Brennon Dixson

SMDP Staff Writer

Board members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District are expected to discuss a number of items that are pertinent to the community when they gather Thursday in Malibu for the first school board meeting of the month.

New Program

In an effort to improve the academic, emotional and physical well-being of students, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District could soon partner with the county’s office of education to participate in the Community Schools Initiative.

Board members have postponed considering a memorandum of understanding with the Los Angeles County Office of Education since Aug. 1, but if the prospective MOU were to be approved Thursday, SMMUSD would become one of 15 districts across the state chosen to participate in the program, according to this week’s agenda.

The board item has been rescheduled a few times as the district awaits the final MOU from LACOE, district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said in an email Monday, stating that she expects the board to approve the pilot program once all the paperwork is in order.

“We are looking forward to this valuable partnership with LACOE to expand our current services we offer students,” Pinsker said. “This will benefit our students tremendously and we feel fortunate to be one of the school districts selected for this program.”

The purpose of the Community Schools Initiative is to highlight areas of need and leverage community resources so that students are healthy, prepared for college and are career and civic ready, according to the MOU.

The initiative is part of a broader push to “support the whole child,” county officials said, mentioning the program will highlight areas of need and leverage community resources to increase schools’ graduation rates and community engagement opportunities while also reducing the area’s suspensions, chronic absenteeism and dropout rates.

To achieve the program’s goals, students will have access to school-based mental health services that include workshops, counseling and referral services to other resources in the community, according to the MOU. The community should also expect increased opportunities to educate themselves or collaborate in their child’s education as local libraries, health clinics and workforce professionals will be available to assist in the execution of the program’s goals.

“Santa Monica-Malibu Unified was selected based on a comparison with other school districts within its supervisorial district,” the MOU states, adding, the intended outcome is for the district to become a “hub in its neighborhood.”

Santa Monica High School would be the district’s designated site that would implement the project, meaning crisis prevention, family therapy and arts education services could be offered on-site if the program were to be established, according to county documents.

LACOE may also staff additional personnel on-campus, according to LACOE Public Information Officer Margo Minecki, who said each of the 15 campuses in the pilot program will have a full-time Program Specialist and a full-time Educational Community Worker, who will support parent engagement at the school site.

“The Community Schools Initiative is our way of fighting poverty and addressing longstanding inequities,” said Dr. Debra Duardo, Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools. “The goal is to ensure that all students receive the services and resources they need to succeed and that those services are accessible right at school where they feel safe.”

If approved, the memorandum would extend through June 30, 2022.


A decades-old mural at the former location of John Muir Elementary School may soon be painted over and replaced with a simple sign.

The District considered replacing the mural several years ago and the school board is expected to revisit removing the mural from school grounds this week. There is no plan to replace the art this time around, according to Thursday’s agenda. Instead, “the plan, with board direction, is to encapsulate and paint the walls the same color as the rest of the exterior of the building.”

The site’s new name, Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration, would then be painted on top, and a sign identifying the building would be hung where the mural is currently located.

There are two main reasons to move forward with covering the decor, according to Thursday’s agenda. The first is that the school site and campus identity are changing.

“As part of this transition process, it is necessary to re-brand the look and feel of the campus to better represent its students, staff, and programs,” the agenda states, before addressing the ways the Muir Woods mural has eroded over time.

“The lead paint has peeled, contaminated the planter and risks going into the stormwater system out to the ocean,” the agenda adds.

The district attempted to address the problems posed by the lead paint by scraping the flaking paint and painting over it with a clear coat, according to Thursday’s agenda, “(but) the result is an unsightly set of walls on a prominent corner of the facility.”

District staff said a new mural could potentially be painted on the exterior corner in the future once the programs at the school are fully developed.

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