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 or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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