Farnaz Golshani, a two-year Manhattan Beach resident and MBEF’s new executive director. Photo courtesy of Farnaz Golshani
When the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation embarked on a search for a new executive director to helm the organization in March, the search committee had braced itself for a long ride.
“We had counted on six months to find an executive director,” said Nina Patel, MBEF board president. “We surprised ourselves.”
In less than a third of that time, the group has welcomed Farnaz Flechner into the role. Flechner — who began part-time last month as she transitions out of her post as executive director of Los Feliz School of the Arts, a charter school in LAUSD — will become full-time as executive director of MBEF and MBEF Endowment, a subsidiary, on June 15. She succeeds Susan Warshaw, who announced in January that she will step down after seven years as MBEF’s executive director.
MBEF is a nonprofit that today raises $5 million annually primarily to keep classroom sizes small, funding some 70 educators across the district. Grants provided by MBEF pay for librarians, science and reading enrichment, music teachers, guidance and career counselors.
“What came out of our interviews was that she’s very thoughtful, her integrity is really important to her, she’s humble, personable and has great management skills,” Patel said. “So far with the fact that most of the situations that have come up in the workings to MBEF — it’s no surprise to her. She’s had such a deep experience that nothing’s been new to her. Yeah, they’re new people but she’s able to handle each of the situations well. She’s not someone you can rattle quite easily.”
Born in Iran, Flechner moved to the United States at a young age and grew up in Santa Monica, where she attended Santa Monica High School. After graduating from UCLA with bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and English literature, she taught photography and English at Grant High School in North Hollywood. She also advised the student yearbook staff
After nearly three years in the classroom, she moved across the country to attend Harvard University, where she earned her master’s in public policy.
“I wanted to try to affect systemic educational reform,” Flechner said. “I enjoyed being in the classroom but I realized pretty quickly that I was thinking about how to improve systems and sectors and programs rather than specific curricula.”
For nearly two decades since then, Flechner has led a handful of nonprofit organizations in the face of financial challenges. After a short stint leading Heart of Los Angeles Youth, an organization offering educational, arts and athletic after-school programs for at-risk kids ages 6 to 18, she went on to serve as vice president of programs at Chrysalis, an L.A.-based nonprofit that provides resources for homeless and low-income individuals looking for employment, and ultimately, self-sufficiency.
During her four-and-a-half years in the role, 93 percent of the group’s homeless clients secured jobs, and more than 90 percent of funding fed directly into programs and services. In every nonprofit she serves, she said her goal is to reduce overhead costs and increase organizational efficiency. In one organization, she has helped increase funding by 18 percent; in another, she brought the organization from a $420 deficit one year to a $120,000 surplus the following year.
When she and her husband Lawrence, a urologist, tied the knot, the couple moved to San Francisco and had two children, Aviva, who is now 5, and Micah, 3 1/2. When Lawrence got a new job in Torrance, the couple considered moving to Palos Verdes or Manhattan Beach where the school districts were lauded. Ultimately they settled on the latter for its closer proximity to L.A.
With her two children attending Pacific Elementary as a kindergardener and preschooler, Flechner has become acquainted with the Manhattan Beach school community.
“We have a more engaged parent population than most places I’ve ever observed,” she said. “Parents are willing to come in and volunteer in classes, recognize their responsibility to subsidize funding and have helped develop really beautiful and effective schools.”
In her new role, she said she will work to bring MBEF, district administrators, teachers and the district board of trustees together to create a single shared mission, vision and strategic plan. MBEF’s grant program will align with this larger vision, which will build students’ characters, sense of engagement and responsibility, she said.
“All of that is visible in Manhattan Beach,” she said. “It’s what pulled us here.”