School District Makes Landmark Decisions for Malibu


Throughout a four-hour meeting on May 3, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District School Board made a number of key decisions—not limited to merging two elementary schools, giving the middle school its own space and hiring a Malibu-centric director—that will have lasting impact on Malibu students, families and residents. 

Moving Forward with Juan Cabrillo, Point Dume Merger

After multiple meetings with teachers, parents and community members, SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati recommended a merger between Juan Cabrillo Elementary School and Point Dume Marine Science School in the 2019-20 school year. 

The original idea was to make the change—moving Juan Cabrillo students to Pt. Dume—as early as the upcoming school year in August 2018.

Drati said the change was “because I have to feel confident and comfortable that I’m serving the students well enough and also serving the staff … It’s a massive change.” 

“I think they can definitely enhance their abilities to collaborate and create if we increase the size of the school,” Drati said earlier in the meeting, adding: “Size of school is an impediment to certain things. There’s a reason why Samohi looks the way it does and Malibu High looks the way it does.” 

Currently, there are talks to have longtime Juan Cabrillo Principal Dr. Pam Herkner serve as principal of the new school as early as the 2018-19 school year; it’s unclear what role current Pt. Dume Principal Mark Demick will play in this new leadership realignment. Drati said SMMUSD is currently working with both Herkner and Demick in creating some sort of “configuration of temporary leadership.” 

Pt. Dume Parent Teacher Association President Gabi Frank asked what the school board intended to do with the school’s marine science program.

“It’s our identity. It’s what sets us apart from the other schools,” she said. “And we vehemently will fight for that.” 

The school board voted unanimously, 7-0, to move forward with the realignment.

Malibu’s New Pathway Director

In an effort to bridge gaps between the school district’s communities, Malibu will finally have its own representative in Isaac Burgess IV, the new Malibu pathway director.

As someone whom Drati said is “not tainted between the two cities” and “somebody that knows the school systems,” Burgess will be “involved in short and long-term planning, operations and collaborating with all stakeholders in the community,” according to information shared by the district.

“I will be the district representation in Malibu, reporting to Dr. Drati concerning the needs of Malibu,” he said in a phone call with The Malibu Times.

He has served as Santa Monica High School’s house principal since August 2017. Prior to that, Burgess taught and served as principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Burgess was unanimously voted into the position with a “good choice, great choice” from School Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez and a “heck yes” from School Board Member Craig Foster.

The exact details—including a potential start date, what his schedule will look like and whether he will personally be in Malibu—have yet to be announced, though he hopes to begin “very soon.” 

Malibu Middle School Gains Independence

With Juan Cabrillo students moving to Pt. Dume, the stage is set for the school board’s next project: creating an independent Malibu Middle School. The middle school is currently more an appendage of the high school than its own entity, which creates problems when prioritizing its programs.

Drati specifically addressed Malibu High’s leadership priority and that the order of importance when leading a secondary school begins with the seniors, then juniors, then sophomores and so on.

“Not that the middle school is being ignored—they’re doing the best they can,” Drati added.

No candidates have been proposed to potentially serve as the middle school’s principal. As for the space, Drati suggested the kids would either move into the vacated Juan Cabrillo space or into the space on the other side of Malibu High (which would involve extending the campus). 

Malibu, Santa Monica School Bonds Considered 

Representatives from Goodwin Simon Strategic Research presented their findings of a survey conducted betweenSanta Monica and Malibu residents regarding a potential facilities improvement bond.

For the first time, the proposed bond would be city-specific: Santa Monica would receive $485 million if passed while Malibu would receive $250 million if passed. The money would then go back into the cities’ own schools.

A total of 433 people were polled in Santa Monica and a total of 90 people were polled in Malibu.

A 55 percent majority is needed to pass a school bond in California. The polling currently has Malibu at a 52 percent majority—give or take a few percentages; with current numbers, the chance of a $250 million bond passing in Malibu is 50 percent. The representatives were quick to reiterate there was a “very large error margin with the sample size.” 

They did mention that support for the Malibu bond rose to 62 percent when the bond amount was lowered to $150 million. 

The top priorities for both cities are “repairing aging schools and improving educational quality.” 

The school board will make its decision on whether or not to put the bond on this year’s November ballots at its July 19 meeting.


Community response was positive, with most congratulating Drati on understanding Malibu’s needs. 

“We haven’t really felt listened-to since Neil Schmidt,” Former Advocates for Malibu Public Schools president Karen Farrer said. “So if you’re really old, you know who I’m talking about. That was a long time ago.” (The late Schmidt was SMMUSD superintendent from 1992-2001.)

In a statement read by parent and schools activist Seth Jacobson, Malibu City Council Member Laura Rosenthal said, “There are certainly reservations about the degree in process for these changes but one thing does seem clear: Malibu is ready for bold, brave action to embrace these proposals now.”