Biden Chooses School Equity Leader Superintendent Cindy Marten for Department of Education
President Biden has chosen an equity leader from Southern California as his new Deputy Secretary for Education.
San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten is a 32-year educator with a deep commitment to improving the lives of all students, and a proven record of improving outcomes for students of color.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tony Thurmond, Secretary of State designate Dr. Shirley Weber, Dr. Pedro Noguera and other equity leaders cheered the announcement of Marten for the Department of Education. The success of African American and other students of color in San Diego Unified has been well-studied by California equity leaders.
Academically, students of color in San Diego Unified are outperforming their peers statewide, according to a recent study co-authored by State Board of Education Chair Dr. Linda Darling Hammond. San Diego Unified has invested in their success with an equity-based funding model that doubles or triples school-site funding above what the district receives in state allocations for disadvantaged students.
College readiness for African American students has increased by 50 percent under Superintendent Marten, at the same time as high school graduation requirements have been strengthened. The Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA found San Diego schools supported these gains with added counselors and other additional resources. “Students achieve more when you ask more from them and give them the tools to succeed,” says Marten.
Cindy Marten’s heart has always been in the community. She began her career in San Diego Unified in City Heights, a diverse community struggling from years of economic disinvestment. She served as an instructor, teacher and principal at Central Elementary, where she established a highly successful biliteracy program, a hands-on school garden program, 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 took her passion for community building with her when she became superintendent. She has invested over $500 million in school bond funds to give students from low-income families the kinds of facilities they deserve. Under her leadership, the school district has launched a community schools initiative to deepen the bond between schools and the communities they serve.
Superintendent Marten has also engaged her school community in the fight to eliminate the legacy of systemic racism within public education. In order to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, Marten took a stand for restorative justice, and worked to address the over-disciplining of African American students. San Diego Unified reduced the number of expellable offenses from 15 to only the 5 required by Ed Code, eliminating suspensions for willful defiance and reducing student arrests by school police by 79 percent in the last decade.
In the historically African American community of Southeast San Diego, Superintendent Marten intervened to replace the entire administrative leadership in order to create a safer environment for all students. Year over year suspension rates dropped from 8 percent of students to just 2.2 percent, and for African Americans, it dropped from 17 percent last year to just 2.8 percent, as a result of the new student-centered leadership.
More than simply confronting racism, Marten has challenged her colleagues to turn San Diego Unified into an anti-racist district. The district launched its own Freedom Summer initiative, named for the historic voter registration and education drive of 1964, embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and endorsed a statewide Juneteenth holiday.
San Diego Unified is also leading the state in the adoption of ethnic studies, under Superintendent Marten, placing the African American experience at the center of every student’s education. Every student is required to take an ethnic studies class in order to graduate. The district has also created an ethnic studies department and created new course opportunities for all students.
Superintendent Marten has also worked to provide students and educators with the opportunity to hear from some of the leading African American voices in the nation, including Congressman John Lewis, Professor Ogletree, Sarah Collins Rudolph and Bettina Love.