Stacy Rouse: Rouse is a conflict specialist. 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?

Our communities need functional, healthy, clean schools, and this requires community support in the form of facilities bonds. That said, bonds must be crafted to be transparent regarding specific work, timelines, and cost with sizable community input from development through implementation. Prioritization of projects across our different schools in an equitable manner is a must to prevent avoidable and damaging closures like the Muir school community is experiencing and like Malibu schools have experienced. That includes proactively targeting bonds to repair and improve facilities and address hazardous conditions that impact the safety of our students with the highest level of priority.

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?

Unification has been a draw on financial resources and district time, and it has impacted community relationships. It appears the matter is close to a settlement – SMMUSD and the city of Malibu are actively in professionally mediated negotiations on the final details. It is within our ability to arrive at a fiscally responsible agreement that provides for every student in both cities without adversely affecting the funding of our Santa Monica students. My rating of the unification as an 8 reflects its great importance, but prioritized after student learning and wellness.

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

I have experienced 21st Century Learning. It involves high collaboration between the teachers and the students. This classroom environment promotes curiosity-driven learning that is teacher developed and supported and student-led. At its best, it involves real life scenarios and projects, connected to the places and issues in closest proximity to the students and their collective interests. These classrooms are accessible to all, have high expectations, and yet provide students with safe places to learn and fail and try again. This is dependent on a full roll-out of project based learning, multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary teaching, and continued detracking initiatives.

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

To address the achievement gap, I commit to relentlessly pursuing the recommendations laid out in the Noguera Report we commissioned in 2016. This includes focusing on culturally relevant education practices, choosing specific strategies based on actionable conversations among teachers, staff, students, and the community, and following those strategies through to completion. This requires an iterative process with built in feedback and community commitment to see it through. My strong hopes based on best practices for those strategies would include a focus on early childhood education, as pre-literacy and socioemotional skills for children ages two to five are critical and are directly related to successes in kindergarten, third grade, high school, and at graduation, and expansion of our Restorative Justice program to be embedded across our campuses.

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

COVID was a catalyst for significant learning loss and socialization loss. Both deeply impacted our students’ mental health. Resocializing and continued readjustment is vital to rebuild safe and connected school communities. There is a need to address the anxiety our students may experience. Any existing anxiety can be heightened as they shift from norms and rules that were crafted in the height of the pandemic to new Best Practices as we enter endemic status.

Emphasis on proactive teaching around mental health and wellness, including mindfulness practices, peer mentoring, peer mediation, playful learning, physical movement, and outdoor activities are vital. Ensuring mental health services and resources are available to all students and families, such as the services offered through the Wellness Club by the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu to all Malibu pathways students and families is paramount.

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

SMMUSD can encourage community input in important decisions in many ways. Providing resources for accessibility including childcare and translation, and hybrid options and recordings of meetings. Holding regular, periodic community forums that are outside of the confined structures of board meetings would encourage communication and idea collaboration. For decisions impacting a specific school or population, such as the flooding at Malibu Elementary or the mold at John Muir, relaying information and receiving feedback is critical. In addition to targeted communication, a “community impact forum” for affected populations that is recorded and provided to the impacted community for subsequent viewing, would ensure that more people are aware of these meetings and their content. Utilizing community surveys that ask for both closed and open ended responses and include an element of freeform feedback on specific issues could also help gather more meaningful input from the community.

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

Given my background in conflict engagement, I will focus on developing proactive systems of dispute resolution, resulting in more dollars for student expenditures instead of unneeded lawsuits. I support zero-based budgeting with itemized expense categories that tracks the income used to pay for programs – general fund, property taxes above basic aid funding,

Measure R dollars, or dollars from YY and GSH. I will focus on building a budget that funds students and classrooms first, building outward from that point, prioritizing teacher and staff support and programs, then guiding central office needs to directly support the work at the school sites.