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Bio

Cindy MartenCindy Marten has served as Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District since 2013. She directed implementation of the district’s Vision 2020 commitment to a meaningful graduation for all students, with the district achieving the highest graduation rate among big-city districts in California and the fastest reading growth of large urban districts nationwide, in 2019.

 

“I am a teacher”

 

Superintendent, principal, vice principal, literacy specialist and author are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator, but Marten remains a teacher at heart.

 

When asked by anyone who doesn’t know her current job what she does for a living she always responds, “I am a teacher.” She is known to be a collaborator and someone who brings people together around big ideas and important topics, always keeping children at the center of every conversation and decision. Marten is committed to sharing her reflective approach to teaching, learning and leading others. Her motto has always been, “Work hard. Be kind. Dream big!”

 

Students of color in San Diego Unified outperform their peers across California, according to a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute. The study found a link between student success and qualified, experienced teaching, something Marten has championed as a former classroom teacher. She has supported calls for a national teacher corps to give every student access to academic success.

 

Leading the nation in literacy

 

Even as national education leaders expressed concern about declining school literacy scores, San Diego Unified students have continued to improve, bucking the national trend and leading the Council of the Great City Schools to call San Diego Unified the fastest-improving urban district in the nation. Marten ascribes students’ success to an emphasis on literacy, a focus of her book, “Word Crafting: Teaching Spelling, Grades K-6.” 

 

Health, wellness and social-emotional growth

 

In addition to the emphasis on academics, Marten has been a champion for health and wellness, putting in place an award-winning wellness policy for all staff and students. San Diego Unified has received Gold Recognition in the American Heart Association's Workplace Health Achievement Index for efforts to support employee wellness, and multiple San Diego Unified schools have received "America's Healthiest Schools" award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

 

Cindy MartenPrior to being appointed superintendent, for ten years Marten worked in one of San Diego’s most ethnically diverse and economically challenged school communities, at Central Elementary School in City Heights. As a teacher, instructional leader, and later as principal, she established a commitment to educating the “whole child,” through an emphasis on social and emotional learning and the arts combined with academic rigor. Marten witnessed her students become confident, curious, and successful learners, who have gone on to achieve their own dreams of success rooted in the belief that your demography does not determine your destiny. 

 

At Central, Marten 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. The results of her clear passion and commitment to raise the bar on educational excellence soon became measurable: Central Elementary thrived with improved test scores, high staff morale, a constructive learning community, increased parental involvement, and strong student academic success.

 

Marten’s reputation for attracting and retaining first-rate staff and implementing innovative programs that connected school with home and the community attracted the attention of the school district leadership. The San Diego Unified Board of Education unanimously selected Marten as superintendent in 2013. 

 

Awards and recognitions

 

Marten was chosen as the 2018 Woman of the Year by the San Diego Business Journal, and was awarded the 2015 National Conflict Resolution Center Peacemaker Award. She was the 2020 Chairwoman for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women San Diego Division; serves on the board of the California Schools Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA); and is a Commissioner on the San Diego Public Library Commission. 

 

As a lifelong Girl Scout, Marten has earned the highest awards in Scouting: The Girl Scout Gold Award and then the Thanks Badge, later as an adult. It is through her Girl Scout experience that Marten has a clear drive to be of service to her community. In 2013, Girl Scouts of San Diego recognized her with the “Cool Woman Award.” Marten often credits Girl Scouts for learning leadership skills she uses to this day.

 

Marten has also received the 2014 San Diego Leadership Alliance Civic Leader of the Year Award, the 2013 City Heights CDC Community Advocate Hero Award, the 2013 San Diego Bar Association Distinguished Citizen Award, and the 2013 Young Audiences Arts for Learning San Diego Civic Leadership Award.

 

Education

Marten's passion for teaching started at the youngest age as the sibling of an individual with developmental disabilities. Her older brother, Charley, formed the basis for her beliefs about education and continues to influence her decisions today through their close relationship.

 

Marten earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, and master's degree in Teaching and Learning from the University of California, San Diego. She holds multiple-subject, reading specialist, and administrative services credentials. In 2015, the University of California San Diego gave her the Distinguished Alumni Award and the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse honored her with the Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award.

Commitment to Equity

Prior to becoming superintendent of San Diego Unified, Ms. Marten was an instructor, teacher and principal at a school in one of San Diego’s most disadvantaged communities, City Heights. There, 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. The results of her clear passion and commitment to raise the bar on educational excellence soon became measurable: Central Elementary thrived with improved test scores, high staff morale, a constructive learning community, increased parental involvement, and strong student academic success.

Cindy MartenAs superintendent, Cindy Marten built on her experience in City Heights to develop and fund a community schools initiative, place community wellness centers in high schools and expand counseling services in high needs communities. Marten also went to the voters and asked them to fund a bond program, which has transformed the quality of many inner-city San Diego schools. Under Superintendent Marten, San Diego Unified has invested over $500M on school facilities improvements in low income neighborhoods.

Central to her equity work is the work Superintendent Cindy Marten has done to eliminate the legacy of systemic racism within public education. She has challenged her colleagues to create an anti-racist school district, and she has put in place concrete policies to improve the academic outcomes for students of color. The district has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and endorsed a statewide Juneteenth holiday. Following the murder of George Floyd, San Diego Unified launched its own Freedom Summer to eliminate educational barriers for all students.

 

A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute found students of color in San Diego Unified schools academically outperform their peers statewide. A companion study by UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools found this success is not accidental, rather it is the result of intentional efforts to provide added counselors and other supports to high needs school communities. San Diego Unified has an equity-based funding model that doubles or triples school-site funding above what the district receives in state allocations for disadvantaged students (LCFF S/C).

Significantly, the increase in African American student achievement has come at the same time as San Diego Unified has raised its academic standards. San Diego Unified was one of the first urban districts in the state to require students to graduate with enough credits to attend California’s outstanding public universities. College readiness for African American students has increased by 50 percent at San Diego Unified since the start of those improvements.

Marten has set about to dramatically shift the dialogue within San Diego Unified to create a community that values the African American experience. From inviting prominent African American leaders like Congressman John Lewis, Professor Ogletree, Sarah Collins Rudolph and Bettina Love to speak with students to implementing a robust program of ethnic studies in the district. Even as a fight over ethnic studies simmers at the state level, San Diego Unified has introduced new ethnic studies courses, required completion of an ethnic studies course for graduation, created an ethnic studies department and set about training its teaching workforce in the field.

 

Under Superintendent Marten, San Diego Unified has set out to systematically dismantle the structural barriers to student achievement that have disadvantaged generations of young African American and LatinX students. Marten took a stand for restorative justice in order to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, before it became politically popular. The district has dismantled unequal discipline policies, reducing 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. (The district has also embarked on a commitment to reimagine school police.)

 

As a result of the changes to discipline policy, San Diego Unified now has one of the lowest suspension rates for African American students in the state, among large urban districts, and 5 percent below the statewide average of 9.1 per 100 students. Under Superintendent Marten, suspension rates for African American students have declined 15 percent and expulsions have declined by 30 percent. (Suspensions have gone from 10.1 students per 100 to 8.6 per hundred; expulsions from 3 per thousand to 2 per thousand. Source: https://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/)