Several months after former SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati announced his departure from the district, the Board of Education is on the verge of selecting  a search firm to assist in the process of filling the position. 

A board subcommittee tasked with screening applicants has recommended that the board hire Leadership Associates, an executive search firm that has worked with districts across the state, for the job. The district used the same firm to find Drati in 2016. 

The subcommittee, which is made up of board members Maria Leon-Vasquez, Laurie Lieberman and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, reviewed applications from three firms before deciding to recommend Leadership Associates. The Board will vote to approve the selection at their upcoming Feb 16 meeting.

Leadership Associates has drafted a nine phase search process proposal for the District. It includes an initial meeting with the board to gain an idea of what the District is looking for in a new superintendent followed by gathering community and staff input, developing a position description, advertising, actively recruiting potential candidates and multiple rounds of interviews before a decision is made. 

“Through our years of experience, we have come to understand and respect the uniqueness of each board and district. While there are similarities among districts, we believe that each district has a unique culture…” the proposal stated. “There are many good superintendent candidates but only some will be the right match for your school district. It is our job and our commitment to you to find those candidates that best match your ideals and beliefs as a district.”

If the District follows the firm’s proposed timeline, a new superintendent would be hired by May and scheduled to begin in July 2023. However, this schedule is flexible based on Board direction. 

The total cost to the District for Leadership Associated to conduct the search is $27,500. If approved, SMMUSD’s search will be led by a team of three consultants.

“We are highly proficient in this field and are also former superintendents with many years of experience.” they wrote in the proposal. “…we will use our extensive leadership network at the state and national level to help find the best candidates for this exciting, challenging, and rewarding position.”

Mark Kelly, former assistant superintendent of human resources, has been serving as the District’s interim superintendent since the start of 2023.

Other agenda items

In addition to the search firm approval vote, which is time stamped for 6:30 p.m., the Board will also discuss the District’s 2022 performance statistics at the Feb 16 meeting. 

District staff will present data from the California School Dashboard, one of the systems the state uses to monitor performance and progress across districts. Due to the pandemic, this is the first year that data is available through the Dashboard since the 2018-19 school year. 

The presentation will include data from the district regarding English language arts and mathematics academic indicators, chronic absenteeism data, English learner progress, graduation rate and suspension rate.

This week’s public meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. and will be the last meeting to take place at the 1651 16th Street location, as the District is in the process of moving its headquarters to a building next to Samohi. Public comment at the meeting will only be allowed in-person and not virtually as has been facilitated in the past. For the full agenda visit:

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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...