Superintendent Cindy Marten has a message for President Barack Obama: Let’s do this.

On Monday, San Diego Unified became one of 60 urban school districts to commit to boosting outcomes for students of color, specifically black and Latino males.

The announcement is part an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper that the president kicked off in February. At that press conference, Obama got personal and talked about how disadvantages common in black communities, like growing up without a father, touched his own life.

Monday’s announcement means Marten has the president’s back. Still, she’s got a lot of work to do.

In San Diego Unified, black and Latino students lag behind their white and Asian peers in almost every measure, from special education to graduation and suspension rates.

Back in February, Marten came out swinging in her effort to address the district’s achievement gap. The district has broken the promises of equity it made to schools and children, she said. To make it right, the district needs to catch the most struggling students from preschool to high school.

Of course, those plans collided with reality in June, when she had to adjust for a budget shortfall. As a result, many of the support teachers who worked with English language learners were shuffled into roles as lead classroom teachers.

San Diego Unified’s pledge to join the president’s movement is largely symbolic. There’s no money being offered to districts that implement specific reforms, and most of the changes that the district is promising were things it was going to do anyway.

The district points to its plan to remake Lincoln High School into a middle college where students can earn college credit for courses, for example. It also mentions other plans, like hiring more teachers of color and creating a fairer discipline policy.

It’s hard to fault the comprehensive approach San Diego Unified is taking, or the motivation to improve education for all of its students. But making big gains has perplexed the district for years.

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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