Dr. Ben Drati


SMMUSD Board will address Dr. Ben Drati's unexpected departure by appointing an interim and beginning the search process for a full time replacement.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) announced plans last week to appoint an interim superintendent on Dec. 15, following the recent and unexpected announcement of Ben Drati’s departure from the position after six years with the district.

In a message sent out to the SMMUSD community on Monday Nov. 29, on behalf of the Board, they said they were unaware of Drati’s decision to take a position as superintendent of Bellflower USD prior to his Nov. 18 announcement.

“Due to the sensitive nature of the interview process, the Board of Education did not have prior knowledge of Dr. Drati’s decision to pursue the opportunity he has chosen,” it states. “While we are sad to see Dr. Drati move to Bellflower USD, it is not uncommon for superintendents to serve three to five years in a school district. Dr. Drati served SMMUSD for six years, and for that we are grateful.”

The Board said they will create a sub-committee at their Dec. 15 meeting to figure out the process for hiring a new superintendent and present recommendations for how to move forward at a future meeting. They said there will be an opportunity for public input, but there is no determined timeline for when that will occur or how long the process will take.

In his initial announcement Drati said his start date at Bellflower USD had not yet been determined but will likely be sometime in January. His departure comes shortly after the election of two new School Board members, Alicia Mignano and Stacy Rouse, who will also be sworn into office at the Dec. 15 meeting.

The selection process of a new superintendent will be one of their first tasks.

Despite Drati’s departure, Board President Maria Leon-Vazques and Vice president Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein wrote in the Nov. 29 message that they feel that the legacy Drati left behind will live on and that the work he was involved in will continue in his absence.

“We have heard some concern that a new superintendent will disrupt or abandon some of the initiatives and successes in our district,” they wrote. “It is important for the SMMUSD community to understand that the Board of Education will support and protect the incredible work that is happening daily at every one of our school sites.

In a previous interview with the Daily Press, Tahvildaran Jesswein said that hiring Drati was one of the best decisions he had made as a board member. During his tenure, Drati has seen SMMUSD make progress in modernizing its curriculum, the addition of a project based learning pathway at Samohi, numerous facility project including the construction of the award-winning Discovery Building and guided the district through several tumultuous years of online learning due to the pandemic with limited impact on student performance outcomes.

Once established, the board sub-committee tasked with finding his replacement plans to work during winter break and provide a progress update at a January board meeting.


Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...