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Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Superintendent to Leave Post
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 3, 2016 -- After a five-year stint, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon on Monday announced she is leaving her post to head the public school district serving Palm Springs and surrounding cities.

Her resignation is effective July 1, the district said.

"I am grateful for my time in the SMMUSD and all of the colleagues and community members I’ve worked with and learned from over the years,” Lyon said in a statement.

She said it was a difficult decision, but that the move is coming at “the right time in the right community for me.

“I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve the Santa Monica and Malibu communities for the past five years, and am especially proud to be part of an amazing team of leaders and teachers who have worked very hard to build our school district into the high-performing school district it is today,” Lyon said.

The decision, she added, was “difficult for me to make as we are turning the corner on becoming a more student-centered district with equity and access clearly defined as our goal for all students.”

Lyon’s new post will take her into territory that is markedly different from SMMUSD – a district of about 11,000 students that comprises mostly well off, if not extremely wealthy, communities but also includes significant pockets of poverty.

By contrast, the Palm Springs Unified School District is both far larger – it has about 23,300 students – and far poorer. More than 80 percent of the district’s students are considered socio-economically “disadvantaged,” officials said.

Palm Springs Unified has 27 schools covering six cities in the Coachella Valley. SMMUSD has 16 schools.

Lyon has been at the helm during some difficult times for SMMUSD, including a decision by the School Board in December to allow Malibu to split into a separate district. The culmination of years of emotionally-charged debate, the separation hit a rocky patch last month when the district abruptly called off negotiations.

Talks, however, are set to resume soon.

Some Malibu parents, meanwhile, are still accusing the district of concealing the presence of toxic PCBs at the elementary-middle school campus there and are litigating to force an extensive cleanup.

The district also received embarrassing news last month from an UCLA diversity expert who said SMMUSD continuously fails to help its disadvantaged students enough, despite decades of promises and a variety of new programs to do so.

But on Monday, SMMUSD officials focused on the positives, saying Lyon was “instrumental” in community efforts to pass Measure ES, a $385 million bond measure for school improvements approved by local voters in 2012.

In a statement, the SMMUSD lauded Lyon for shepherding SMMUSD toward centralized fundraising, initiatives to "strengthen teaching and instruction, implementation of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests, transition to the new Local Control Accountability Plan and a laser-like focus on the district mission statement: Extraordinary achievement for all students while simultaneously closing the achievement gap.”

She was hired by SMMUSD in 2011. Her contract was extended for a second time in July to last into the 2017-2018 school year. At that time, Lyon’s salary was $239,200 annually.

Lyon, who has 28 years experience in education, was Chief Leadership Officer at the Palmdale School District and a principal and superintendent at the Antelope Valley's Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes School District.

Her background also includes serving as an elementary and middle school principal, assistant principal, Title 1 coordinator/at-risk teacher and director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Lyon previously taught English and language arts. She is currently enrolled in the University of Southern California Organizational Change and Leadership doctoral program.

The PSUSD board will vote on Lyon's appointment at its May 10 meeting, according to the Desert Sun newspaper.

SMMUSD's school board will decide in the next few weeks on steps for finding a successor to Lyon, its statement said.

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