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School Board Overturns Mandatory Transfer Policy; Appoints New Principals

By Susan Reines

August 19 -- Parents rejoiced Thursday evening when the Board of Education overturned the district's longstanding policy to force students caught with drugs or alcohol to transfer to another high school for ten weeks.

Instead, the board gave principals the power to determine on a case-by-case basis whether each student would have to transfer.

A group of Malibu parents had been lobbying the board to change the policy after eight Malibu students were caught intoxicated at their prom last spring and had to attend Santa Monica High School -- and take finals there -- for the last month of the school year.

The parents argued that mandatory transfers not only shattered students' academic careers by throwing them into unfamiliar courses, but also put students in danger by requiring them to travel long distances on the accident-riddled Pacific Coast Highway each day.

The Malibu students will be allowed to return to Malibu High in September rather than finishing out their transfer punishments at SaMoHi.

Mike Matthews, who was principal of Malibu High last spring during the controversy but has since moved into an Assistant Superintendent/Chief of Staff position, said one of the parents gave him a hug when she heard that her child would return to Malibu High on the first day of school.

Students will still face five-day suspensions for possession of drugs or alcohol and five-day suspensions with recommendation for expulsion on the second offense. The revised policy also retains mandates for 40 hours of community service and 24 hours of family counseling and adds a new option for principals to assign 12-step rehabilitation.

The major change gives principals the option of assigning transfer punishments, but they will be able to choose whether a transfer would benefit each individual student.

No board member opposed the revisions, although Board member Oscar de la Torre abstained, not wanting to vote for the new policy until some changes to its wording were made.

Many, however, voiced concern that the district should be focusing on prevention as much as punishment.

"I look forward to seeing proactive steps,” said Board member Shane McLoud. “We have a great reactive policy, and that's a problem throughout our society, because our kids are abusing alcohol but not learning about its addictiveness."

Matthews said the district had some educational programs in place and was exploring options for more.

In other action, the board appointed new principals for two of SaMoHi's six "houses," the
units of about 550 students that break the large SaMoHi student body into smaller groups.

Both of the new house principals came from within the district.

Wendy Wax Gellis, former principal of McKinley Elementary, will be the new leader of the A House. Gellis has held principal positions in two other California districts. She received her bachelor's of education degree from Ohio State University and master's of curriculum instruction from the University of Southern California.

SaMoHi chemistry teacher Eva Mayoral will take over as principal of the I House. Mayoral has served as Chemistry Department chair, leader of professional development for SaMoHi Advanced Placement teachers, and was teacher leader of the I House before being appointed to house principal. Mayoral earned both her bachelor's of biology and master's of education from the University of California, Los Angeles.

One of the house principal slots had opened when Dr. Mark Kelly left to become principal of Malibu High. Kelly received formal appointment to that post, which had been vacated by Matthews earlier in the summer, at Thursday's meeting.

Other house principal positions opened when administrators retired or left the district.

The district announced earlier in the summer that Robert Lewis, a former assistant principal at Paloma Valley High in Menifee, California, and Tristan Komlos, who had been principal of a high school in Texas, would also be new house principals.

New administrators have recently been named for other Santa Monica schools as well.

Jane Gates, a former employee of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, will take over as principal of Olympic High in September. The previous Olympic High principal, Suzanne Toyryla, was "transferred" to another, lower, post in the district for undisclosed reasons amidst loud protest from Olympic students and parents.

Kathy Scott will be the new principal of Lincoln Middle School, filling the gap left by Hank Harris, who moved to a position in the Department of Educational Services. Scott served as assistant principal at Lincoln in the past and most recently worked as Director of Human Resources.

Superintendent John Deasy said he was "thrilled" about the new leadership appointments.

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