In a unanimous vote at its Nov. 9 Special Meeting, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) Board of Education approved Gabriel Halimi as its provisional appointee until November of 2022. Halimi will fill the vacant seat previously occupied by Tristen Walker-Shuman, former Board of Trustees Vice President. Walker-Shuman resigned from her seat on Sept. 22 after weeks of controversy surrounding her residency status.
(The issue of Walker-Shuman’s residency surfaced after an anonymous complaint sent on Aug. 26 alleged that she had moved from Beverly Hills to Pittsburgh in August, thus disqualifying her from the position.) Halimi was chosen out of a pool of 20 applicants and will hold office for the remainder of Walker-Shuman’s term, which expires on December 2, 2022. A product of the District, Halimi graduated from Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) in 2000 and served as student board member from 1999-2000. In that time, he co-sponsored the successful resolution that approved and installed football lights at the high school.
“I’m humbled by the unanimous support of the Board of Education to join them for the next year,” Halimi told the Courier. “I think it’s a testament to my new colleagues that they appointed me, despite some of my constructive critiques of the Board, and I’m looking forward to working with them. I was fortunate enough to serve on the Board of Education 20 years ago as the Student Board Member, and I’m thrilled to bring my 20 years professional and non-profit experience back to serve the students of our community.”
Halimi is an entrepreneur, attorney, and businessman who has resided in the District since February of 2021. In 2004, he earned his B.A. in Political Science from University of California, Santa Barbara and then went on to Loyola Law School, where he graduated in 2008. At the onset of the pandemic, Halimi also co-founded a pre-school and summer camp, and operated the business aspects of the school then for approximately 18 months.
“To my knowledge this is the first time that a former Student Body Board member will be a trustee on the Board,” Board President Rachelle Marcus told the Courier. “We had many qualified candidates, and the Board took the task of selecting the appointee very seriously. In the end we voted unanimously to appoint Mr. Gabe Halimi as the provisional member for the remaining term of the previous Board member who resigned. I look forward to working with Halimi. I want to thank all the applicants who applied for the provisional Board seat, and I hope they will continue to support the BHUSD both now and in the future.”
The Board went through a two-step elimination process in which each member put forward up to three of their top candidates, narrowing the list of seven down to five. In the second and final round, board members chose their top two candidates. With three votes for Halimi cast by Marcus, Board Vice President Mary Wells, and Board member Dr. Amanda Stern, a majority emerged. “As far as Mr. Halimi, I would welcome him with open arms if that’s the direction that the board goes,” Board member Noah Margo said. “But I, as a board member who has been there and done that, am very cautious about some of the things he had to say.”
Having stated earlier that the appointment should come in a 4-0 vote, as a show of unity among a historically divided Board, Margo compromised and voted yes. “I don’t think he was any of our first choice, by the way tonight, but he might be our compromise,” Margo said at the meeting. “So, that being the case, I will support Mr. Halimi to try to get some harmony and stability on the board. But hopefully he knows that this grisly old man here has his eye out.”
“I think that he has the motivation and the passion to do a great job,” Stern said of Halimi. “He’s a father in the District. He certainly answered his questions with intelligence and with the, shall we say, the courage to provide some critiques.”
During his interview, Halimi criticized the Board’s communication and public etiquette, as well as their lack of administrative delegation. “We have to get comfortable making tough decisions without it becoming bickering and snide remarks.” He added: “This Board sets the tone for the entire organization. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s what you guys do in this room.”
“This is not going to be a popular thing to say,” Halimi said on Nov. 2. “But I think this Board can do a better job of acting like a Board, and what I mean by that is to really work together as a team.”
Citing the continued decrease in enrollment, Halimi emphasized the importance of engaging with the community, and particularly with young families that are new to the District, such as his. Halimi has four small children, however none are enrolled currently.
When asked during his Nov. 2 interview if he would run for a seat on the Board in the Nov. 2022 election, Halimi indicated he would not. “This is a really big commitment and I take that very seriously,” Halimi said. “The only reason that I could do this for a year right now is because I’m at a little bit of a crossroads, as I’ve shared with you guys, I am in a transitional phase, and I know I can commit the time this year. But after that, I don’t think so.”
Halimi will be sworn into office by the Board of Education at a later date.