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Santa Monica Malibu School Board Narrowing Search for New Superintendent

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writers

October 4, 2016 -- Three months after the departure of its former superintendent, the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board is starting to review applications for a permanent replacement, according to a district official.

The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday in executive session to review applications from candidates to replace Sandra Lyon, who left her job as superintendent on July 1 to take the top post for the Palm Springs Unified School District.

Sylvia Rousseau and Christopher King are acting as interim co-superintendents while the board decides on a permanent choice. Candidates had until September 23 to submit applications.

During Monday’s session, which is closed to the public, the board “will work with consultants hired from Leadership Associates to review applications for the position of superintendent and select the finalists to be interviewed,” said Sarah Wahrenbrock, a district spokesperson.

The board’s goal is to hire a new superintendent who can begin in January.

In the meantime, a second closed session is also anticipated as the board selects finalists. A date has not yet been set, she said.

Lyon announced her exit in May, after five years in the post. Her replacement will face some controversial issues, particularly SMMUSD’s decades-long problem with a student “achievement gap,” negotiations with Malibu parents over splitting into an independent district, a possible budget deficit and outside fundraising struggles.

The district’s enrollment is about 12,500 students.

A primary goal for the board is closing the gap in test scores. About half of the students are from financially well off families (mostly white households). Latinos comprise about 30 percent of the total enrollment but score poorly by comparison ("Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Get Failing Grades in Closing Achievement Gap," April 20, 2016).

The new superintendent will also oversee contentious talks aimed at the separation of Malibu from the district. Financial implications for the district are still being determined ("Malibu Group Negotiating Split from Santa Monica Public Schools Short on Cash," August 9, 2016).

Some Malibu parents have long felt under-represented. They also accuse district officials of being too slow to act after the 2013 discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School.

Malibu parents also have been blamed by district officials for lagging fundraising by the Santa Monica Education Foundation ("Santa Monica School Board Member Says Malibu Parents Boycotting Education Foundation," May 16, 2016).

The next regular board meeting is on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Malibu City Council Chambers, at 23825 Stuart Ranch Road.

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