SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten's First Day On The Job
July 1, 2013 1:06 p.m.
Cindy Marten, Superintendent, SDUSD
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CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, today marks a change at the top at San Diego's largest school district. Cindy Marten takes over as superintendent for the San Diego Union school district. Marten replaces Superintendent Bill Kowba. [It] surprised many [when] the former principal of Central Elementary School of City Heights was named to the post. I spoke with Cindy Marten late last week about her new job. Here is that interview:
Cindy, in recent weeks you've been making the rounds of schools and communities and introducing yourself. I wondered you feel in a way that you had to make up for the unusually quick way you were appointed by the school board in terms of introducing yourself as the new superintendent?
MARTEN: It's been great to be out in the community. I don't know if it was making up for anything but it was engaging. I believe public education is a place for community engagement and I've always worked that way, so I spent the last four months engaging the community and breathing life and hope that back into public education. So I do not know if it was making up; it was being grateful for the opportunity of listening to the community around what they want for public education in the city.
CAVANAUGH: As you know, the governor just signed a bill that gives school districts more funds and more discretion about how to use the funds. You think San Diego schools need to invest?
MARTEN: It's really important that we use all our dollars wisely and invest in education of our children. We just passed this past week on Tuesday, the board passed a three-year budget plan and looking at that how to rebuild for our structural deficits and how do we keep focused on main thing, which is the education of our children. The local controlled funding formula is a concentration of dollars that we will be able to spend time being able to think about what happens with, or curriculum how do we make sure our students are ready, the teachers are ready and the community understands how we will build based on the budget strategy do you think it's really important that we understand the board's budget strategy of our three-year time to address the structural deficits that we have.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk more about the common core standards but first to get back to the budget, to get back after the fact now after all these years of cuts and cuts and cuts, San Diego Unified is actually getting a little bit more money. I'm wondering as you look at the budget that the board passed just recently, where is the additional funding going to be funneled into first?
MARTEN: We want to make sure that we are well set up to weather any financial storms that might come in years ahead to get through just what we got through. At a budget crisis, we want to look at, how do we replenish our financial reserves and be really strategic about building for a rainy day. So we are looking at a school stabilization fund that has the dollars start coming back and we need to make sure we are stabilized. If we just spend everything the minute we get it what happens again when we have another financial crisis? We want to be solid and strong for years ahead, so that's what the strategy is about ,is building those financial reserves and we will look at enhancing the current programs but this is not going to be about restore, restore, restore. When you go through a crisis and you have to cut off your arms and limbs, you don't just sew them back on again. So it's not about restoration, it's about transformation, so be smart about the dollars as they come back in and what goes to the reserves, what goes to immediate need, what things do we stop doing, start doing, what we continue doing and being really strategic about it. It is not just, put it all back together again, [but] completely rethinking how we engage education in San Diego and be smart about the dollars.
CAVANAUGH: There's been some criticism that a lot of the money going to San Diego schools will go toward employee raises. Is that a legitimate criticism?
MARTEN: I don't know how we can criticize employees being paid for the work they do. They’re teachers and educators across the system being paid what they deserve for doing an incredibly difficult job. Education is where it is that in the future and now to build a strong public education system that our school stabilization fund in the long-term fun to show that the long-term dollars are being used wisely investing in the children.
CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the common core standards, a new national program that will start kicking in next year. How do you plan to get San Diego Unified ready for this?
MARTEN: There have been early preparations before I started. I spent time looking at those preparations and now I'm building for the full implementation, so I started last week by building, pulling the principals together. The full-day principals institute that we held this past Thursday getting our leaders to understand, what is our approach to common core and it's more than just a new curriculum. This is a new way of thinking around how we engage children in real-world learning, personalize learning, active engagement and critical thinking. It's a very exciting time in education to have a new focus and approach to instruction.
CAVANAUGH: I read that you are an advocate of finding teaching practices that work in a few schools and expanding those practices across the board. Tell us about that.
MARTEN: That's exactly what I do and the belief system I hold, we call it appreciative inquiry or positive deviance. What we do is, we noticed what's working and pay attention to what's working so in small pockets of success all around the district I have spent the last four months seeing incredible excellence in bringing about wonderful learning experiences for children and where the practices are working and we are seeing games we pay attention to that end we begin to grow that and my approach on very much of a systems person and I want to think about how we are going to do that systemically, systematically and do it in a way that scalable, repeatable and equitable and restore the programs and approaches around the district that are working well and we grow from there.
CAVANAUGH: As I said, you come to this job as a principal from Central Elementary and you are now superintendent of San Diego Unified and the district just approved the hiring of six principals, its first principal mentor. I'm just wondering from your background and from this move that the board has made to hire these new principals, how important are principal to our school’s performance?
MARTEN: The principals are the key. Leadership development is the focus of my work in the years ahead in life to sign the organizational structure for San Diego unified to put teaching and learning and leadership at the heart. If you look at the org chart that was just approved, you will see the teaching and learning which is curriculum and instruction and leadership development is a part and investing in supporting our principles to deliver on the promise, the board has made a promise for quality schools in every neighborhood. My job is to implement that and the board is visionary and sing a quality school is more than just great test scores at the school we have 12 indicators that make the school's grade and the principal leading work through supportive system at the district offices how we are going to realize the vision.
