With back-to-school day fast approaching for Malibu kids, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District recently announced Juan Cabrillo Elementary School principal Dr. Pam Herkner would be taking over as principal of the combined Point Dume Marine Science School and Juan Cabrillo this coming school year. Herkner will oversee both school sites.
The announcement—in the form of a newsletter sent to parents last month—comes after a May 3 school board meeting where it was unanimously decided a merger would take place between the two elementary schools in the 2019-20 school year. During that school year, Juan Cabrillo students will move to the Pt. Dume campus, where a new school and parent teacher association will be formed.
“This would’ve been year seven [at Juan Cabrillo],” Herkner said in a phone call with The Malibu Times. “But I like change—I thrive on that.”
Herkner has 37 years of experience in education. Prior to her stint in Malibu, she helped open a new school in the Conejo Valley Unified School District. About her experience, Herkner wrote: “The most important thing I learned [is] that to accomplish great tasks—such as a model K-8 California Distinguish[ed] School—[requires] everyone to roll up their sleeves and work together under the same vision and core values.”
Since the schools will remain separated in the upcoming 2018-19 school year, the school district has brought on two familiar faces as interim co-principals—Phil Cott and Alan Friedenberg.
Cott—who is well-known in the community after having served as Webster Elementary School principal for 23 years—will serve as the interim principal on the Pt. Dume campus and will be on site Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Friedenberg—17-year principal at Grant Elementary School in Santa Monica—will serve as the interim principal at Juan Cabrillo and will be on site Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“That means there will always be an admin there, regardless of where Pam may be,” Cott said. “Wherever she isn’t, one of us is.”
He later added: “There may be one day a week where both Pam and I are there. We’re going to have to figure out who does what—that’s the way a school works.”
According to district spokesperson Gail Pinsker, the former Pt. Dume principal, Mark Demick, “provided his resignation in the springtime before the end of the school year, before the idea of the merger came [to be].” He could not be reached by the time of publication for comment.
The transition is anticipated to run smoothly; after all, the two co-principals have known each other since they themselves were middle schoolers.
“Phil and I go back to eighth grade,” Friedenberg said in a phone call. “Our lives are so intertwined … [We were both] long-term principals at our schools.”
“The whole point is over the course of this year to slowly merge the schools into a position to be one school next year,” he later added.
The two will stay on through the end of the calendar year—approximately 53 total days, per Friedenberg. When students come back from winter break, now specialized academic instruction teacher Julie Siegel will be taking over as assistant principal, focusing on Juan Cabrillo as Herkner focuses her time on the Pt. Dume campus.
“I think the merger of the two schools will create a more diverse reality of what a community looks like,” Herkner said.
Nearly all of the leadership expressed that the two schools—which individually had approximately 195 students in the 2016-17 school year—merging would foster more opportunities for collaboration and learning. And yes, that means Pt. Dume’s marine science curriculum will be staying.
Though she recognizes that “change is hard,” Herkner said she is excited for kids to experience the upcoming changes, which will inevitably include choosing school colors, mascot and more.