Laurie Lieberman.

Name:   Laurie Lieberman

Occupation:   School Board member/Attorney

Neighborhood of residence:  I’m a 40+year Santa Monica resident.  I currently live on the northside and spent years living in Ocean Park and Sunset Park.

Own/Rent:  Own

Marital status:  Married

Kids:  Jennie and Peter, both of whom attended Will Rogers Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School and Samohi

Political affiliation:  Democrat

Schooling (High School / College):   John H. Francis Polytechnic High School
  B.A. in Sociology, UCLA

Highest degree attained:  Juris Doctor, UCLA Law School
Coursework toward Master’s Degree completed, UCLA School of Architecture & Urban Planning


With the district moving toward more autonomy for Malibu and possibly eventual separation, how does a two-city system benefit all students currently in the district?

Whether we emerge as separate districts or an SMMUSD in which Malibu has greater autonomy, students will benefit most from educational leadership that focuses on student learning, on engagement through innovative, 21st century instruction developed collaboratively by teachers, and by leveraging shared resources in pursuit of high quality educational programs.  

What role, if any, does the Board have in securing work-force housing for teachers in the district?

The Board should take part in discussions with Santa Monica and Malibu city officials and other stakeholders on this topic.  Housing unaffordability is a serious barrier to maintaining teachers and staff that requires our engagement in creative problem-solving conversations.  We should explore the existence of partnership opportunities for workforce housing.

You’re in a kayak on the ocean when you see a Viking Longship approaching clearly on a raiding mission. At the same time, you see a shark fin in the water. What do you do?

Assuming this is intended as a metaphor for SMMUSD (Samohi’s mascot is a Viking; Malibu High School’s mascot is a Shark), I would look to get back to shore and assess the situation once out of immediate danger.  Vikings and Sharks can work together constructively on behalf of students.

What is being done at all school sites to address traffic caused by parent drop-off and provide necessary parking for students/faculty?

The District encourages parents to walk their students to school or to use means other than automobile where possible and depending on the age of students.  District administration and individual sites work with the City to provide optimal drop-off areas and short-term parking spaces and appropriate signage.

Which three movies best represent the high school experience?

Stand and Deliver, Mean Girls, Dead Poet Society (all approved by my kids)

What kind of discipline should be used within the district and is the district doing enough to protect students on campus?

The District uses multiple means to address discipline issues.  Restorative justice, which is being used in many districts throughout California, has shown promise as it allows for meaningful reparations for wrongdoing while also creating opportunities for empathy and collaboration among students, resulting in a reduction in the need for suspensions.  

Are you satisfied with the results of recent construction work on SMMUSD campuses and what are the most pressing needs for the rest of the district?

Construction work on SMMUSD campuses has gone well yet much remains to be done.  Pressing needs include upgrading safety and security systems, improving energy efficiency, modernization of older schools, equipping all schools for 21st century learning, continuing construction that will implement the Samohi Campus Plan and the re-aligned Malibu schools.  

What item of clothing from high school do you still wear today?

I still wear jeans and athletic clothes (though they don’t look quite like the ones I wore in high school).  I don’t think I am likely to wear bell bottoms again, but one never knows.

What role should parent and volunteer groups play in determining curriculum or policy within the district?

Our district welcomes parent, student, staff and volunteer input.  As a parent whose children went through our schools, I know that input is crucial. Ultimately, decision-making responsibility rests with the Board and the District as we weigh evidence, research and stakeholder input to make what we believe are sound decisions.  

¿Como está respondiendo el distrito escolar a las necesidades de los alumnos que están aprendiendo inglés?

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is committed to the success of English Learners, offering program options including structured English immersion, bilingual immersion and dual immersion. English Learners are assessed when they enter the District and annually thereafter to monitor their progress. Student performance in acquiring English in the SMMUSD is strong.  

El Distrito Escolar Unificado de Santa Mónica-Malibu está comprometido con el éxito de los Estudiantes de inglés, ofreciendo opciones de programas que incluyen inmersión estructurada en inglés, inmersión bilingüe e inmersión dual. Los Estudiantes de inglés son evaluados cuando ingresan al Distrito y, posteriormente, anualmente para monitorear su progreso. El desempeño de los estudiantes en la adquisición de inglés en el SMMUSD es sólido


SMMUSD is a rich district but there’s yet another school bond on the ballot. Voters have already approved several school funding measures in recent years and the District gets a cash infusion from City Hall. Why can’t SMMUSD live within its means?

