February 7, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Officials Tap Interim Superintendent for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

Dr. Mark Kelly to take over for Dr. Ben Drati starting in the new year

By Sam Catanzaro

Santa Monica education officials have chosen an interim superintendent for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

At its December 15 meeting, the SMMUSD Board of Education approved the appointment of Dr. Mark Kelly as interim superintendent. Kelly has served as the assistant superintendent of human resources for SMMUSD since 2015 and has been with the district for 23 years. Kelly will take office on January 1, 2023, following the recent resignation of Dr. Ben Drati, who is joining the Bellflower Unified School District as superintendent.

“I feel honored to support the District during this time of transition,” Kelly said. “We will continue our tradition of excellence in SMMUSD and will move forward initiatives and plans that Dr. Drati initiated over the past several years.”

Officials touted Kelly’s “wealth of experience”, having previously served as co-principal of Santa Monica High School, principal of Malibu High School and executive director of student and professional services.

“We are fortunate to have our longtime Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kelly available to support us as we begin our search for a permanent superintendent,” said Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez. “He is very involved and has a keen awareness and familiarity with our goals, budget, and initiatives, and will jump in as an effective leader immediately.”

The school board has created a board sub-committee of Maria Leon Vazquez, Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Laurie Lieberman to develop the hiring process for a permanent superintendent. The sub-committee is recommending contracting with an education executive search firm in January to lead the recruitment process.

Following the selection of Kelly as interim superintendent, Drati sent a goodbye letter to SMMUSD teachers, families and staff.

“My heart is heavy because this is, in fact, my last official message to you as your proud superintendent as I will be joining the Bellflower Unified School District (BUSD) as their new superintendent starting January 1, 2023. My optimism is due to knowing that we are collectively in the middle of something great with respect to us transforming the District,” Drati said.

Among pursuits Drati pointed to were efforts to increase student engagement, adjusting programming to ensure all students have what they need both academically and socio-emotionally and accepting and incorporating multiple perspectives of lived experiences in the curriculum.

“All of the above will lead to the district reaching its mission of providing extraordinary education for all students while closing the gap in achievement with historically underserved and marginalized students,” Drati said. “I am proud to have played a role in the development and execution of the difficult, but courageous and necessary conversations, and the development of strategies and programs. I am mostly proud of the shift and increased awareness of what needs to be done to reach the District’s mission.”

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