We asked readers to help us brainstorm how to measure Cindy Marten’s success in four key areas she has said she’ll emphasize as superintendent of San Diego Unified:

• A broad and challenging curriculum

• Quality leadership

• Quality teaching

• Professional development for all staff

One response to our survey stuck out:

Helen Hamilton, a retired teacher, answered our questions with questions of her own, noting that she was “a bit concerned about the abstract use of language” in education.

“First provide concrete definitions of phrases like ‘broadening the curriculum,’” Hamilton wrote. “Does it mean adding more specific facts to existing subjects or adding more specific subjects to the curriculum or something utterly new and different that mere mortals cannot comprehend?”

Marten told VOSD earlier this month that she would work with the district’s principals to develop more specific measures of success. But Hamilton poses some important questions regarding the criteria.

Hamilton’s response was one of many thoughtful comments we’ve received. Here are a few more noteworthy insights:

Danny Blas, a teacher at San Diego Unified, said one way to gauge Marten’s success in broadening the curriculum would be to measure percentage changes in the honors and Advanced Placement class offerings for at-risk students and students of color since last year.

Blas’ point about breadth could also be applied to vocational courses that train students for careers in trades like carpentry.

Miyo Reff, a parent of two San Diego Unified graduates, said quality leadership could be measured in part by how well principals develop strong teams of faculty and staff at each school.

“A good team leader should be able to build a team at any school,” said Reff, who also suggested Marten rotate principals to new schools every five years.

But how do we measure the strength of the team? And how do we know that it has positively impacted students? The questions are tricky to answer, and they’re a powerful reminder that it’s difficult to assess the performance of schools without data.

Lisa Berlanga, executive director of San Diego United Parents for Education and the parent of a district student, called for a complete overhaul of the district’s system of evaluating teacher performance.

Berlanga said the district should send principals to classrooms more frequently to evaluate teachers, and that principals should provide better feedback.

How well do teachers relate to students? How often do they make breakthroughs?  Answers to these questions could round out teacher evaluations and add perspective to test-score data.

Oscar Ramos, a teacher at a UC San Diego-affiliated charter school called the Preuss School and an occasional contributor to VOSD, wrote that “good professional development should be data-driven and focused on addressing a school’s specific need” throughout the year.

“I think we can judge Marten’s success by looking at the district budget for indications that schools have more time to dedicate to professional development,” Ramos wrote.

It’s easy enough to show that all teachers have received professional development. But figuring out whether that next step is being reached – translating development training into high-quality teaching – is more elusive.

So far, there are more questions than answers.

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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