross-cultural/socio emotional skills and engaging in constant self-reflection around issues of equity.

He said the first approach is about school leadership and teamwork creating an implementation plan. It requires weekly and monthly check ins and conducting quarterly review of progress.

Approach 2 is meant to teach cross-cultural and socio emotional skills.

“The ways in which students learn and think are deeply influenced by their cultural identity and heritage, and that to teach a diverse student population effectively requires educational approaches that value and recognize their cultural backgrounds,” said Drati.

Approach 3 is meant to establish common language and an understanding of behaviors, attitudes, and conditions that serve as support or barriers for achieving the desired academic and socio emotional outcomes for all students

The annual start of the school year will usher in Drati’s new focus with support from the Board of Education.

SMMUSD Board President Laurie Liberman said, “We want all of you who are here to come to work everyday and feel like you work in a climate where you are supported and appreciated.”

Lieberman acknowledged the hard work of staff and said the Board is there for support whenever necessary.

The district also welcomed new members to SMMUSD at the event. Schools have hired 45 new teachers, one new counselor, two new nurses, a new psychologist, two new speech language pathologists, and a behavior intervention specialist. The district also hired 30 new classified employees.

The event ended with multiple faculty members attending workshops to prepare for the new school year. All SMMUSD classes begin Tuesday, August 22.