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San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten said in May she would work with the community to “create a school system that is the best in the nation.”

Marten argued that test scores alone couldn’t adequately gauge her success. She said that the full range of a school’s quality must be taken into account, and she pledged to engage the community in a “broad-based conversation” about how to evaluate the district’s efforts.

To help guide that conversation, we developed a new project, Grading Cindy Marten.

We’re inviting all San Diegans, including San Diego Unified faculty and staff, parents and taxpayers, to help define success.

We plan to use the results, along with input from outside education experts, to refine our criteria for evaluating Marten’s performance on a letter-grade scale.

Marten has been an educator for more than 25 years. She has earned praise for her teaching and for her transformational role as principal of Central Elementary School in City Heights. But as the new superintendent of San Diego Unified, Marten faces her biggest challenge yet — to turn California’s second largest school district into a model for the rest of the country.

The district told us Marten will be focusing on four key areas this year:

• A broad and challenging curriculum

• Quality leadership

• Quality teaching

• Professional development for all staff

Marten said Tuesday she was working with principals across the district to develop benchmarks to assess how San Diego Unified was progressing in those key areas. Marten said the process would be completed sometime this fall, but she was hesitant to assign a deadline because the school year had just started and the district has 40 new principals this year.

With guidance from the San Diego Unified school board, Marten is responsible for making the district’s Vision 2020 plan a reality. The district began developing the plan in 2009, with a focus on the skills and qualities that district officials wanted the class of 2020 to possess before graduating. Marten’s most important duties will be planning yearly budgets and making sure teachers have the tools they need to get the job done.

Marten must translate San Diego Unified’s ambitious, long-term goals into daily practice at a critical time. California is one of 45 states to have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English and mathematics education, and schools in the state are expected to fully incorporate the standards into the curriculum this year.

Marten “believes that there are NO EXCUSES when it comes to providing children with the very best conditions that will enable them to become confident, successful learners who can achieve their dreams,” according to a biography on the district’s website.

It is not clear how this approach will play out, but defined benchmarks will give taxpayers the best opportunity to hold the school district accountable – and make it easier for Marten to point to specific success stories.

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Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the...

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