Editor:

My name is Wendy Dembo. I am a Santa Monica resident and my daughter attends SAMO. Last year, she applied to and was accepted to Windward, Archer, and Crossroads. But I believe in public education. We moved to Santa Monica for the schools. Ultimately, my daughter decided to go to SAMO and I decided to do what I can to help SMMUSD. For that reason, I have been volunteering with Angela, Esther, Miles, and Stacy, who are running for the SMMUSD Board of Education. They are a collection of parents with kids in Santa Monica schools and an educator with extensive and invaluable knowledge of education and conflict resolution. They firmly believe our schools are the most important public institution in our community. The four are running because they love our district, believe in it, and see how good it is and how it can be even better.  I have been working with them to outline a list of specific areas that they feel can and must improve.

Since they began this race as a group of four people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and beliefs, they have encountered a near-constant onslaught of identity politics attacks and erroneous whisper campaigns. Because they are a broad coalition, they naturally have a wide range of opinions on many issues, but they share a common foundation and policy goal: to improve educational outcomes and keep all of our kids safe and thriving. Each has stated in every public forum and interview,  they believe in the dignity of every person and think each person deserves respect. They all believe in LGBTQ+ rights and are staunchly anti-racist.  As elected officials,  they will commit to using their positions of public service to protect marginalized students and families, bring our educational communities together, and bring practices and policies that allow all to thrive and excel. It suggests desperation from a board that has had little constructive success to run on and few, if any, new ideas, that they refuse to engage with them on the issues. This board has never been challenged like this, and the use of identity attacks, not ideas, affirms why SMMUSD needs new leadership. 

It is so frustrating. It is a clear distraction from what this race is and really should be about; our schools and our kids. The campaign has placed its policies and ideas against the reputation of the existing board, to draw a comparison and to show how would govern differently. The opponents’ campaign of identity politics, name-calling, and bullying instead of substantive dialogue is indicative of the greater problem.  They see it permeating our school administration and at the board level and it is a major reason the four parents are running. They want parents and teachers to be included and listened to, not excluded. They have seen that nothing in our district changes unless parents step up and make it change.

They saw it ten years ago when Malibu High was rife with PCBs and the board did nothing until they were sued by parents into compliance. They saw it this past year when John Muir Elementary was shuttered due to toxic mold. Families were shut out of the conversation until they rallied and got the media involved suddenly – a flurry of district-wide emails went out and promises were made for the first time. Then, just last week two non-verbal autistic students who were abused for four months were awarded $45 million. The successful lawsuit alleges that administrators were aware of the abuse but took no steps to stop it. It took the twins’ parents to intervene to change their kids’ situation. 

The pattern is clear – it takes parents to stand up and make necessary changes in our district when needed. Our district has lost a tremendous number of our students since 2018 and continues to lose families. Our cohesive school community is splintering and as are parents who care deeply for these schools they are standing up to try to heal what they see as a wounded district. It is the core principle of a healthy democracy: the people stand up and hold our leaders accountable. In this case,  they are the parents who are standing up and asking our community to elect them to make changes that they see as necessary. Our coalition is so broad because, like the people who live in the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica,  have different ideas and views of the world. The beauty is that they are parents who can listen to one another, respect each other’s opinions and forge something new and better for our kids. 

Our new board will focus on kids and education.  They are calling for transparency, community engagement, and accountability.  Here is a list of their top 10 action items they will accomplish once elected:

Bring our reading, writing, and math student achievement in line with our comparable coastal Districts all of which receive less funding.

Lower class sizes by hiring more teachers and raising our starting teacher salary to attract the best and brightest.

Create a culture of accountability by 1) hiring independent outside auditors for construction, operating financials, and legal expenditures 2) acting to make budget line items more detailed and transparent, and 3) reconsidering our conflict engagement practices to mitigate lawsuits.

Create a master plan for all SMMUSD campuses that includes open spaces, functional bathrooms, more green space, and trees, before any more construction begins.

Open school board meetings to show speakers, restore public speaking time and compile written comments for public viewing.

Form a Technology District Advisory Committee and develop a student data protection policy that includes third-party annual data purges to protect our kids’ digital identities.

Work toward zeroing our budget, to analyze the cost/benefit of programs, including academic programs, professional development contracts, and administrative structures to reaffirm the efficiency and effectiveness of our current spending.

Fix the master schedule to meet student needs for music, arts, language, sports, and other electives without having to take AM or summer school and ensure that our elementary-age kids have enough recess time to succeed in the classroom.

Hire district and site administrators with a solid track record who will stay for 10 or more years to establish continuity and commitment to our programs and their outcomes.

Add term limits to the ballot in the next election and ensure a culture of leaders taking responsibility from the very beginning.  will not allow retribution or passing the buck any longer. 

I ask that you look at their ideas. And look at who they are as people, individually and as a foursome. Look past the mud-slinging and false accusations. Look at what they want to achieve for our kids, yours, and future generations of students.  They are parents who are showing up to make our schools the best they can be. 

Wendy Dembo, Santa Monica

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