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School Board Hires Interim Superintendent

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By Jorge Casuso

December 16, 2022 -- The School Board on Thursday tapped Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly -- who has led human resources development and student services since 2015 -- to run the District on an interim basis.

Kelly will assume the post on January 1 and remain until the Board hires a permanent replacement for Ben Drati, who announced last month he was leaving to head the Bellflower Unified School District ("Drati Makes Surprise Departure from School District," November 21, 2022).

“We are fortunate to have our longtime Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kelly available to support us as we begin our search for a permanent superintendent,” said Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez.

“He is very involved and has a keen awareness and familiarity with our goals, budget, and initiatives, and will jump in as an effective leader immediately.”

Kelly, a 23-year veteran of the District, served as co-principal of Santa Monica High School and principal of Malibu High School before being named assistant superintendent of human resources.

In that post, Kelly represented the board on employer-employee relations, including collective bargaining with certificated and classified bargaining units.

He also oversaw employee recruitment, selection training and health benefits, as well as "enrollment projections and staffing allocations to school sites and district programs," officials said.

In addition, Kelly "collaborated with the school board and superintendent to develop, guide and implement the district’s personnel and student services policies."

“I feel honored to support the District during this time of transition,” Kelly said. “We will continue our tradition of excellence in SMMUSD and will move forward initiatives and plans that Dr. Drati initiated over the past several years.”

In a parting letter to the community, Drati listed some of the District's key accomplishments during his six-year-tenure ("OPINION -- Superintendent’s Message: Farewell SMMUSD," December 16, 2022) .

"I am proud to have played a role in the development and execution of the difficult, but courageous and necessary conversations, and the development of strategies and programs," Drati wrote.

"I am mostly proud of the shift and increased awareness of what needs to be done to reach the District's mission."

Drati said he is optimistic about the future "due to knowing that we are collectively in the middle of something great with respect to us transforming the District."

The School Board on Thursday created a board sub-committee composed of Vazquez and fellow board members Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Laurie Lieberman to develop the hiring process.

"The sub-committee will recommend contracting with an education executive search firm in January to lead the recruitment process for a new superintendent," District officials said.

"Opportunities for community input will be provided in this transparent process," officials said.

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