With the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education election all but sewn up and just a handful of ballots outstanding, victorious incumbents Laurie Lieberman and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and new elects Stay Rouse and Alicia Mignano are turning their attention to the future of the District and goals going forward.
“I’m deeply honored to have been re-elected,” Lieberman, who received the most votes at slightly over 20,000, said in an email to the Daily Press. “As I shared during the campaign, I am committed to the success of all students and to equity and excellence throughout the district. SMMUSD is a highly successful district, but one of the most important challenges continues to be closing the achievement/opportunity gap — that will continue to be a top priority for me.”
She added that she hopes to work towards accomplishing this by providing “meaningful educational opportunities for all students.” Several initiatives she said she would like to introduce include teaching global languages beginning at the elementary school level and a stronger focus on media literacy and critical thinking skills.
Tahvildaran-Jesswein came in second, trailing Lieberman by just about 2,000.
“I am grateful to Santa Monica and Malibu voters for their confidence in me,” he said in an emailed statement. “It is my honor to serve. I look forward to continuing our good work towards continual improvement and I am particularly focused on the social and emotional well-being of our students as we emerge from the pandemic. I will continue to be collaborative and one who works with all stakeholders in our district.”
Rouse, the only candidate from Malibu, who will be the sole representative of the city come the start of her term, came in third with 18,624 votes cast in her favor. Craig Foster, the only current Malibu board member, announced earlier this year that, after eight years on the board, he would not be running this election cycle and supported Rouse’s campaign to succeed him as a representative of the coastline community.
“Malibu is not a monolith and I don’t represent it all, but I want to be a window into that and hopefully an invitation to draw them [Santa Monicans] into coming and experiencing it for themselves in new ways and drawing people from Malibu to Santa Monica,” Rouse said. “Because the more we can connect and collaborate with each other, the more we understand each other’s needs and goals and lived experiences.”
She brings a background in early childhood education and experience as a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president and a conflict specialist to the position.
“One of the things I ran on was better conflict engagement, and so I’m really hopeful that in listening to people, in building connections and learning my job that we all engage in conflict differently to help be problem solvers,” Rouse said.
She said she would like to propose that the Board hold periodic town halls and question-and-answer sessions for community members.
With 18,337 votes, Mignano secured the fourth available seat, beating out three challenger candidates who ran together as part of a change slate. All three received fewer than 12,000 votes each. Mignano takes the seat on the board as a business owner and manager and the mother of a current SMMUSD student; Mignano has been heavily involved in the Edison Elementary School PTA.
“I’m so excited and can’t wait to get started to serve on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board,” she said via email. “We had a really positive campaign and it was energizing to see the wonderful support of families, teachers, and the whole community engaged and active in caring about our students.”
Mignano said she is planning to attend a multi-day California School Boards Association training in preparation for her new role. She said one of her priorities will be student mental health and well-being and implementing more long-term support systems. The Board Member-elect also plans to focus on improving communication between different stakeholders in the District, ensuring maintenance and facilities work stays on track and furthering the District’s equity and including efforts.
“I want all students to feel that they are part of a school community that sees, respects and embraces them,” she said. “Parents and residents have already been approaching me to talk about their kids and different issues at schools. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
The new board members will be sworn into office in December. One of their first tasks will be to interview new Superintendent candidates to replace Ben Drati, who recently announced he will be leaving the position in early 2023.