Not Clearly Pro or Con: "Yes, if it is financially, legally and educationally viable.
A number of Malibu residents have expressed their desire to have their own Malibu school district. Supporters point to frustration with lack of representation on the School Board, a geographic divide, the fact that Malibu is its own City and should have its own school district, and policy differences.
I support exploration of separation. There are important legal, financial, educational and organizational questions which must be answered, however, and 'due diligence' will be complex. Separation must be a sound proposition for both districts -- leaving the remaining SMUSD whole and creating a new MUSD which will be able to stand on its own financially and provide high quality programs to Malibu students. While separation is explored, it is vital that the Santa Monica and Malibu parts of the district work together cooperatively and collaboratively in ensuring the best education for all of our children. The SMMUSD offers a very strong educational program for all students, whether they attend schools in Santa Monica or Malibu. We must work together to maintain and improve all schools as we explore separation."
Pro: "The District is committed to ensuring that Malibu High School -- and all District schools -- are healthy and safe for all students and staff. Our approach has been to rely on environmental experts for guidance. Having been involved in this issue from the outset, I believe the District has been responsible and careful in addressing the environmental issues raised at Malibu High School.
When concerns were first raised about possible PCB exposure at Malibu High School, the District realized the technical scientific nature and complexity of the questions. We sought advice from the Department of Public Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC). With input from the Malibu community, the District hired an environmental engineering firm to develop a testing and cleaning program in consultation with the expert agencies to ensure that our students are learning in safe instructional environments.
The EPA and other experts have repeatedly advised that the health concern is whether there is a route of exposure to PCBs through inhalation or ingestion, not the mere presence of PCBs in building materials. For that reason, the District has tested air and dust, relying on the EPA's highly protective health standards to determine whether classrooms and other rooms are safe."
Not Clearly Pro or Con: "In an ideal world, student/teacher ratios would be reduced slightly below current ratios. The current SMMUSD contract with SMMCTA provides that 'Whenever administratively practical and whenever the District's financial resources allow and facilities permit, the District shall make every effort to maintain elementary classes at thirty (30) or less... maintain middle school classes at thirty-four (34) or less, and high school classes at thirty-five (35) or less...,' implicitly recognizing these as 'acceptable.'
Above these levels, it is difficult for teachers to give students the attention they need. The cost of reducing class sizes below these levels given current State funding would require substantial cuts in program or substantial increases in revenue.
In reality, the District is moving toward a student/teacher ratio of 24:1 in K-3, between 25:1-30:1 in Grades 4-5. Most secondary school classes have ratios of 35:1 or less. Class assignments must take into account numerous considerations, including whether student rosters include children with special needs, keeping siblings in the same school even though different grade levels might be impacted, whether a secondary school teacher has an overall acceptable class ratio even though one class might exceed 35:1, and the availability of 'singleton' classes, such as Calculus DE or Chinese 4."
Con: "The Board of Education has three primary responsibilities: 1) providing policy direction; 2) providing oversight of the professionals who manage day-to-day operations of the schools; and 3) ensuring that the School District is accountable to the community. One of the most significant responsibilities of the Board is to hire a superintendent, who is the educational and operational leader of the School District, responsible for implementing Board policy. We are fortunate to have a top-notch superintendent who is held in extremely high regard in our district and by her colleagues.
While individual Board members may have their own personal views about a particular issue or decision, the Board can only make decisions as a group in a public meeting. The Board hires professionals to make professional decisions, which include hiring and disciplinary decisions. It is not the Board's job to micro-manage day-to-day decisions of the Superintendent or administrators; the Board's job is to provide appropriate oversight and policy direction.
To be concrete, when I thought a particular decision involving student discipline was unfair, I sought changes to District policy. However, it was not within my purview to change administrators’ decisions in that matter."
Not Clearly Pro or Con: "At all times, the safety of students and staff, and the maintenance of an orderly school environment, must be priorities in determining appropriate discipline. When misconduct occurs, staff needs to be supported in implementing appropriate discipline and attempting to identify and address the causes of a student's misbehavior. Our district's discipline policies are 'progressive' in that consequences become more severe if a behavior persists; consequences differ, largely pursuant to Education Code requirements, depending on the type of misconduct.
Appropriate discipline is a hotly debated topic nationally. The pendulum has swung from 'zero tolerance' to what some believe is an approach which is too lax. In part, this re-examination represents a healthy response to excessive reliance on suspension without attempting to seek positive interventions in the lives of students being disciplined and a lack of discretion in determining appropriate discipline. It is an ongoing challenge for educational institutions to ensure that teachers and administrators have adequate tools to maintain safety and classroom order so that an optimal teaching environment is preserved while also endeavoring to use disciplinary situations to help individual students improve and change offending behaviors. We should continue to examine our discipline policies in light of these challenges."
Not Clearly Pro or Con: "As a result of fundamentally inadequate state funding for public schools, private fundraising has taken hold in many districts to help schools make up for insufficient revenues. Until recently, private fundraising in our district was almost entirely 'decentralized' or site-based fundraising. The SMMUSD has recently adopted a centralized approach to private fundraising for staff. We have created a 'Vision for Student Success' which, when fully functioning, will mean that ALL schools will have access to enhanced music, science, reading and other programs to the extent private fundraising can support such programs. In other words, no longer will schools that do not have as wealthy a parent base receive lesser programmatic enhancements than those schools whose students happen to have wealthier families. However, much remains to be done to achieve district-wide buy-in and support for the Vision for Student Success. Creating a 'culture of giving' that focuses on ALL students in the District requires ongoing work. Changing the SMMUSD's approach to parent/private fundraising to one that is district-wide rather than site-based will require continuing work and does not end with a change in Board policy.
