Marten’s Harsh Take on the State of the School District

Marten’s Harsh Take on the State of the School District

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Scott Lewis hosts "One Voice at a Time" with Cindy Marten.

 

Cindy Marten has a tough job ahead of her. She has to oversee the education of more than a 100,000 students and all the massive operations that go with that.

But her greatest challenge might be herself.  Her own analysis of the state of San Diego Unified School District is troubling, even damning.

As she says, the school system cannot demonstrate what a quality school is. She says schools need more money, but they can’t offer any way for taxpayers or parents to measure the return on their investments in the system.

It goes on. In my recent on-stage conversation with her, she said the school system is spending money on things it shouldn’t and does not know exactly what it is that it is trying to build.

“That’s the work that the board has hired me to do. This is about having clarity about what a quality school is. And when you have clarity, then you know what you’re building,” she said.

 

It sounds like she’s going to need to spend much of her first year or more in office trying to figure out how to outline for the community where the district is going. Then, she must find a way to measure its progress on that path. Our education blogger Oscar Ramos, a teacher himself, has been evaluating the draft 12 indicators someone in the district leaked.

But those are far from final.

Marten said on stage that she wants to reach what she calls “singularity of purpose” at the district.

“When there’s singularity of purpose and mission, and you know what you’re building, you use your dollars for that and only that.”

And the dollars now?

“I will say that there’s fragmentation. That we’re spending dollars on things that maybe at one point were important and aren’t as important anymore. I have to lead that prioritization,” she said.

For her full take on my question about whether the school district gets enough money to do its job, watch this:

This will be the central tension of Marten’s term. She does not have a very positive evaluation of the district as it is. But she refuses to blame anyone for its current state.

The school board is good. The teachers union is good. They have enough freedom within current rules to achieve what she wants to do to help teachers improve and create excellent schools in every neighborhood. The schools may need more money but she understands why that’s both hard to change and why taxpayers might not respond to a just-hand-over-more-money argument.

Everything is good except that it is not.

When she begins her term as the head of the district, she’ll have a tough time balancing her support for the powers that be at the school district with one of the district’s toughest critics: herself.

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

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70 comments
Sara Finegan
Sara Finegan

Here's an idea: don't take the bait! When someone divisive tries to twist and tie up an interesting topic by accusing us of just wanting pay raises, prove him wrong by refusing to respond, refusing to bring salary into a discussion about district improvement and just generally focusing on talk about improving education. I'll be interested to see what Marten does. I agree that we have most of what we need right now to make immediate and ongoing improvements in instruction and the state of our schools; what we may need is some more professional development, and certainly we need to have some best practices standards set and enforced district-wide. By this I mean things universally-required data-based instruction and collaboration. Many schools and teachers do it regularly; others have been asking for more training; we all need to work together within school communities instead of trying to go it alone in our own classrooms, because, let's face it, we can look more deeply at a student's strengths and needs when there are several pairs of eyes and minds than with just one set.

Sara Finegan
Sara Finegan subscriber

Here's an idea: don't take the bait! When someone divisive tries to twist and tie up an interesting topic by accusing us of just wanting pay raises, prove him wrong by refusing to respond, refusing to bring salary into a discussion about district improvement and just generally focusing on talk about improving education. I'll be interested to see what Marten does. I agree that we have most of what we need right now to make immediate and ongoing improvements in instruction and the state of our schools; what we may need is some more professional development, and certainly we need to have some best practices standards set and enforced district-wide. By this I mean things universally-required data-based instruction and collaboration. Many schools and teachers do it regularly; others have been asking for more training; we all need to work together within school communities instead of trying to go it alone in our own classrooms, because, let's face it, we can look more deeply at a student's strengths and needs when there are several pairs of eyes and minds than with just one set.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

I have no interest in increasing all ready generous public teacher compensation, and you have no interest in improving the education kids get in our public schools, so we will never agree.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

I have no interest in increasing all ready generous public teacher compensation, and you have no interest in improving the education kids get in our public schools, so we will never agree.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

Again, I call on VOSD to implement some sort of system to measure how other users feel about posted comments (for registered posters only). Let the people be heard!

smorse
smorse

Again, I call on VOSD to implement some sort of system to measure how other users feel about posted comments (for registered posters only). Let the people be heard!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The cure is to open the schools to competition. No permanent employees, one year contracts with market value compensation. Try it for a few years and see if things improve. Our schools are so bad now it can't hurt.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The cure is to open the schools to competition. No permanent employees, one year contracts with market value compensation. Try it for a few years and see if things improve. Our schools are so bad now it can't hurt.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Excuses are easy. Faux improvements like SB441 are easy. Finding teachers that care enough to put kids before themselves, now that's hard.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Excuses are easy. Faux improvements like SB441 are easy. Finding teachers that care enough to put kids before themselves, now that's hard.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

You claim that the "invisible hand" doesn't value the work of "soft" subject teachers. This seems like a damning indictment against the utility of the invisible hand, and not, as you claim, evidence that "soft" subject teachers do not deserve proper compensation.

smorse
smorse

You claim that the "invisible hand" doesn't value the work of "soft" subject teachers. This seems like a damning indictment against the utility of the invisible hand, and not, as you claim, evidence that "soft" subject teachers do not deserve proper compensation.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

Mr. Jones is invited to take his own advice and move out of state where the schools meet his imaginary expectations.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

Mr. Jones is invited to take his own advice and move out of state where the schools meet his imaginary expectations.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

There are nations where salaries are determined by government. This is NOT one of those.

