Our Changing Schools

 The old quad area at Malibu High School undergoes construction during summer 2018.

The old quad area at Malibu High School undergoes construction during summer 2018.

Malibu’s public school system underwent a considerable shakeup in early May, when tentative plans to merge Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School were finalized during a meeting of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board. 

Once the merger goes into effect for the 2019-2020 school year, the two elementary schools will be combined onto the current Point Dume campus on Fernhill Dr., while the Juan Cabrillo campus will house students of Malibu Middle School, which currently shares a campus with Malibu High School. In talks for months, this vast remapping of Malibu’s public schools fits into a wider, district-wide framework aiming to reshape both the curriculum of Santa Monica and Malibu schools as well as their facilities in the coming years. 

“We need to modernize our classrooms to support teachers as they facilitate more creative thinking, more collaboration, cross-disciplinary teaching and also to allow M for space for students to work independently and in groups,” said SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati. “So that process, that path of instruction, often requires a different type of setup in our school buildings and a different type of way our teachers work together.” 

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 Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School undergoes planned renovations during summer 2018, part of a district-wide project that has brought cosmetic and moderate repairs to numerous SMMUSD campuses. Officials say the fixes will help support the planned merger in 2019.

Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School undergoes planned renovations during summer 2018, part of a district-wide project that has brought cosmetic and moderate repairs to numerous SMMUSD campuses. Officials say the fixes will help support the planned merger in 2019.

In the case of Point Dume and Juan Cabrillo, Dr. Drati said, the small populations of both schools, which each currently count less than 300 students after years of dwindling enrollments, served what he believes as a barrier to integrating more innovative and collaborative forms of learning. 

“When you’re asking for students to collaborate, or teachers to collaborate, if you [only] have one [or two] teachers at a grade level, who are you going to collaborate with?” he said. “The more people you have sharing ideas and expertise, the better you’ll be.” 

 SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati was an architect of the merger.  Photo courtesy of SMMUSD.

SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati was an architect of the merger. Photo courtesy of SMMUSD.

Gabi Frank, PTA president of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, said she had seen tremendous enthusiasm from the school community surrounding the merger. “It’s not a plan for just one or two schools,” she said. “I think it’s an overall plan to greatly improve our school community as a whole and bring our learning philosophy up to the 21st century. The merger is one part of a whole that will greatly improve the educational lives of all of our children, and that’s what the goal has been now for many, many years. Overall, everyone in our school community wants this to happen. We all believe it will be a positive change.”

Under the plan, current Juan Cabrillo principal Dr. Pamela Herkner will take over as principal of the new elementary school. She will be taking the role officially in the 2018-2019 school year, beginning the process of combining the two communities and working with parents, teachers and students on a plan for the new elementary school. The physical merger onto one campus will officially take place for the 2019-2020 school year.

“The first thing we have to do is learn about each other and build relationships just between adults,” she said. “Moving into the other school, deciding who we are, is going to take some critical and creative thinking. We’re going to demonstrate to ourselves the things we have to teach our kids.”

Dr. Herkner echoed Dr. Drati’s feelings about modernizing the teaching and learning processes, saying the merger presented a unique opportunity for staffs of each school to be able to learn from one another as they moved forward to establish more creative and collaborative techniques for classroom instruction.

“Sometimes people just do things because that’s the way it’s always been and you don’t stop to say, ‘Why are we doing this?’” she said. “My hope is, if there were things we were doing that we were kind of going, ‘Why are we doing this?’, that we let those things go and we work smarter, not harder, or if there are things that work at Juan Cabrillo that we can share with Point Dume, and vice versa. We don’t get the time as educators to visit eachother’s classrooms enough and share, so this is a unique opportunity for two communities to share what is working.”

Dr. Herkner said she envisions classroom teaching that equips students with the tools and skills to thrive in the modern world. “I think we need to teach [students] how to be social engineers,” she said. “We don’t know what those jobs are going to be in the future. So if they’re going to be successful in the world, they have to beat out whatever next machine exists. Those are the skills they need to have. When students leave elementary school, if they know how to learn, how to access their resources, [they can] begin to target what it is they want to do when they get to the secondary level, [and] focus on that.”

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When construction at MHS wraps up in 2020, the school will boast new classroom buildings and a 'nerve center', housing a new admin office, library and a science building. However the current wave of renovations is only the first leg of a sweeping plan slated to completely transform the high school campus over the next decade.

Updating Malibu’s public school facilities and constructing new spaces will play a vital role in integrating approaches to teaching that favor more collaboration, independent problem solving and group work, said Carey Upton, Director of Facility Use for SMMUSD. He cited current construction at Malibu High School, including a new 12-classroom building where old Middle School structures were located, and a new building which will house administrative offices, a library and a science building, as well as smaller-scale revitalization projects recently underway at Juan Cabrillo and currently being implemented at Point Dume, as helping to facilitate this new direction.

“The learning and instruction we are providing should be setting up students to become adults who can live in a world where things are different than they were when our educational system was developed in the 19th century,” he said. “It becomes much more about collaboration, it becomes much more about creativity, and I think that’s something that we’re going to be able to do with the new school and with the new construction, is create better inquiry-based and maker spaces.”

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Renderings of the new MHS.

“When I went to school, learning pretty much occurred sitting in rows looking at the back of somebody’s head,” he added. “I think we’re going to get out of the square 960 square foot classroom. Now, you’ll see some places where we’re getting rid of all the desks, and we’re working in a space where everybody is moving around and actually using their bodies to do things, to tell things.”

Currently, Upton said, the district was in the process of coming up with construction plans for the Malibu High School, Juan Cabrillo and Point Dume campuses so each would be best suited to its new needs following the merger and switch of Malibu Middle School to the Juan Cabrillo campus. However any new substantial construction probably won’t be underway for a couple years, he said, adding that measures such as temporary classrooms would be implemented to help aid with the merger in the very near future.

For the time being, however, both the Juan Cabrillo and Point Dume communities are looking towards creating a new school, merging their communities, and the educational rewards this considerable shift could reap. “We hope the more diverse a classroom that we have, the more ideas that are going to come from students. There are some things that kids at Juan Cabrillo can learn from students at Point Dume, and vice versa. The more diverse a population you have, if you’re teaching in the 21st century way of thinking, then the more your school will learn.” Dr. Drati says. MM

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