CONTACT: Valerie Martinez (562) 789-4047, (909) 917-3368

MALIBU, Calif. –  The Santa Monica-Malibu School District is very pleased to announce that 13 new administrators have joined the ranks as principals, assistant principals and directors across nine schools within the District.

Dr. Yusuf Allahjah comes to SMMUSD as assistant principal of John Adams Middle School from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where he taught social studies and received the Outstanding Teaching of World History by the California Council for Social Studies. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California in the master of arts teaching program. Dr. Allahjah has committed his career in education to equity and access for all students.

Dr. Ashley Benjamin has been appointed assistant principal at Franklin Elementary School. She comes to SMMUSD from LAUSD where she had been serving as associate principal/categorical programs advisor at Emerson Middle School. She has also served as testing coordinator, K-5 intervention coordinator, Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) coordinator and teacher of second, fourth and sixth grade.

Ms. Tara Brown, an eight-year SMMUSD veteran, has been appointed as the new Director of Student Services. Previously, Ms. Brown served as principal of Franklin Elementary School since 2006, where she helped earned the school two California Distinguished School awards. Her resume also boasts teaching experience and many years of instructional leadership.

Ms. Elizabeth Cochran makes the move to principal of Will Rogers Learning Community after serving as assistant principal there and at Grant Elementary for the past year. She has also served as SMMUSD’s literacy coordinator for four years. She has much experience working within education administration and as an educator, having worked in Chicago and Los Angeles public schools.

Ms. Lila Daruty will be serving as half-time assistant principal of Grant Elementary, while remaining half-time as the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) coordinator. As BTSA coordinator, Ms. Daruty has trained and supported new teachers through professional development and teacher assessment. She has also served as a teaching mentor at McKinley Elementary and has taught at McKinley and Will Rogers Learning Community.

Mr. Mark Demick has been tapped as principal of Point Dume Marine Science School. Previously, he has served as principal of Chinook Middle School in Washington state, and has many years of experience as principal throughout the state. Mr. Demick has won numerous awards during his tenure in Washington, including Principal of the Year by various state organizations.

Ms. Wendy Wax Gellis has been appointed as interim principal of Grant Elementary School. Ms. Gellis, a long-time employee of SMMUSD, previously served as assistant principal at Malibu High, as well as house principal and student support advisor at Santa Monica High. She also served as principal for McKinley Elementary School. Ms. Gellis possess extensive experience as a school site leader and administrator.

Ms. Lynda Holeva comes to the District as the new assistant principal at Will Rogers Learning Community/BTSA coordinator for the current school year. She has served as assistant principal, summer enrichment academy principal, BTSA coordinator, GATE coordinator and elementary school teacher all within the Encinitas Union School District.

Mr. David Jackson will be serving as interim principal at Malibu High School for the 2014-15 school year. He has extensive experience in secondary and post-secondary experience as principal, assistant principal and teacher. He retired in 2007 after serving as principal at Calabasas High, but continued to consult with Las Virgenes School District as a coach for administrators and has worked in the private sector.

Mr. Hector Medrano has been appointed house principal of Santa Monica High School. He previously served as assistant principal at an intermediate and high school, as well as activities director, within Santa Ana Unified. He has also taught social studies, served as college counselor and coached boys’ soccer. Mr. Medrano is bilingual in English and Spanish.

Mr. Chris Regan joins the Malibu Middle School team as assistant principal after moving from John Adams Middle School where he served as assistant principal for four years. Prior to joining SMMUSD, Mr. Regan served as assistant principal at the high school level, as Dean of Students, as a Spanish teacher and has worked extensively to close the achievement gap for students with special needs.

Ms. Deanne Sinfield, also a long-time veteran of SMMUSD, has been appointed principal of Franklin Elementary School after serving as assistant principal since 2006. She has worked as school psychologist within the District and at LAUSD, and has experience in special education. Ms. Sinfield values and maintains strong relationships with the Franklin community of parents, students and staff.

Dr. Susan Yakich comes on board as the new principal of McKinley Elementary School. Her educational experience includes time as principal, assistant principal and teacher in various school districts across the state and in Ohio. Under her leadership, she has earned the California Title I Academic Achievement Award in 2008 at a former school and the California Distinguished School award last year at her most recent elementary school.

“We sincerely welcome this team of administrators to their new positions, as each of them bring years of valuable expertise and unique facet of talents and backgrounds to our District,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. “We wish each of them success in the school year at SMMUSD.”

As a community of learners, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District works together in a nurturing environment to help students be visionary, versatile thinkers; resourceful, life-long learners; effective, multilingual communicators and global citizens.