Akamai
Akamai

There are nations where salaries are determined by government. This is NOT one of those.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

As far as teachers, if the vast majority of them are so exceptional, then why are our schools some of the worst in the nation? More importantly what is a real solution? Not a lip service bill like 441, a real solution to the thousands of below par educations SDUSD churns out annually?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

As far as teachers, if the vast majority of them are so exceptional, then why are our schools some of the worst in the nation? More importantly what is a real solution? Not a lip service bill like 441, a real solution to the thousands of below par educations SDUSD churns out annually?

John Rick
John Rick subscriber

Oh by the way, we missed you up in Sacramento. Some of us teachers (you know, the really bad ones) went up to advocate for SB441. I would have thought for all your vitriol, you might have gotten involved in a real step toward a solution.

JRick
JRick

Oh by the way, we missed you up in Sacramento. Some of us teachers (you know, the really bad ones) went up to advocate for SB441. I would have thought for all your vitriol, you might have gotten involved in a real step toward a solution.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Expect the topic of Raises to hit the radars soon.

mgland
mgland

Expect the topic of Raises to hit the radars soon.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

Jim, a serious question. Are you a social Darwinist?

smorse
smorse

Jim, a serious question. Are you a social Darwinist?

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

Your comments speak volumes about your character. I believe, unlike you, that if there is a problem with a system one ought to work hard to change the system so as to make it better. You advocate that when things get tough, give up... not exactly the kind of "lesson" we should be teaching our kids....

smorse
smorse

Your comments speak volumes about your character. I believe, unlike you, that if there is a problem with a system one ought to work hard to change the system so as to make it better. You advocate that when things get tough, give up... not exactly the kind of "lesson" we should be teaching our kids....

Rhoda Stephens-Yoder
Rhoda Stephens-Yoder subscriber

I don't know where you got the notion to leap from the fact that teachers and the school board signed a "legally binding" contract years ago that has not been fulfilled to teachers required to quit their jobs if they desired a professional salary for a professional position. I would kindly suggest that you stop chewing on the bitter pills and try to examine why you are so resentful of the teaching position. Perhaps you have some unfulfilled desires.

teacherrsy
teacherrsy

I don't know where you got the notion to leap from the fact that teachers and the school board signed a "legally binding" contract years ago that has not been fulfilled to teachers required to quit their jobs if they desired a professional salary for a professional position. I would kindly suggest that you stop chewing on the bitter pills and try to examine why you are so resentful of the teaching position. Perhaps you have some unfulfilled desires.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

I miss Emily.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Who will lead it? No one on the current scene, because all currently are satisfied if not happy...just go along to get along.

Akamai
Akamai

Who will lead it? No one on the current scene, because all currently are satisfied if not happy...just go along to get along.

Rhoda Stephens-Yoder
Rhoda Stephens-Yoder subscriber

We may have a contract that says that we received a pay raise. That has not happened. I also haven't had a pay raise in seven years.

teacherrsy
teacherrsy

We may have a contract that says that we received a pay raise. That has not happened. I also haven't had a pay raise in seven years.

Matt Kocik
Matt Kocik subscriber

Bingo, why blame anyone? Everyone has their straw boss if you will. I think its poverty, others think otherwise. But we all know that we need to ensure quality, access, and equity.

mattK
mattK

Bingo, why blame anyone? Everyone has their straw boss if you will. I think its poverty, others think otherwise. But we all know that we need to ensure quality, access, and equity.

Matt Kocik
Matt Kocik subscriber

Sorry Mary, if you take a look at your union contract from years past, you will see that teachers last got a raise on January 1st, 2008. Yes it has been too long, and yes, teachers are underpaid.

mattK
mattK

Sorry Mary, if you take a look at your union contract from years past, you will see that teachers last got a raise on January 1st, 2008. Yes it has been too long, and yes, teachers are underpaid.

