Meet the Board of Education candidates


The Malibu Times sent a questionnaire to eight candidates running for four seats on the Board of Education for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. They were given the same time frame to respond and were limited to 150 words per answer. The first profile was printed on Sept. 2, and a new one will appear in the newspaper each week through Oct. 21. To access previous profiles online, go to Click “Archives” on the top right. Choose “Advanced Search Options.” Select Sept. 1 as the start date and type “Meet the Board of Education candidates” in the search box.

Name: Name: Jake Wachtel

Birth date: December 5, 1971

What is your education and employment history?

(The answer to this question that appeared in the print edition of The Malibu Times and on the previous online version contained a portion of the answer from another candidate’s profile due to an error by The Times.)

I am public school-educated from kindergarten through high. While attending Claremont McKenna College, I coached tennis at the high school and in the City Human Services Department. Graduated with honors in Government, I taught for two years in Japan, became bilingual and served as Nagasaki City Representative for foreign teachers. After a CORO Fellowship in Public Affairs, a leadership-training program in government, non-profits, business, labor and media, I was creative director and special issues editor for the Los Angeles Japanese Daily News and worked in broadcast journalism as producer-reporter for CBS’ Japanese domestic partner, Tokyo Broadcasting, covering domestic and international news. When my wife and I learned we were having a baby, we decided that a less dangerous profession closer to home was called for. I am now producing and directing for television and film.

How did you become involved in school issues? What has your involvement included?

Having taught and coached, I know the importance of good teachers. I realized that I had to run for School Board when pink slips descended on splendid teachers, including my daughter’s first grade teacher. We need wiser budget allocation. I have practical experience in the field. As a CORO Fellow, I worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the California Community Foundation on textbook adoptions, distribution of funds and future technology. As Nagasaki City Representative for foreign teachers, I studied Japanese public education, gaining a comparative global perspective. I served on the Claremont Education Network, allocating private funds to public schools. I volunteer in our classrooms, donated to Save Our Schools and ran an SOS lemonade stand with my daughter and friends. To advance local education on the college level, I sit on Santa Monica College’s Journalism Advisory Board. I foresee our schools as the best in California, the nation and the world.

There is a feeling by many in Malibu that this city is an afterthought for school district officials. Why does this sentiment exist? What can be done to change this feeling?

Physical distance between the cities of our district is a reality. It is also true that Malibu is affluent and farther away from the big city than Santa Monica. None of these facts constitutes a reason for Malibu to be neglected. Both cities are crucial. Excellent public education is our shared aim. The Board of Education must create easy access to decision-making in our schools through better community outreach in both cities. The Save Our Schools campaign succeeded because people from across the district and beyond value quality public education. Our successful emergency campaign should open our eyes to the value of regular communication among students, educators, parents, residents and businesses that moved to support public education. As a school board member, I will work to ensure that Malibu is central to district decisions, that residents of Malibu are informed and encouraged to participate in all school programs and decisions.

How have you tried to interface with Malibu residents, including education and city leaders? What have you accomplished?

Having almost moved to Malibu prior to finding a home in Santa Monica, I am comfortable in and a frequent visitor to Malibu. I consider Malibu residents my neighbors. I hold open meetings at local cafes to offer opportunities for the Malibu community to learn about my qualifications for school board and what I intend to accomplish to better our schools. Malibu residents, educators and city leaders have expressed great concern about education and districtwide budget cuts. The improvements I suggest resonate with the Malibu community because better schools are what matter to all who care about education and the future. Improving budget allocation, keeping quality educators in our district and providing education in the classroom that is unequalled elsewhere-those three are my primary interests in the SMMUSD.

Other than Board meetings, how many times have you been in Malibu in the past year? With whom have you met? What have you learned?

I visit Malibu dozens of times a year to be with family and friends. Open meetings at local cafes have allowed me to exchange ideas with Malibu residents, local business owners, city leaders and students. Effective representation in school district decisions is a common aim. Some have thought to seek that by creating a separate school district. I believe the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board needs to be utterly inclusive of Malibu. The district must be united. With better community outreach and proper budgetary allocation, we can jointly attract and retain quality educators and maximize the educational opportunities of our children. I will continue to engage the Malibu community in school board decision-making to ensure that the city receives honest representation and shares its concerns and ideas in joint efforts to make ours the best school district possible.

