The state funding is designed to “promote educator equity, quality and effectiveness” districtwide.

Emily Sawicki / SMDP Staff Writer

Over the next five school years, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) will spend an extra $3 million on professional learning for educators and support staff.

The money comes from a massive, $1.5 billion statewide budget allocation designed to provide “professional learning for teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and classified staff” with the goal of increasing the “equity, quality and effectiveness” of public and charter education across California. But it comes with strings attached.

Programs covered by the grant must fall under one of 10 categories specified by state lawmakers, which include focus on mental health services, social justice and ethnic studies. The money comes from Assembly Bill 130, passed in July 2021.

Last Thursday, Dec. 9, the SMMUSD board met to discuss how to spend the allocation, with a final approval set for the upcoming board meeting on Dec. 16.

Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Jacqueline Mora said her team spoke to teachers, principals and union representatives from the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association to determine the most appropriate use for the additional funding. According to Mora, the priorities were informed by the educational environment of the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school site closures.

“It was important for us to really take in account how we can build off of the learning experiences that have been provided for our teachers and that have been delivered by our teachers, and really think about how we can continue to address the impacts that were experienced due to the physical closures—and that continue to be experienced now, although we are in person,” Mora said. “We are still seeing the impacts and the effects of those physical closures and of being in a pandemic.”

According to Mora’s suggestions, the largest segment, a total of $719,528 over five years, will be set aside to focus on the needs of English language learners and mathematics. Though most of the programs will begin in the 2022-23 school year, additional support for English learners was set to start as early as January. Once the spending is approved, school administrators will be tasked with developing plans during winter break and returning in the new year with programs “that lead to effective, standards-aligned instruction and improve instruction in literacy across all subject areas, including English language arts, history-social science, science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science” — with a focus on English language.

Another $708,000 would be allocated toward “strategies to implement social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, suicide prevention, access to mental health services and other approaches that improve pupil well-being,” with the third-highest funding allocation, $542,000, allocated toward “focus on supporting the well-being of all educators that will enhance and promote a more meaningful teaching experience for students.”

Approximately $500,000 is set aside to educate teachers and staff on “practices to create a positive school climate,” which includes restorative justice, preventing discrimination and “transforming a school site’s culture to one that values diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”

Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said the professional development will be assessed through various “metrics” at school sites.

“Ultimately, we are looking to see if these actions result in student success,” Drati said during the Dec. 9 meeting. “My goal is to try to get to a place where at least quarterly, or at least three times a year, that we are at the site levels engaging in conversations with the principals where they actually talk about their activity in terms of professional learning and student engagement and how that results in the school, with some metrics.”

Drati suggested “community conversations” at each school could inform the effectiveness of the programs.

The final vote is set to take place during the Thursday, Dec. 16 meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. and is available to watch on Zoom (meeting ID: 830 2252 9808 ; passcode: 386959 ; call-in number: 669-900-6833).