Oscar Ramos
Oscar Ramos

When talking about what makes Preuss so great, I would focus on our educational program more than on our lack of teacher tenure. Other charters without tenure don't suddenly get our results. If people want to hold Preuss up as an example for the district to replicate, they should look to our longer school year, longer school day, single track curriculum, the advisory system, the professional development, and the coordination of school resources in support of one goal, which is college acceptance. I think this is a bigger cause for our success than one-year contracts.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Stuart, I commented on the top schools already. The top school by leaps and bounds is Preuss, is it not? This school has no tenure and one year teacher contracts, and is SDUSD in name only. It's the closest thing to a good private school SDUSD has. It pretty much proves my point, that the standard SDUSD teacher and system is hurting kids. Preuss shows a good school can do. Why is, I don't know, Mira Mesa for instance, with so many more privileged kids than Preuss so far below Preuss? I bet a good private school could get those Mira Mesa kids up to a Preuss level, and do it with less taxpayer money as well. As for the Broad Prize, hasn't Houston won it two or three times? Should we then fire all our teachers and hire HISD teachers if the prize means so much, for the kids sake? I have the 2009 GRC for the 30 top population school districts in the US at my fingertips, San Diego is 23 out of 30 in math and 21 in English. That's not good anyway you try to cherry pick it. Being better than Detroit or LA isn't doing these kids any real good, when they are still well below average once SDUSD is done with them. We've discussed other national results here as well, SDUSD is not good. There is an apology due here, but it's not from me, and it should be to the kids and taxpayers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Sara, it's been 50+ years of the same excuses by teachers, and the same non solutions designed to provide a soothing soundbite and buy another year of mediocrity, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, knowing that most people who want improvement move on when their kids are done. Money isn't the main thing, and although I hate the waste of taxpayer money overcompensated teachers represent, what I would really like to see is what is best for kids, and that is to end public schools and go to an all voucher system. The free market incentives to produce will do what unionized teachers will not, actually focus on results instead of paychecks, retirements, and the right to remain a bad teacher.

Oscar Ramos
Oscar Ramos subscribermember

When talking about what makes Preuss so great, I would focus on our educational program more than on our lack of teacher tenure. Other charters without tenure don't suddenly get our results. If people want to hold Preuss up as an example for the district to replicate, they should look to our longer school year, longer school day, single track curriculum, the advisory system, the professional development, and the coordination of school resources in support of one goal, which is college acceptance. I think this is a bigger cause for our success than one-year contracts.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Stuart, I commented on the top schools already. The top school by leaps and bounds is Preuss, is it not? This school has no tenure and one year teacher contracts, and is SDUSD in name only. It's the closest thing to a good private school SDUSD has. It pretty much proves my point, that the standard SDUSD teacher and system is hurting kids. Preuss shows a good school can do. Why is, I don't know, Mira Mesa for instance, with so many more privileged kids than Preuss so far below Preuss? I bet a good private school could get those Mira Mesa kids up to a Preuss level, and do it with less taxpayer money as well. As for the Broad Prize, hasn't Houston won it two or three times? Should we then fire all our teachers and hire HISD teachers if the prize means so much, for the kids sake? I have the 2009 GRC for the 30 top population school districts in the US at my fingertips, San Diego is 23 out of 30 in math and 21 in English. That's not good anyway you try to cherry pick it. Being better than Detroit or LA isn't doing these kids any real good, when they are still well below average once SDUSD is done with them. We've discussed other national results here as well, SDUSD is not good. There is an apology due here, but it's not from me, and it should be to the kids and taxpayers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Sara, it's been 50+ years of the same excuses by teachers, and the same non solutions designed to provide a soothing soundbite and buy another year of mediocrity, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, knowing that most people who want improvement move on when their kids are done. Money isn't the main thing, and although I hate the waste of taxpayer money overcompensated teachers represent, what I would really like to see is what is best for kids, and that is to end public schools and go to an all voucher system. The free market incentives to produce will do what unionized teachers will not, actually focus on results instead of paychecks, retirements, and the right to remain a bad teacher.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse

So being in the top 5 %, (860 national rank out of 21,000) like Mira Mesa HS is (according to the rankings referenced), still isn't good enough? Wow, there's just no pleasing some people.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse

Jim, you must have not seen the article by US News and World Report (among several others) that ranks many schools in the San Diego Unified School district as the some of the best in the nation. http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/san-diego-unified-school-district Jim, I don't recall you praising the teachers of the district for the excellent work in regards to the Broad Prize (see the article on VOSD). The praise lavished on the SDUSD is really worth reading. Now that you have been proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt (multiple independent sources all coming the same conclusion) when can teachers expect an apology? Can't wait to hear how you spin this.San Diego Unified School District | California | Best High Schools | US News - http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/san-diego-unified-school-districtSan Diego Unified School District | California | Best High Schools | US News

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

So being in the top 5 %, (860 national rank out of 21,000) like Mira Mesa HS is (according to the rankings referenced), still isn't good enough? Wow, there's just no pleasing some people.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

Jim, you must have not seen the article by US News and World Report (among several others) that ranks many schools in the San Diego Unified School district as the some of the best in the nation. http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/san-diego-unified-school-district Jim, I don't recall you praising the teachers of the district for the excellent work in regards to the Broad Prize (see the article on VOSD). The praise lavished on the SDUSD is really worth reading. Now that you have been proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt (multiple independent sources all coming the same conclusion) when can teachers expect an apology? Can't wait to hear how you spin this.San Diego Unified School District | California | Best High Schools | US News - http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/san-diego-unified-school-districtSan Diego Unified School District | California | Best High Schools | US News