At the first of an eight-week series of breakfasts with the press, Dianne Talarico, the new Superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), discussed a wide range of subjects.
Talarico opened the August 30 breakfast by stating, “Sometimes public schools get a bad rap and we’re under the microscope with all these new accountability systems.”
Talarico plans to visit school sites to look at customer service, student engagement, how rigorous lessons are, how current the textbooks are and what type of homework the students are getting. Talarico also wants to get more community involvement, especially from areas where participation is traditionally low.
Talarico stressed that in addition to hard data such as test scores, she is interested in all facets of how students learn. She will “establish performance goals with the Board of Education.”
She spoke of her plan to work with local institutions of higher learning to increase access for all students. Different programs she enacted in the Canton School District in Ohio included kids being able to get college credit while still attending high school. These students, said Talarico, have a much greater likelihood of “entering a college campus.” One such program, where high school kids could earn associate degrees, was financed by a grant from the Gates Foundation.
Talarico also stressed, “All kids need to be stretched to their full potential. Public schools everywhere sometimes fall short on challenging kids at a very high level. Expectations have to continue to get higher and higher. If not, we’re doing a disservice as we prepare them to compete in a global economy. If we don’t prepare our kids, our status as a superpower is in jeopardy. Math and science are a grave concern, particularly if we’re talking about preparing kids for a global economy.”
When asked about the racial tensions that have recently plagued Santa Monica High School, Talarico responded that she was going to meet with a variety of students from SAMOHI about channeling leadership skills. She will also be personally supervising SAMOHI and John Adams Middle School.
To Talarico, the recent turnover in the District’s senior leadership and at the principal level means the District will be willing to try new things. “I’m a risk taker. I have to have courage to do this work.”
The new superintendent added, “I am here to serve the children. The central office exists because of schoolhouses and we need to serve them. I’m very firm in my convictions. What I think today won’t be different from what I say two years from now.”