Revolving Door of Principals Spin Their Way Through 2018-19 School Year

Pictured, clockwise from top right: Lila Daruty (Webster), Patrick Miller (MHS), Melisa Andino (MMS) and Chris Hertz (Malibu Elementary)

Four new name placards will adorn the administration offices at Malibu’s four public schools next year, after a year of administrative growing pains comes to a close and principals for Malibu High, Malibu Middle, Webster Elementary and the newly formed Malibu Elementary schools are finalized.

Students at Juan Cabrillo Elementary and Point Dume Marine Science schools specifically had numerous Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District-appointed representatives come and go in leadership roles at their campuses. By The Malibu Times’ understanding—which was confirmed in an email from SMMUSD Board of Education Member Craig Foster—at least six people took on the role of principal at the schools during the 2018-19 school year, including some on an interim basis and some sharing the position.

The school district was not able to officially comment nor provide details on Malibu appointments at the time of print on Tuesday, July 2.

Soon after the merger between Juan Cabrillo and PDMSS at the latter’s site was approved in May 2018, the district announced that Dr. Pam Herkner would take over as principal of both sites. Herkner had served as Juan Cabrillo principal for six years up to that point.

To assist with the transition, former district principals Phil Cott and Alan Friedenberg were brought on to serve as co-interim principals through the end of the 2018 calendar year, which amounted to approximately 53 days. Each spent around three days per week on their assigned campus—Cott at PDMSS and Friedenberg at Juan Cabrillo.

Cott previously told the Times, “That means there will always be an admin there, regardless of where Pam may be. Wherever she isn’t, one of us is.” 

And then, in November, the Woolsey Fire blazed through Malibu. Local students were out of school for more than a month afterward as cleanup efforts were made.

Former interim MHS principal Dave Jackson came in to assist with the two elementary schools and served until the Friday before spring break, April 5, “as he reached the limited amount of time a retired principal can serve,” per an April 20 email from SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati. The timing of his arrival is vague in the email; however, Jackson did cover for Herkner while she was on medical leave around the same time. The Malibu Times was confirmed she was out of the office on Nov. 12, but it is unclear when she initially left.

A “Malibu Schools Update, Surveys and Resources” letter dated Nov. 11, 2018, listed Jackson’s role as acting principal of Juan Cabrillo and PDMSS. Herkner was listed as principal of only Juan Cabrillo in that same letter.

Julie Siegel, previously a specialized academic instructor, was to take over as assistant principal for both elementary schools, with a focus on Juan Cabrillo, after the winter break. In the Nov. 11 letter, she was already listed as assistant principal of the school.

On March 15, Drati announced in an email to Malibu families that Herkner would be retiring at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

In the same April 20 email that announced Dave Jackson’s departure, Drati announced former Juan Cabrillo principal and interim MHS principal Pat Cairns would take over as interim principal to work “with both Point Dume and Cabrillo communities in advancing the merger and establishment of the new school.” 

In further clarification provided by the school district on May 30, spokesperson Gail Pinsker said, “Pat Cairns is there as an interim principal to support Point Dume on days that Dr. Herkner is at JCES.”

Cairns assisted the elementary school through the end of the school year in June.

Going into 2019-2020

Despite several mid-year changes during the school year, the district has finalized staffing appointments for the upcoming 2019-20 school year. Students will see a mix of new and familiar faces.

The merged Juan Cabrillo-PDMSS school, to be called Malibu Elementary School, will be headed by Chris Hertz. Hertz hails from the Beverly Hills Unified School District, and most recently served as its director of school safety.

Moving into the vacated Juan Cabrillo space is Malibu Middle School. Melisa Andino, who served as the assistant principal to the middle school under the high school’s administration, will take charge as the school’s first-ever principal. 

At the high school, the current principal, Dr. Cheli Nye, submitted her resignation and served as principal through the end of the school year—continuing a trend of MHS resignations. No Malibu High principal has overseen a class from ninth grade to graduation since 2012.

In her place, Patrick Miller will return to Malibu High School as principal after his tenure as Webster Elementary School principal. He also previously served as an MHS teacher, and later, its assistant principal. 

Webster will be headed by newcomer Lila Daruty, who previously served as assistant principal of Grant Elementary School in Santa Monica and the district’s coordinator of beginning teacher induction—in “half-time” capacity. 

Hertz, Andino, Miller and Daruty officially took over their principal capacities earlier this week, on July 1.