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Drati Makes Surprise Departure from School District

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By Jorge Casuso

November 21, 2022 -- In a move that caught School District officials by surprise, Superintendent Ben Drati was hired Thursday evening to run the Bellflower public school system.

Drati -- who headed the Santa Monica Malibu-Unified School District for six years -- emailed a letter Friday announcing his appointment by the Bellflower Unified School District Board.

"I realize this is unexpected," Drati wrote to students, parents, staff and community members in a letter that outlined some of the District's major accomplishments under his watch.

"I want to let you know that I have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated serving as the Superintendent of SMMUSD and will always cherish my time here," Drati wrote.

"Together, we have accomplished many goals and laid the groundwork for continued success."

The School Board is scheduled to hold a special closed session meeting to determine what steps the District will take to replace Drati, officials said.

"You can hire someone quickly," said Board member Jon Kean, "or you can conduct a search and appoint an interim superintendent."

Kean, like other District officials, only learned on Thursday that Drati would be leaving and was unaware he had been looking for another job.

"I had not had any discussions with Ben on other job applications," Kean said, "but I support his decision that was made in the best interest for him professionally and for his family."

Drati helped steer the District through the coronavirus emergency that shut down schools and required mandated protocols when students returned to campus.

Among "many bright spots" Drati listed a "positive fiscal outlook and continued fiscal stewardship and transparency."

Other accomplishments he listed included the "commitment of staff at each site to harness and use their collective wisdom to review, discuss and learn from results of student work and achievement data."

He also listed "parents' willingness to participate and partner with school staff and administration" and "staff and community commitment to research and identify practices, assumptions, and behaviors that serve as systemic barriers to success for some students."

In addition, Drati listed the "modernization and facility improvements at all school sites creating 21st-century learning environments that align with our education specifications."

Kean said Drati's most lasting legacy legacy will be "the systems he put in place."

"This is not stuff that people from outside see -- all the hard work that went into changing culture, empowering teachers and principals," Kean said.

"He is a decent, kind, empathetic man, but he was structured," Kean said.

Drati's tenure was also fraught with controversy, including an acrimonious rift with Malibu over its efforts to split from the District and a court order to remove toxic chemicals from Malibu High School.

This summer, the District was faced with the forced closure of John Muir Elementary to repair extensive water damage ("Muir Parents Face Tight Deadline to Relocate Students," June 8, 2022).

And it was rocked last month by a $45 million jury award to two autistic students who the jury unanimously found were abused with corporeal punishment by a behavioral aid ("Jury Awards Autistic Twins $45 Million in Case Against SMMUSD," October 20, 2022).

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