By Amanda Menas
Senators will confirm Cindy Marten as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education alongside Dr. Miguel Cardona later this month. Marten is a former classroom teacher and urban principal who currently leads the second largest district in the State of California, San Diego Unified School District.
“As an educator, Superintendent Marten possesses the vast classroom, administrative, and personal experience to effectively support the department in managing its K-12 policies, intergovernmental and stakeholder activities, and English language learners programming,” said NEA Director of Government Relations Mark Egan in support of the nomination.
Cindy Marten has demonstrated a successful and fruitful commitment to educating all students, collaborating with families, educators, and the community, and advancing a comprehensive policy agenda that nurtures and fully supports students. She spoke before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ahead of her confirmation.
Here are five more reasons educators are excited about Secretary-designate Marten:
She supports educator and student diversity
Under Marten’s leadership, the Learning Policy Institute credited the district’s dedication and prioritization of hiring and retaining qualified, experienced teachers as a driver of improving student outcomes, particularly for students of color. San Diego Unified also is committed to racial justice and community empowerment, ensuring the continuation of related programs even during the pandemic. It is notable that Marten spearheaded and hosted a Freedom Summer series of board workshops, which resulted in plans to reimagine school police and the creation of a racial equity oversight committee for all hiring. Other community-centered work included a dramatic plan to address food insecurity, which has provided close to 10 million free meals to needy families since the start of the pandemic.
In addition, to support the growing population of San Diego Unified immigrant students, Marten established close ties with leaders from the Mexican American, Somali-American and other New Americans communities. To further demonstrate the district’s commitment to immigrant students and families, Marten ensured the establishment of the district’s own office to facilitate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications.
She has aided student and educator success during the pandemic
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Marten has worked closely with families and educators to follow science and keep the community safe. She established her own panel of scientific experts from the University of California in San Diego and launched her own testing program based on the panel’s guidance and input from the California Teachers Association (CTA). The testing plan and gradual reopening of schools were widely supported by families, educators, and the community, including local school board members. In addition, as schools transitioned to remote learning, Marten continued her longstanding commitment to professional development by ensuring that all educators were provided an extra week of training at the beginning of the school year to help them take their craft online with confidence.
Marten believes deeply in ensuring every student in the country has access to a bright future and has organized a series of policy recommendations in the “National Response to Persevere and to Prioritize School Recovery with Equity and Undoing Learning Loss.”
She understands the importance of trauma-informed education
As the principal of an urban school for a decade, Marten learned the importance of social and emotional learning and trauma-informed approaches to education. She has taken her experience opening a community health clinic at her school to expand student support services district-wide. During her tenure, San Diego Unified has launched a community schools initiative to deepen the bonds between school leaders and the families they serve.
Her emphasis on social and emotional learning, and an approach that values recognizing, understanding, and attempting to meet the full spectrum of a child’s needs, has led Marten to de-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing, instead focusing on classroom-based learning and assessments. Nevertheless, standardized test scores for the district climbed steadily under Superintendent Marten’s leadership, prompting the head of the Council of Great City Schools to call San Diego Unified the nation’s fastest improving school system.
She practices equity based budgeting
Outpacing every other participating urban district in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing, the Learning Policy Institute also found African American and Latino students within San Diego Unified outperformed their peers statewide. The UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools found these improvements were the direct result of Superintendent Marten’s focus on equity-based budgeting.
In her opening statement, she said: “The pandemic did not create the inequities in our education system, but it has highlighted just how much work remains to be done…If confirmed, I would work to deliver on the hope and promise of public education in America. I would work to create the conditions in every single classroom where all children grow and learn to become actively literate, contributing, participating members of society.”
She invests in school modernization
In a sign of faith in her leadership, voters previously endorsed Marten’s plan to issue the largest bond in city educational history. These resources provided significant funding for school facility renovations, repairs and safety upgrades, the reduction of lead in drinking water and new facilities for athletics, visual or performing arts and career or technical education.