What is your opinion on the demand by some Malibu parents for the formation of a Malibu school district?

I understand the desire of Malibu parents to have their voices heard. I empathize with those who have not been heard. My position is that they should and will be heard in the future, that the SMMUSD is stronger than either city’s individual district would be if they separated. But both cities must be full participants in decision making in the unified district. Shortsightedness accounts for the failure to recognize this fact. There must be wider community outreach to Malibu. With improved leadership in place and wiser districtwide decisions, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will be more beneficial to Malibu than a separate entity. I am a strong leader and listener. I am committed to communicating and helping others communicate. I want our joint venture in education to be of real and permanent benefit to Malibu as well as Santa Monica. With attentive leadership, both will prosper.

What is your opinion on the effort to make Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School a charter school?

The effort is well intended, but at this point premature. The SMMUSD would lose money necessary to provide excellent districtwide education. Only one percent of oversight money would be given, with the district oversight administrative costs associated with a charter far exceeding this amount. I have discussed this issue with leaders of successful charter schools and attended the recent SMMUSD board meeting focused on charter schools for our district. If proper preparation by the SMMUSD to convert Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School into a charter school were put in place, without excessive oversight expenditures, it could be a success for students, educators and the community.

Is the school district doing all it can to solve budget issues? Are there concepts that have not been tried?

We can do more to solve budget problems and improve our schools. It is myopic to adhere to the status quo. Districtwide budget cuts threaten to deprive our fine schools of outstanding educators. Thankfully, our community stepped forward this time with the tremendously successful SOS campaign, combined with one-time federal funding, to help reinstate many of our educators, reduce our class sizes and restore programs. A school board member must look for innovative ways to raise funding and allocate carefully prioritized budgets. Community efforts and additional funding can supplement and improve the district’s offerings, but should not be used for basic needs. I will continue to look at successes in other districts and work with local, state and federal leaders to improve our budget choices. Quality educators deserve secure jobs to focus on the best possible education for our children.

What is your experience dealing with budgets? How about legislation?

I have spent a career working with budgets, large and small, trouble-shooting and executing ideas. As a member of the educational boards I have sat on, I have investigated fiscal mismanagement in public schools and made recommendations that were implemented. The Claremont McKenna College’s government program and the CORO Fellowship in Public Affairs enabled me to examine legislative bills and work with legislators on local, state, and federal levels. Understanding all levels of government is critical for making long-term effective decisions, including those involving education. My proven track record with budgets and understanding of legislation will ensure that we maximize our district’s budget and find ways to expand our resources moving forward.

How many people are in your immediate family, regardless of whether they live at home? Feel free to mention their names and ages.

Ongoing education is a constant for my family, which includes six siblings, all of whom were public school-educated from kindergarten through high school. One, Sally, is an elementary school teacher. Another, Seth, is a professor of architecture. Our father, Albert, is a college professor father. Our mother, Sydelle, has an appetite for books that’s unparalleled. My wonderful wife, Yuka, and I have two loving daughters, Mia and Emilia. Mia enters second grade in the fall. Emilia is two years away from kindergarten. When Mia’s first grade teacher was pink slipped at the end of the school year along with other exceptional educators, I was appalled and decided to prevent this from happening again while working to make our schools even better than they are.

What are your interests and hobbies not involving school issues?

The journalist in me keeps up with world events. I spend my free time with family. We bike, hike and explore the neighborhoods. I enjoy reading my childhood favorites like “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Curious George” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” to my girls. Seeing their eyes fill with wonder is beautiful. We draw together, make up stories and play word games. When Mia is not teaching us ballet on the living room floor, we are playing baseball and tennis in the park. Movies at the theater or DVDs from the library feed our love of film. My girls and I are fascinated by the ocean. We ride the blue bus to the beach and discover new places to enjoy. You can find me riding a bike along the beach with my daughters in tow.

For more information and to share your thoughts, please contact me at