CAVANAUGH: I know you've been in the San Diego school district for a while and you've seen superintendents come and go. There have been criticisms of the past that other superintendents did not listen to teachers. I would imagine that's going to be completely different considering your background. What did you feel like back then, when all the teachers were mounting up and saying basically you know, we don't like this top-down kind of administration, they've got to start listening to us.
MARTEN: I've always said if you want to know what works as the people doing the work and the people that are with the children every day and the principalsleading schools and the parents who understand what children need we gather together and create what works. I'm how to build a system unless you listen to the people that work inside the system. After you build capacity and strength and give them support for what they know they need.
CAVANAUGH: Recently I spoke with Randy Ward, he's of course, superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education. He wants to see districts work with communities to come up with accountability standards for the way the new funding from Sacramento is being used. Do you agree with that?
MARTEN: We absolutely need to engage the community in how we are spending dollars to make an impact. Remember we do have the vision 2020 that the board has signed on to an the 12 quality school indicators are part of realizing the quality schools, so we engage the community in dollars to create those quality school so we have to have a shared understanding of what it means to make a school great. It's not one person's idea of this is what we should spend the money on. What are we trying to create and are we clear as a community what we are trying to create and why we are trying to create it and what makes a school grade would have assured understanding of what that is and we understand how to best implement the dollars.
CAVANAUGH: Over the years of public schools, what makes education work is been testing, a lot of tests, that's going to make schools accountable. Then there had been the idea that we have to get kids learning so that they qualify for certain business roles, we have to guide them in those vocational directions. What do you think makes a school work?
MARTEN: We talk about what is our product and the product is not a test score, the product is an actively literate contributing participating member of society who makes a positive difference in the world. So what makes a school work? That produces that is a product could you can have a school that's producing a student who gets a high score record to talk about a student who contributes and makes a difference of what we've already identified the indicators that make a schoolwork, quality teaching, professional development, leadership, (inaudible), digital literacy, closing the achievement gap. I can keep going on. The list of indicators but we've developed an idea of the school as a neighborhood center and the neighborhood knows what we need and the neighborhood schooling community creates a together and there will be measures to measure those indicators of quality indicators we can look at attendance rates, we can look to A through Z. I'm very interested in looking at college completion rates because I talk about a literate member of society that makes a difference about we talk about kids getting into college, what about kids completing college. That's a data point that we could look at.
CAVANAUGH: You go on a retreat this month with members of the San Diego unified school board, is that right?
CAVANAUGH: What's on the agenda?
MARTEN: We will be looking at three things. The board will be looking at where we are and how they implemented the vision (inaudible) before it started and they want to update themselves and want to know where we are so far on 20/20 and how we are, how where we create and where we need to go next, once I review the progress we've made so far that they will turn to me and say this is how far we are what are you going to do to take it to the next level, how will you implement quality schools in every neighborhood and what leadership moves and supports you're going to put in place in our schools to make this happens. I'll be talking about the implementation plan how we can support quality leadership and common core and output to bring each indicator to life that we are going to talk about board governance and how the relationship between the board and superintendent and how we work together to realize the vision.
CAVANAUGH: The governor has just made education a priority in evolving presenting this new funding mechanism where disadvantaged schools and school districts get more of a share of the pie. I wonder, are you a big supporter of that and if so why?
MARTEN: I was a big supporter. I went to Sacramento to advocate before it was passed. The idea of concentration when you have the students in need is something that makes a lot of sense to me and I know from experience I taught at the school in Poway unified were we had 50% of students living in poverty and limited to Central elementary with 100% I saw the difference in concentration. We were able to do is go with 50% was one thing, what was needed at a school with high concentration was very different and the resources are important to be able to serve the needs of students like that when they are concentrated and concentrating the dollar that also helps us come up with best practices and solutions in a concentrated area so that places where it is not as concentrated where they don't have the dollars resource that can actually learn from what we have concentrated the doctors dollars the best practice can be exported to places where it's not as concentrated but we have answers that we've developed and we will share with those areas with smaller concentration.
CAVANAUGH: I'm talking to you on Friday instead of Monday your first day on the job because you will be fulfilling a promise with third-graders at your old school to join them on a camping trip. Do you think Cindy you're going to miss being a school principal?
MARTEN: I'm going to miss the schoolchildren every single day it is something that keeps me grounded but it's part of my leadership plan to be in the schools regularly and to be connected to children. As I walked in today there was a group of kids sitting out the grass outside and they said hi Mrs. Martin and I turned around and it was some kids that I taught at Central and they are at high school. They are here for a summer bridge program and it was amazing. My connection I have 10 years of children in city Heights of workers going camping with the kids on Monday is a promise I made to some third-graders at Central and have got 10 years with kids in City Heights and they know I believe in them and I want to continue to stay connected to children all over the city.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Cindy Marten, superintendent of San Diego unified school district. Thank you so much.
MARTEN: Thank you.