SAN DIEGO – Superintendent Cindy Marten has been confirmed as the next U.S. Deputy Education Secretary by a vote from the Senate, and will prepare to transition from the San Diego Unified School District to Washington, D.C. to serve President Joe Biden and students nationwide.
Once Marten is sworn into office by the Biden administration, she will assume the federal post after more than three decades as an educator in San Diego, including eight years as superintendent of California’s second-largest district.
“My message to students has always been, “Work hard. Be kind. Dream big!” The students of San Diego Unified have lived up to that challenge beyond anything I could have imagined as a young principal in City Heights, or even as the superintendent of the second-largest school district in California,” Marten said. “National education leaders have recognized the gains our students are making. That has helped us create a better San Diego, or #BetterSD, as we like to say.”
Under Marten’s leadership, San Diego Unified has earned a reputation nationally for its fast pace of improvements. The year before the pandemic, in 2019, San Diego Unified seniors achieved the highest graduation rate among big-city districts in California.
San Diego Unified elementary students and middle schoolers, that same year, outperformed the average of their peers in both math and reading. In just the last three years, the number of students who completed college coursework while still in high school has nearly doubled, and college preparedness has increased by 28 percent overall during Marten’s tenure.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said he was looking forward to working with Marten in their new roles at the U.S. Department of Education following her success in San Diego.
“I am grateful for today’s confirmation of Cindy Marten as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. As superintendent of the second largest school district in California and one of the longest serving urban school leaders in America, Cindy remained committed to San Diego when the pandemic hit, finding ways to provide technology to thousands of students and provide more than 20 million free meals to students in need.
“Cindy also partnered with the local public university to stand up testing at all San Diego Unified School District campuses to curb the spread of the disease and protect students, staff, and the community,” Cardona said in a statement issued following the Senate vote. “Our top priority at the Department of Education is to reopen America’s schools for in-person learning, support students’ social, emotional, and academic needs, and address inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. I am thrilled that Cindy has accepted this challenge and I look forward to working with her as she continues to serve our nation’s students as Deputy Secretary.”
When the pandemic broke, Marten had already built an effective and collaborative leadership team, which was responsible for eliminating a 10 percent structural deficit; returning the district to positive financial status; and earning high ratings and low interest rates on an $8 billion bond program. This allowed San Diego Unified to remain focused on student learning during the pandemic. San Diego Unified made sure every teacher and employee who wanted to be vaccinated could do so, and worked to reopen classrooms for students at all grade-levels before other large urban districts.
“I have had the chance to work directly with Superintendent Marten in many capacities, but no situation has required more from us both than the challenge of reopening schools in the middle of a global pandemic,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said in his support for her nomination. “Throughout this effort, Superintendent Marten has demonstrated the type of clear-eyed commitment to our students that will make her an outstanding member of the Department of Education leadership team.”
Marten’s nomination was supported by teachers, civic and education leaders, including Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Lei-Chala Wilson, past president of the San Diego branch of the NAACP. In a letter to the Biden Transition Team’s Education Chair, Deborah Jewell-Sherman, the first woman professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote:
“I cannot stress enough what an exceptional educator, leader and human being Cindy Marten has been in the education space,” stated Jewell-Sherman, a former Richmond, Virginia school superintendent. “She is undaunted by challenge, unafraid of making hard decisions, compelled by a moral compass focused on social justice, and persuaded by both her mind and her heart. Unprecedented times call for leaders who are intelligent, caring, and willing to act…”
A longtime San Diegan by way of Chicago, Marten attended San Diego Unified’s Hardy Elementary and Mann Middle schools, and La Jolla Country Day School. She launched her education career in San Diego, where she worked as a teacher, literacy specialist, vice principal, principal and superintendent. Marten spent a decade at Central Elementary School in City Heights, where she established a successful biliteracy program, an integrated arts education, quality after-school and preschool programs, a daycare center for employees’ children, and a community health and wellness center for students and their families.
“Cindy Marten has led this district with integrity, compassion and with students at the heart of every decision,” Board of Education President Richard Barrera said. “As a teacher and a principal and a superintendent, Cindy Marten has been a champion for public education in a way that has made San Diego proud. As sorry as I am to see Cindy leave San Diego, I know our nation’s students and teachers will benefit.”
In February, following Biden’s announcement that he would nominate Marten as U.S. Deputy Education Secretary, the San Diego Unified Board of Education designated Area Superintendent Dr. Lamont Jackson to be interim superintendent following Marten’s resignation through December 2021. The board also approved a superintendent recruitment and selection process that will emphasize transparency and public engagement.
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