With discussion on the Muir Woods Mural postponed until Oct. 17, governing board members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District focused their attention on a new program that could benefit Santa Monica students.

District staff said the newfound Community School Initiative would have a substantial effect on the academic, emotional and physical well-being of local students, which is why SMMUSD board members unanimously agreed to partner with the county’s office of education to participate in the initiative.

Once the prospective memorandum of understanding is signed by both parties, SMMUSD would become one of 15 districts across the state chosen to participate in the program, said Jacqueline Mora, assistant superintendent of education services.

“LACOE has done the community schools initiative with many different districts,” including Compton, Bellflower and Inglewood, Mora said, mentioning the purpose of the initiative is to improve the lives of students in the community so they are healthy, prepared for college and are career and civic ready.

“We want to increase student graduation rates. We want to decrease chronic absenteeism and dropout rates, (as well as) reduce suspensions and increase family engagement,” Mora said. The district will look to accomplish these goals with support from LACOE, which will provide the district with a new full-time program coordinator as well as a facilitator who will be tasked with increasing parent engagement.

Students will have access to school-based mental health services that include workshops, counseling and referral services, according to Thursday’s presentation. Local partnerships with various organizations in the city will also be strengthened so additional resources can be provided to youth in the future.

The initiative is part of a broader push to “support the whole child,” county officials said earlier this week, mentioning the program should allow additional opportunities for the community 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.

Mora said the district originally considered designating Olympic High School as the site that would house the program’s crisis prevention, family therapy and arts education services, but staff settled on Santa Monica High School because of the grant’s requirements.

Mora mentioned that she believes Olympic students will still be able to benefit from the initiative, before sharing the MOU is ready to be signed if the district decides it is willing to participate in the program.

“Mental health is huge with students and with their learning because if their mental health isn’t solid, they don’t learn,” Mora said. “And so I think this is so important that we focus on this and I know this has been a priority of our board… and I’m excited about it.”

Superintendent Ben Drati agreed, sharing during the meeting that he thinks the district can be a success story of the program and pave the way for a similar initiative to be rolled out across the state.

“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.”

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

Once signed, the memorandum of understanding with LACOE would extend through June 30, 2022.


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