I view the 'Vision for Student Success' as fundamental to creating educational equity within our district.
Con: "The SMMUSD complies with state requirements for student exercise. However, our district should do whatever it can to encourage, promote and create greater avenues for increased student exercise. We should find means to instill in our students the value of exercise as children and throughout their lives. We should also find ways to make exercise fun and enjoyable.
In an era in which child obesity and Type 2 diabetes have reached unacceptable levels, education about exercise and health as well as opportunities and encouragement of exercise are more important than ever. Our district should partner with the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, and non-profit and other entities that provide athletic and exercise programs to ensure that we enhance the available opportunities for young people in our cities.
I support working with the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu to improve SMMUSD and city recreational facilities and programming available for students and other residents. In partnership, we should replace and improve decrepit athletic facilities at Samohi, install a rubberized track and turf the Lincoln Middle School field, and make other facilities improvements. Joint programs that encourage walking and biking to school offer complementary means of increasing exercise among students."
Pro: "In 2012, Santa Monica and Malibu passed Measure ES which provides funds for appropriate state-of-the-art technology, including necessary training of teachers in how to use whatever technology the District purchases to improve learning. One of the reasons I worked hard to place the ES bond measure on the ballot and co-chaired the successful campaign was to enable the District to continue to upgrade the District's classroom technology. The previous bond measure enabled the District to build necessary infrastructure and has provided limited technology enhancements at certain sites, but it is now time to truly begin to provide access to appropriate modern technology at our schools. We must do so in a manner that is smart, that addresses the 'digital divide,' that doesn't waste limited dollars, that ensures student and teacher ability to use new technology to improve learning, that builds in mechanisms to secure, maintain and continue to upgrade new technology that is constantly changing. This is a tall order and it is being taken seriously. The District is in the process of developing a thoughtful 'Technology Plan' that addresses and anticipates as many issues as possible and which utilizes research-based approaches to technology decisions going forward."
Pro: "The District supports high school sports teams to the best of its ability, given the overall inadequacy of state funding for public schools. Compared to a number of nearby districts that have been forced to cut numerous high school sports teams, our district has continued to support an extraordinary number of teams. In fact, our district actually added a new sport and teams -- high school lacrosse -- in the past year. Since overall school funding is inadequate and all districts remain well below the funding levels they had achieved in the past, sports are one of the areas in which it has become necessary to rely, in large part, on private fundraising. We have been fortunate in that so many parents understand the District's predicament: the Shark Fund, the Samohi Booster Club, individual sports teams, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation and others have stepped up both in Malibu and Santa Monica to support high school sports programs."
Pro: "The quality of education at Santa Monica and Malibu schools is high as evidenced in parent satisfaction surveys, in college acceptance rates, by a number of other measures. However, those who work in and for the District know we can do better; that must be our aspiration. Our District's mission is to create 'excellence and equity' and this mission is taken seriously. The goals which have been established for our Superintendent and for the District touch on a number of ways in which our District continues to improve. Those goals include the building of professional learning communities, the continued refinement of intervention strategies for those who are behind as well as strategies for those students who need greater challenges. Our District is enhancing our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in existing classes and through the addition of new engineering classes, computer science classes and the like. Our District has a music and arts program that is highly touted throughout the State, yet we continue to enhance and improve it. To deliver the highest quality of education, we must continue to foster collaboration and be open to innovation and growth."
Not Clearly Pro or Con: "The achievement gap is a persistent national problem and our District is no exception. The District has been mindful and has been trying to address this challenge for years, with limited results. The District is committed to a systemic approach to addressing the achievement gap. Our approach is under constant evaluation; it is and will continue to be constantly improved and re-evaluated, in accordance with data and research. Our comprehensive approach must include:
• Quality pre-school opportunities
• Parent education and participation
• Reduced class sizes in K-3 so that teachers can give necessary attention to literacy and numeracy
• Setting high expectations, believing in students and helping them meet expectations
• Structured time for teachers to share strategies, which will better enable them to help struggling students
• Early intervention, including mentors and tutors for students who fall behind
• Scholarships and enhanced programs in music and arts
• Expanded classroom hours, including targeted summer school programs
• Differentiated and culturally responsive instruction
• Partnerships with Santa Monica College, youth-oriented non-profits, and volunteers to provide focused attention to at-risk students and families and augment school programs."
In my four years on the School Board, I have relied on my experience as a lawyer and education activist to help lead the SMMUSD as it confronts the financial and educational challenges that face public schools today. I am seeking re-election to bring to fruition District-wide projects that have begun, and to also usher in new ones. My priorities include:
Improving instruction while balancing the District's budget.
Nurturing community partnerships to preserve and enhance academics, music, and athletics.
Ensuring responsible expenditure of bond monies on state-of-the-art technology and school modernization.
Strengthening intervention programs.
Promoting high quality professional development for teachers.
Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of our District's preschool and after-school programs.
Addressing concerns of both Santa Monica and Malibu families and teachers.
My commitment to educational excellence and equity requires innovation, collaboration and inclusiveness. Over the next four years, I look forward to working with the entire Santa Monica-Malibu community to achieve our shared goals.
My endorsements include:
Congressmember Julia Brownley
State Assemblymember Richard Bloom
Former State Senator Sheila Kuehl
Former Chamber of Commerce President Nat Trives
Former Mayor and SMRR Co-founder Dennis Zane