by Mark McDermott
Each of the seven candidates who last month applied to fill the vacancy on the Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board of Education first encountered the unusual task of filling out an application. It was uncommon because seeking a position on the school board usually involves candidate forums, lawn signs, door knocking, and various meet-and-greets, not a formal application.
The application included a questionnaire that included queries about MBUSD academics and finances, but it began by simply asking the candidate to list the things they’d been involved with within the community and school district.
Bruce Greenberg surprised even himself when his list spanned three pages. He’d helped lead a math Olympiad at Grandview Elementary, served as a math program mentor at Pennekamp, co-founded the annual MBUSD math contest, served as an instructor in a financial literacy program called the Stock Market Game, and as a math team coach at MBMS. Greenberg’s response went into some detail when he explained how he became the videography coordinator for the Mira Costa Boys Volleyball booster club. It occurred in 2021 when volleyball matches resumed after the early pandemic.
“Problem: Due to strict COVID restrictions, parents and other spectators would not be allowed in the gym,” he wrote. “Solution: Recognizing the heartbreak of parents and grandparents being precluded from watching their young athletes compete and represent MCHS, I felt that we had to devise a solution. Although I had no background in videography, I knew we had to figure out how to video-record and, if possible, livestream the matches for the benefit of all the parents, grandparents, and other fans.”
Greenberg recruited other parent volunteers and soon MCHS volleyball — frosh, JV, and varsity — was streaming live in people’s homes, and the matches were archived on YouTube.
His application detailed community involvement that included three years on the North Manhattan Beach Business Improvement District, six years as the MBUSD board-appointed representative on the City’s Parks and Rec Commission, serving as a coach for various youth sports leagues, and another detailed explanation of just how he found himself deeply involved in installing adjustable-height basketball rims and Live Oak and Manhattan Heights parks.
Greenberg, when he appeared before the board on February 15, touched on why he included such details.
“When reading my application for the board position, you might have asked yourself, ‘Why is Bruce writing about basketball hoops and beautification projects for the City, or creating a YouTube channel for the Mira Costa boys volleyball team?’” he said. “What did these things have anything to do with being a board member for the MBUSD Board of Trustees? I think they demonstrate my approach to betterment within the community. Anyone can identify problems and voice their complaints to the city council or to the MBUSD board. But I’m not a complainer. I’m a doer and I’m a problem solver.”
The school board was impressed. He was appointed that night. Greenberg, both in his application and his presentation to the board, demonstrated close knowledge of MBUSD finances and academic programs. Though responses to questions were limited to two minutes, he showed an easy familiarity with the district’s budget and with key issues, such as MBUSD’s joint use agreement (regarding facilities) with the City of Manhattan Beach. His own academic and professional background also clearly informed Greenberg’s responses. His life has been a textbook example of what prioritizing education can do, as well as demonstrating a proactive, hands-on approach to both learning and business.
Greenberg has a degree in history from Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university, and an MBA from Duke University’s prestigious Fuqua School of Business. In an interview this week, Greenberg said he took a somewhat unorthodox approach to his undergraduate years. Someone gave him the advice to seek out the best professor he could find and simply take every class offered by that professor instead of worrying too much about which coursework to take. At Dartmouth, a history professor named James Wright was both widely esteemed and extremely popular for an entry-level course about early American history.
“He was just a riveting professor and an amazing storyteller,” Greenberg said. “He brought history to life, and just opened my eyes to it. He got me excited about history and learning, realizing that history was not about learning a bunch of boring facts and memorizing, but really the story of amazing men and women who did amazing things.”
Wright, who would later become Dartmouth’s president, was a former U.S. Marine who wrote extensively about the role of soldiers and military veterans in American history. Greenberg was enthralled, and ended up taking every course Wright offered, almost becoming a history major by default. Wright became his degree adviser.
His first job out of college also involved new approaches to education. He went to work for the U.S. Job Corps, a federal program founded in the 60s to provide both academic education and vocational training to high school dropouts, helping them obtain GEDs and/or learn a marketable trade. Greenberg worked in a job center in Vermont and eventually in Washington D.C. as a director in the rollout of a cutting-edge computer system.
