Education in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District may soon be reimagined after a decision to implement secondary Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) pathways for students in the district. Although the curriculum’s form is still opaque, the Board and public speakers at the March 15 board meeting were enthusiastic about implementation, eyed for a Fall 2019 date.

“It feels like we’re taking a big step, but in 20 years, this is going to be what everyone does, how people learn,” Boardmember Craig Foster said after the presentation.

A proposed plan for providing more K-12 IBL options in the district was brought before the Board in a November 14, 2017, meeting. Recommendations for that proposal included visiting more schools with IBL in place, establishing a timeline for implementation, and expanding SMASH (Santa Monica Alternative School House) to high school.

Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati and staff visited several school sites with different forms of IBL pathways in order to get a feel for different conceptual frameworks under which schools could operate.

Sites visited ranged from schools throughout California. Concepts explored included fairly traditional models, such as Goleta’s Dos Pueblos High Engineering Academy and somewhat radical takes on traditional education such as Clovis’ Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART).

Dos Pueblos High School’s Engineering Academy is a four-year program that students must apply to. Students still participate in general school classes while also participating in the academy, a curriculum that provides students with engineering mainstays such as CAD. “It’s a warehouse of rooms with computer work taking place, machines fabricating materials, all culminating in a year-end project,” Dr. Drati said about his trip to the program.

The first three years in the course provide a “standard laboratory science physics course a standard visual and performing arts sculpture course, and an engineering elective course,” according to the school’s website. The program has sent students to competitions across the nation. “It’s hard to imagine what students are doing at that age, but it shows what we could do if we put our minds to it,” Drati said

In CART, students spend either mornings or afternoons at their traditional school and then get bussed on their lunch break to either CART or their home school. Students share an integrated class with three teachers who work collaboratively throughout every aspect of the course.

CART holds more than 16 different career paths (forensics, robotics, game design, etc.) with traditional subjects such as English, science, and math folded into the curriculum.

Recommendations for this updated IBL proposal included establishing a Blue Ribbon IBL visioning committee that would advise the superintendent and establish implementation; set aside funding to hire a coordinator to apply for grants and facilitate the development of a long-term vision with the blue ribbon committee, and finally to secure a budget to enact the IBL vision.

“We have structural deficit we’re dealing with,” Dr. Drati said. “But I firmly believe this ties in with having greater vision for the district …This is an opportunity to relook how we do business in the entire district. We have to have cost savings as well. In order to do that I’ll need initial investment to get that work going. These won’t continue to eat at the budget. Just one or two-year projects which can get us to a place to look at the deficit while developing something Malibu and Santa Monica could be proud of.”

Public opinion for the presentation was positive.

“Just by the sheer state of adolescence, being an inquisitive young person, IBL just makes sense,” Carlos Santini, Vice President of After-School All-Stars, said. “My daughters are both students at SMASH, and I see that level of composition in them. I’m looking forward to implementation of the program.”

Shannon Booker, parent and software engineer in Santa Monica, was introduced to IBL while his children were in preschool. “It’s eye-opening to see how it unlocks the potential of students, even at that age,” Booker said. “Santa Monica has a vibrant tech community that I’m sure would want to collaborate.”

The Board was unanimous in their praise of the concept of IBL, albeit with reservations regarding the wording of the proposal’s recommendations.

“We need to be deliberate, discursive, engaging, and we can both be envisioning and implementing at the same time,” President of the Board Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said.

The Board moved forward on IBL implementation (with 4 votes) under the condition the Board receives regular updates.