Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein: Tahvildaran-Jesswein is a college professor. Courtesy photo

All candidates were given an opportunity to provide written answers to a set of questions provided by SMDP and two sets of answers will be printed each day. Answers are also available online alongside additional information from each candidate. 

SMMUSD has failed to solve the water/mold issue at SMASH/Muir for 20 years, why should the district be trusted with more money for construction projects if existing work is of such poor quality?

This question misrepresents what has occurred at SMASH/Muir. The buildings in question were built in 1996 and are not reflective of our modern day construction and modernization standards. The District’s ongoing construction and modernization projects are imperative to providing our students with 21st Century learning and to ensuring our school environment is safe and clean.

As negotiations regarding Malibu unification continue, what impact has this ongoing issue had on the district’s ability to meet its core function of educating students and what would you do to bring the matter to a close?

SMMUSD’s ongoing negotiations with the City of Malibu have not impacted the core function of educating students in either community, Santa Monica or Malibu. I am in support of Malibu’s bid for unification as is the full Board of Education. I am hopeful that we will reach a fair and equitable resolution where students in both communities will continue to thrive and flourish.

What does 21st Century Learning look like in the classroom and what does SMMUSD need to do to implement it?

Twenty-First Century learning places the student front and center in the classroom. It is student-centered learning – where inquiry and innovation are valued and nurtured. This requires strong teacher-led professional development and the rethinking of physical spaces for curriculum delivery that is project based and focused on inquiry, collaboration.

Describe your specific ideas for addressing the decades-long achievement gap.

During my service on the Board of Education, we have made progress in closing the achievement/opportunity gap, but of course there is work to be done, as the systemic problem cannot be solved by the District alone. I have worked collaboratively with my school board colleagues and our District’s teachers to establish policies/initiatives to address this perennial struggle that we face throughout the state and the country. We have made progress, including:

1. The development and implementation of Social Justice Learning Standards.

2. The full integration of Restorative Justice throughout our District.

3. The development and implementation of the American Cultures and Ethnic

Studies (ACES) graduation requirement.

4. The de-tracking of 9th Grade Honors English at Santa Monica High School.

5. The expansion of Parent Engagement programs.

6. The expansion of academic intervention programs.

7. The development and launch of the Project Based Learning School.

How should SMMUSD pivot in addressing the post-COVID mental health struggles of students?

As we emerge from the global pandemic, we must continue to prioritize the well being of our students, which includes addressing mental health. We must identify and take full advantage of the social services and intervention programs available in our District and throughout Los Angeles County, and we must look at other school districts to see what is and what isn’t working.

I am advocating for a well being task force made up of parents, teachers, and mental health experts to assist SMMUSD as we, together, work to bring some normalcy back to our students’ school experience.

What can SMMUSD do to provide meaningful ways to encourage community input into decisions that results in outcomes catering to the majority of student needs?

SMMUSD actively seeks parent and community engagement and input in planning and decision-making. District Advisory Committees (DACs), PTA’s, Superintendent Advisory Committees, LCAP engagement, and school site councils all afford thoughtful and important input to the District and contribute to our decisions.

If you were reimagining the SMMUSD budget from scratch, how would you change the allocation of the District’s considerable resources?

Each year the budget is developed in an open and transparent manner in public view and reflects the values of our Santa Monica-Malibu community.

Given enrollment trends, how should SMMUSD evaluate its real estate options and balance those against raising taxes to fund improvements, programs and excellence?

SMMUSD should continually evaluate all options while maintaining clean, effective and safe working and learning environments.