Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District hires new superintendent

Antonio M. Shelton, Ed.D. Contributed photo

Dr. Antonio Shelton comes from district’s own ranks 

The Santa Monica Malibu School District has named its new superintendent. After a nearly six-month-long national search to fill the district’s top position, the candidate comes from within the district’s own ranks. 

Antonio M. Shelton, Ed.D., was lead principal at Santa Monica High School for six years. During this past year, Dr. Shelton served as SMMUSD’s executive director of secondary schools. He brings 23 years of educational experience to lead Santa Monica-Malibu schools. Shelton has held administrative roles for 18 years. Shelton has also taught instructional improvement for the USC doctorate program in educational leadership.

Shelton’s hiring was announced June 1 after the Board of Education voted to approve his appointment. He replaces Dr. Ben Drati, who served the district for six years. Drati announced his resignation in December 2022. Drati left his post to helm the Bellflower Unified School District. Former Malibu High Principal Dr. Mark Kelly, who had been serving as Assistant Superintendent for human resources for SMMUSD, had been filling in as Interim Superintendent since Drati’s departure.

SMMUSD officials are already singing Shelton’s praises. In a memo released last week after the hiring was announced, it stated: “Dr. Shelton is known as a highly intelligent and innovative leader who is constantly seeking to improve educational outcomes for students. He has a deep understanding of the challenges facing TK-12 public education and is committed to finding creative solutions that consider the diverse perspectives of educational partners while maintaining the focus on meeting the needs of all students. His leadership style incorporates care and compassion for others, while supporting a creative and collaborative learning environment where students and staff members may reach their full potential.” 

District officials have also touted Dr. Shelton’s “consistent support, mentoring, and coaching of principals as they lead their sites toward the District’s vision and goals while supporting the defined autonomy afforded to the individual schools in shaping and meeting the overall District vision for student success,” in his latest role as executive director of SMMUSD’s secondary schools. “Dr. Shelton is well-versed in overseeing comprehensive budgets and is committed to sound fiscal stewardship, transparency, and working with educational partners to build upon the exemplary foundation currently in place.”

Prior to his hiring at SMMUSD, Shelton earned a solid reputation as principal of the top 100 US News ranked Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, for five years from 2011-2016; assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio from 2009 to 2011 and assistant principal at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati from 2004 to 2009. Dr. Shelton began his instructional career in 1998, teaching honors United States and world history along with government and African American history. He has previous experience as an adjunct teacher and facilitator for graduate-level courses in educational leadership, curriculum development, social justice, school finance, school law, and human resources administration in education for the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, School Administration Academy for Educators.

School Board President Maria Leon Vasquez confirmed a consulting agency was hired to find the right candidate for the district’s top, important job. Thirty-five applications were reviewed with in-person interviews for the top candidates. “Dr. Antonio Shelton rose to the top and was selected by the Board,” said Leon-Vazquez. “Our communities are special and demand the best, and so does the Board. We welcome Dr. Shelton into his new role as the superintendent for SMMUSD.

We are looking forward to him hitting the ground running and leading SMMUSD through the 21st century while planning for the 22nd century.” Shelton commented, “I am truly excited and humbled to serve as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. I want to thank the school board for trusting me to lead this wonderful district. It is an honor to have been chosen to lead a district that is on the move in a positive direction. I envision a journey ahead with collaboration and community built on trust between myself and the educational partners of SMMUSD.

I look forward to leading the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District community, its faculty, staff, and students to greater heights.”  

To hear more of Dr. Shelton’s comments, go to

Shelton officially begins his duties July 1.