Name: Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein

Age: 49 (11/15/1968)

Occupation: Full Professor at Santa Monica College

Neighborhood: Historic San Vicente District

Own/Rent: Renter (June 1999 to present)

Marital Status: Married to Jennifer Jesswein, 30 years

Kids: 2: Daughter Nova (20) & Son Zane (15)

Both kids are/were SMMUSD Kids

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party


Castro Valley High School (California), 1986

Cal State Hayward, Bachelor’s Degree, 1990

Cal State San Francisco, Master’s Degree, 1993

Northern Arizona University, Doctoral Degree, 1999

*All of my degrees are in Political Science – American Studies*

Highest degree attained: Ph.D.

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?

I am an advocate for an independent Malibu School District where both communities will be able to focus on greater local governance and specific academic programs that reflect the aspirations of each community. I support two separate independent school districts where all students are well served.

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

It is very expensive to live in Santa Monica and Malibu. Our district is committed to recruiting and retaining the best teachers and support staff. Thus, the board needs to be engaged with regional and state leaders and communities to identify solutions that are best for Santa Monica and Malibu.

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?

I grew up on the ocean. My grandparents’ ran our family’s business out of King Harbor Redondo Beach for five decades. That family business kept our working class family a-float. Want to know a bit about me? Google: The City of Redondo Sportfisher operated by legends Roy and Doris Peters.

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

Our district and school site staff, in partnership with parents and neighbors, work with City and Police and Fire Departments to ensure student safety. We are interested in continual improvement and we are always looking for ways to lessen traffic and ease mobility in our community.

Which three movies best represent the high school experience?

I know there isn’t one film, and therefore one story, that represents us all. As Gen X, I pick: The Breakfast Club (1985). My kids (both SAMOH Vikings) say: Sing Street (2016) and To all the Boys I loved Before (2018). Oh, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).

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

As a district, we have implemented a Restorative Justice program that provides a just and appropriate response and addresses harms as well as wrongdoing. Everyone at the district focuses on the wellbeing of our students and staff. We are committed to self-reflection and evaluation and continual improvement in all matters.

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?

Our Facilities Management team does an excellent job. District construction is aligned with the future of teaching and education. The completion of construction plans for modernization and safety, however, depend on monies we will get by passing Measures SMS and M this November. Please vote YES on SMS and M.

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


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

Parents and community members must all play a part in the governance of our public schools. I truly believe that American democracy is dependent upon such engagement and collaboration. Public schools are key to civic engagement and a civil society (e.g. PTSA’s, DAC’s, LCAP committees, FOC, FDAC’s. Go to:

How is the school district responding to the needs of students who are learning English?

We are a district committed to student equity and parent engagement. As such, we provide student English learners with academic resources and support and parents with liaisons to educators. I am committed to the evaluation of our EL program and its continual improvement. La comunicación es clave para la democracia.

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?

SMMUSD is an exemplary school district. Santa Monica and Malibu are two communities that understand the importance of public education and live our values (“walk-the-talk”). Both cities have demonstrated their commitment to public education through the supplemental funding of their schools because of cuts and inadequacies of state education funding.

There is a misunderstanding in the posing of the question above. That is, the question leads one to believe that school district operational monies and capital improvement funds are one in the same. They are not. Bond monies can only be used for physical improvements (repairs and safety and modernization upgrades for example) and cannot be used for the daily operation of the school district (such as salaries and class materials). The question also suggests that somehow the district is not responsible with the public’s funds – “living beyond its means”. That is not the case.

First, like all physical structures, our schools must be maintained and continually kept-up to safety and modernization standards (e.g. earthquake ready). And, our schools need to align to the ever-evolving academic and pedagogical approaches for an ever-changing civic society. Our students need to be college and career ready. I am particularly focused on modernization and safety improvements and then the creation of learning environments that support Project Based and Future Based learning as well as training in career technical fields and trades.

Our communities have recognized these needs and thus have supported several bonds in support of capital improvements and other measures to support general operations of the school district. The district has been a good steward of the public’s trust here and has delivered on construction projects that clearly support our mission and vision of excellent public schools. The district has also been responsible and worthy of the public’s trust in the day-to-day operation of the public schools. That’s why community groups like Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) have both whole heartedly endorsed Measures SMS and M on this November’s ballot (Both are general obligation bonds that will allow the district to continue with the safety and modernization plans throughout the District.) and continue to support and advocate for community partnerships in support of academic excellence.

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 is a national problem, largely based on socioeconomics. There have been many dissertations written, and many that are in progress, analyzing this problem and considering and testing effective remedies.

Here locally, every member of our current SMMUSD Board of Education is committed to the closing of the achievement gap.

We ARE making progress.

I personally chose to be an educator because I believed that in doing so, I would be participating in a noble effort/struggle to end inequality and inequity in our society. As a member of the SMMUSD Board of Education, I joined with my colleagues in hiring Dr. Pedro Noguera (a national education leader whose research focuses on “the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts.”) to evaluate our district. Our goal in hiring Noguera was to see where we are doing well and where we need to improve so that we can progress further in the closing of the achievement gap.

We took Dr. Noguera’s report and charged our new superintendent, Dr. Ben Drati, to implement a smart multi-year plan aimed at making serious inroads to closing the gap.

In the last two years, Dr. Drati and our board have worked to implement Social Justice Learning Standards and to engage all our personnel in anti-bias training. I worked with my peers on the board and Dr. Drati to establish an American Cultures and Ethnic Studies graduation requirement and hire a new parent engagement coordinator to increase parent involvement in the effort to close the achievement gap.

The struggle to close the achievement gap is real and it requires all of our attention. SMMUSD is committed to working with state and national leaders to address this problem in ways that are effective.

We are working now as a district on expanding Project Based Learning as we believe that by engaging students in inquiry and project-based learning we allow for the joy of learning to flourish: When students are engaged they succeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Richard, your commitment to education for democratic life and your efforts to close the achievement gap! As your friend and colleague at SMC for 18 years, I am continually impressed in how you walk the talk of your ideals. Thank you for your love for and service to our community.

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