“We launched what was back then a pretty innovative computer-managed instructional system that we rolled out to every Job Corps classroom around the country,” he said. “The goal of it was, quite simply, to automate low-value tasks that were consuming a lot of teacher time, like scoring papers and entering scores into grade books. Every minute that we could free up by automating those tasks freed up teacher time for high-value tasks, like one-on-one instruction. I ran the Washington D.C. training center. I trained about 1,000 instructors over of the course of a year.” While with the Job Corps, Greenberg also coached an Academic Olympiad national championship team. But he’d always planned eventually go to business school and possessed an abiding interest in entrepreneurship, so after three years, he went back to school, obtaining his MBA at Duke. He entered the private sector in 1996, right as the dot.com internet revolution was taking off. He worked for AT&T Solutions, a unit of the larger corporation that was an early adopter in developing internet business plans — what would become known as e-commerce — for other companies. After a couple of years, Greenberg and some of his colleagues left AT&T and launched a start-up specializing in e-commerce consulting, which they would grow into a successful company during the dot.com boom years. This is what brought Greenberg and his wife, Brandi, to California, originally to Silicon Valley. The company went public as Luminant Worldwide in 1999. He would spend the next two decades working with tech start-ups, eventually becoming involved in some of the earliest cloud-based enterprise systems.
In 2001, his wife, Brandi — who if anything has more impressive educational credentials, with two degrees from Stanford (including an MBA) and a master’s from Duke — had an opportunity to work in Southern California. The couple heard good things about Manhattan Beach, so they decided to spend a summer here and loved it so much that they stayed. They would eventually start their family in Manhattan Beach, with sons born in 2004 and 2007. Each would matriculate through MBUSD schools; their eldest son graduated last year, and the youngest is currently attending Mira Costa. Greenberg semi-retired in 2016 and began devoting more time to volunteering in local schools. It wasn’t until he filled out his board application he realized how deeply involved in MBUSD he’d already become.
“I never, ever saw myself running for public office and building up a resume to support that,” Greenberg said. “It was just helping out here and helping out there, solving a problem here and there. And before I knew it — it was interesting, when I was putting my application together a couple of weeks ago, I realized how many things I had done. I was just motivated to help out.”
The beauty of his involvement was not only the opportunity to be more directly involved in his sons’ education but also in the community.
“I didn’t do any of these things single-handedly,” Greenberg said. “Every single one of those initiatives — anything around here takes a village, whether that’s collaborating with school staff or teachers or city staff. I just had a hand in these things. For example, the math contest was a team of five or six parents with some teachers. We were just motivated to make that happen.”
When the board vacancy came up in January due to trustee Jason Boxer’s resignation, multiple friends and acquaintances reached out to Greenberg to urge him to apply. As is his nature, Greenberg did his due diligence, speaking to former trustees and other school officials to really understand what the role of trustee entails. After six years as a City commissioner and parent volunteer in schools, he already understood the value of serving the community.
“There are a few things here in Manhattan Beach that I’m passionate about,” Greenberg said. “I’m passionate about our schools, I’m passionate about our parks and passionate about our beaches. For the last six years, I’ve tried to serve our parks as best I can. When the school board opening came up, the timing just seemed right, because I’m going to have additional bandwidth to sink my teeth into this…I felt like I had something to offer to the community, to the schools, and to decisions.”
He goes into it eyes wide open. Greenberg knows the commitment serving on the school board will require.
“I’ve lived here for 22 years, and I see the people that put so much time into school board positions and city council positions,” he said. “And it’s not just those very public positions. I think about the days when my kids were in elementary school, and I was an MBYB coach and the guys like Johnny U and Mark Sprague and Kit McCalla that step up as commissioners of any of these sports leagues….When I was a coach and would reach out to one of the commissioners to complain about something, I would always start my email with thank you for doing what you do. Because it’s such a thankless task.”
Board president Cathey Graves said that Greenberg brings an almost perfect combination of qualities and experiences to the table as a trustee.
“We are currently working on the budget, negotiations, and a possible parcel tax,” Graves said. “We are reviewing tech use on our campuses and renegotiating the shared use agreement with the City. Bruce’s professional qualifications as an MBA and corporate executive in the tech sector as well as his experience on the MB Parks & Recreation Commission will allow him to immediately add to the board conversation on these issues.”
“In my few conversations with Bruce during the onboarding process, he has impressed me as an independent thinker,” she said. “He has exhibited his willingness to work hard to get up to speed. We are lucky to have him on the board and look forward to working with him to benefit the students, families, teachers, and staff of MBUSD.”
This independence is also significant in another way. Greenberg has not been involved at a political level in the school district. During the last few years, a political divide has emerged within the MBUSD community resulting in starkly opposing camps. Greenberg believes he can help bridge the divide.
“I think the bridge that I bring is the fact that I don’t fall into either of the camps,” he said. “I’ve certainly followed the story as it has evolved, the division and the divisiveness. But I haven’t come down on either side of it. I think I bring an open mind and a willingness to engage, and a willingness to disagree. I see my role as representing the best interests of the students, the district, and the community as a whole. I will do everything I can to do that.” ER