It is critical to differentiate between the recent parcel tax or sales/use tax measures which fund day-to-day operational costs (such as teacher salaries, materials and administration) and what is currently on the ballot: a general obligation bond which pays for facilities improvements only.  Measure SMS is necessary because our 60+ year old schools no longer support evolving academic and safety standards. SMS will modernize classrooms and labs for career and technical education, including instruction in math, science and computer technology and improve arts and music education. SMS will allow the district to upgrade campus security, electrical and ventilation systems, remove hazardous materials from schools, and much more.  The state does NOT fund any of these physical improvements. Over half the amount sought by SMS will be spent to continue implementing the Campus Plan that guides renovation of 100-year-old Samohi. SMS is vital to support the great teaching and learning that goes on in our public schools. It enhances our community and raise property values. SMS is for Santa Monica schools ONLY. (There is a separate bond measure on the Malibu ballot for Malibu schools only.)

We are fortunate to live in a community that knows the value of public education.  Our community recognizes that state funding is inadequate (California is 41st in the nation in education funding), volatile and not entirely reliable. It has elected to augment what the state provides by approving two sales/use tax measures in recent years –- increasing our district’s operational revenues.  These measures helped the District when school funding was dramatically reduced following the recession and have enabled the District to provide programs that our District would not otherwise be able to sustain. (These two measures also increased revenues for public safety and affordable housing, respectively.)  

The District has been able to maintain required reserves and recently received a AAA bond rating, a testament to the fact that the district manages its resources well.  The SMMUSD is committed to a multi-year plan to eliminate the remaining structural deficit which has remained due to the instability of state funding and the increase in costs such as retirement benefits which increase at a rate that is greater than the increase in general fund revenues.  Staff is conducting an evaluation of educational programs, administrative and other spending to ensure that the District has a responsible budget that aligns with our educational vision.

We have been asking Candidates about the achievement gap for 10 years. Why has this remained a known problem for so long and what measurable progress is being made?

The achievement gap (now widely recognized as in large part the result of cumulative opportunity gaps), remains a challenge throughout the nation; it is not merely a local problem nor, sadly, is it a new one.  Both nationally and locally, obstacles to children’s achievement/opportunity include housing, parent employment, income and education, social service policies and other factors that schools cannot control.  

There is, however, a lot that schools can control.

While there is no simple or magical solution to close the gap, SMMUSD has taken great strides forward.  In 2015-16, the SMMUSD sought help from Dr. Pedro Noguera, whose team performed an “equity audit” and made recommendations about how to pursue greater systemic equity and success in closing the achievement gap.  Premised on the belief that all children have the ability to learn when they have equitable opportunities to learn, we are using evidenced-based instruction and providing a rigorous curriculum for all students. Students need to be motivated and engaged by differentiating instruction and ensuring that content and pedagogy is culturally relevant. We are intentionally focused on student engagement, which includes a spread of inquiry-based/project-based learning.   We are focused on parent engagement and on engaging families meaningfully to support student learning with an emphasis on historically under-represented parents.  

The District has improved the quality of its preschools and is working to ensure that all students attend and enter school ready for kindergarten.  We are focused on ensuring early identification of at-risk students, and on providing appropriate social and emotional support as well as academic support for those students.  Teachers are collaborating to help struggling students, who will receive supplemental instruction early on.  The District has hired literacy coaches and is focused on “formative” assessments instead of high-stakes end-of-year testing only.  We are pursuing hiring practices that lead to recruitment of more highly qualified staff who mirror our students’ demographics. The Board has adopted social justice standards and at the high school level, an American Cultures/Ethnic Studies course requirement has been adopted, steps have been taken to encourage students who have not traditionally done so to take AP classes and the District now pays for all students to take the PSAT in 10th grade on a weekday.  

Recent state test scores demonstrate small but steady progress.  We cannot be complacent and must maintain a sense of urgency, while understanding that real change takes time, and requires implementation of evidence-based approaches and ongoing evaluation to succeed.  

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