Sharon Whitehurst-Payne / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten and school board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne appear to agree: Improving Lincoln High School is pivotal to Marten’s tenure leading the district.

But in a surprising show of defiance Tuesday, Whitehurst-Payne, who represents the subdistrict that includes Lincoln, made clear she doesn’t believe Marten has done enough on that front to warrant a multi-year contract extension.

Whitehurst-Payne cast the lone dissenting vote on the board’s decision Tuesday to extend Marten’s contract through the 2022-2023 school year. She pointed to the lack of progress at Lincoln.

“Getting Lincoln High School right has to be the district’s No. 1 priority, not with all the stops and starts,” Whitehurst-Payne said. “We have not put together a comprehensive, coordinated picture for Lincoln High School because those students are indicative of other kids in the district who are not achieving.”

Lincoln has persistently struggled with safety, academics and enrollment, despite getting a $129 million new campus in 2007. As Voice San Diego reported last month, the school’s dropout rate is three times as high as the district’s overall, and its chronic absenteeism rate is double the district average.

District leaders have repeatedly promised to help set the school on a better path, but a lack of stability has stifled any chance to see those promises through.

Last month, Lincoln lost its fifth leader in 12 years. Principal Jose Soto-Ramos, as well as all three of the school’s vice principals, were removed from their positions the day after the school year ended. Soto-Ramos was appointed as the school’s principal in May 2017. Earlier this month, the district announced that Stephanie Brown, most recently the principal at Montgomery Middle School, will take over as Lincoln’s principal.

In Marten’s first year as superintendent in 2013, she told Voice of San Diego that helping Lincoln find a new direction was central to her work.

“What’s happening at Lincoln is at the heart of the struggle in America,” she said at the time. “When we get Lincoln right, we get America right.”

Marten has spent significant time at the school in recent years, meeting regularly with the principal, in efforts to help push it in the right direction. But the problems at Lincoln have not significantly changed during her tenure.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Whitehurst-Payne said the district has been able to resolve issues at Hoover High School and Perkins K-8, but “we still have not figured out what’s going on at Lincoln.”

“We have to keep it at the forefront that it’s not acceptable to have those students there and their needs not being met like that,” Whitehurst-Payne said. “We must do something about it. So that’s why I say let’s just keep the status quo with the contract.”

The board approved Marten’s extension 3-1 with Trustees Richard Barrera, John Lee Evans and Kevin Beiser in support. Trustee Mike McQuary was absent. Whitehurst-Payne said Marten has three years left on her existing contract and that it could be extended, if necessary, next year.

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s director of marketing. She is responsible for producing and overseeing strategies that extend the reach of the organization....

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