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.
One of the things that makes Santa Monica and Malibu so special is that our citizens are tenaciously engaged and generous when it comes to our schools. Growing up in Santa Monica it was just me and my mom, and she would drag me to protests and city council meetings. I lived it. Now, as a parent, I see it in the generous school construction bonds, and in the many ways our residents express pride in our institutions. And our schools are something to be immensely proud of. But even great institutions need guidance and new blood if they are going to continue to evolve and be great.
Despite far more per pupil spending than nearly all of LA County districts, our schools are not achieving excellence or equity. In 2015-2016, SMMUSD commissioned Dr. Pedro Noguera to study how we might achieve more equitable learning outcomes and close the achievement gap. The findings were quite damning—namely that after years of new programs, many of which were good in concept, little had changed. The problem Noguera cited was “buy-in.” A constant rotation of leadership and lack of support for our awesome teachers meant that they were left to enact a never-ending stream of programs, and without adequate support they didn’t buy in. The report further suggested that board members spent very little time at schools and principals spent little time in classrooms. Each level was disconnected from the others.
So, what happened after the 2016 Noguera report? In the words of one current board member: “nothing, nada.” This story exemplifies the obstacle that continues to stymie the board: they are disconnected from our schools. Of course they are—six of seven don’t have kids in SMMUSD, and none are SMMUSD teachers. Without going into the schools regularly, all of their wonderful ideas are disconnected from the classrooms.
We see the disconnect with the achievement gap, which despite SMMUSD’s long commitment has not notably improved, because as Noguera told us—there’s no buy-in. If elected, I will lower class sizes and raise starting teacher salaries to attract the best candidates. Smaller class sizes will improve things more quickly than nearly any other initiative. Each kid gets more attention and that means better learning outcomes. The science is conclusive, and giving teachers a smaller load will help in earning their trust back. I’ll also earn buy-in by getting teachers and parents onboard with new initiatives before enacting them, so that new programs can succeed. Finally, I will work to enact universal pre-k, so every SMMUSD kid has early intervention and early success.
We see the disconnect in the currently closed Muir Elementary, where the toxic mold was known about for years and never fixed. We see it in the hundred-million-dollar SAMOHI buildings with failing air conditioning. With my background in real estate management, I will ensure our schools are maintained.
The disconnect is evident in the SMMUSD budget, with its failed programs that continue to languish while new programs are added, multiplying expenses. I want to zero out the budget, prioritize programs that work and jettison those that don’t so we are maximizing the effectiveness of our ~$165m annual budget.
We see the disconnect with the conflicting COVID emails, with directives taken away or added at the last minute without consideration of cost to families. And kids still don’t know where to turn for help or how to process the trauma of nearly two years of isolation. Kids need help, and so far, the response has been inadequate. I will bring more mental health services to students so kids can heal, and I will take students’ safety concerns seriously, with better articulated safety plans.
We see the disconnect in SMMUSD’s real estate empire, where we lease our facilities like an investment group. It’s not about education, it’s about money. And that’s what happens when it’s not personal—when it’s someone else’s kid out there. Why did we buy a $21M office building when we already had one that functioned well? When Muir was riddled with mold? When so many of our schools still have temporary classrooms? I will ensure that the board focuses on education and kids, not development.
Our cities will continue to evolve, becoming more multi-cultural, more gender dynamic, and more racially diverse. This necessitates re-evaluating our curriculum and our facilities’ needs. To do this effectively, we will need buy-in and connection—from the teachers, from the students and their families, and from the community. That is why, as a parent of two SMMUSD kids and as an alum of JAMS and SAMOHI, I am running. Because it’s my neighbor’s kids and my own kids out there, and their future means everything to me.
It’s time for a fresh approach. It’s time for change. I humbly request your vote.