When Cindy Marten looks at the dust-up at Lincoln High, she said she doesn’t just see anger over a principal’s leadership style or teachers’ effectiveness.

The tensions at Lincoln — which have escalated following years of failing test scores and a mass student exodus — are bigger and deeper than both of those pressure points.

“What’s happening at Lincoln is at the heart of the struggle in America,” she said. “When we get Lincoln right, we get America right.”

At the core of the controversy, she said, is a question about how to make a high school work in a large urban district, one that struggles with the same issues facing cities across the nation: generational poverty, racial disparities and budget shortfalls.

In a lengthy interview with Voice of San Diego, Marten said she doesn’t care for the word “turnaround,” or the idea that a single person can save a district or school.

Like it or not, that’s exactly what people are hoping she can do with a school like Lincoln.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Marten evangelically believes in the need for a “shared-conversation,” in which the community airs its concerns, defines its goals and together creates a plan.

Yes, Marten said, a conversation is happening at Lincoln, but not the right kind.

“I’m tired of the polarized rhetoric that pits teachers against administration,” she said. “I’m tired of the conversation about good teachers and bad teachers. None of this is helping.”

The Lincoln Monologues

When Lincoln started the 2007 academic year with a new, $129 million campus, it opened with four separate academies: a center for social justice, arts, science and engineering and public safety.

Test scores — to the degree to which they can — tell the story of a school that has sputtered academically since it opened.  In 2012, Lincoln ranked last in the district in its Academic Performance Index, a number derived from statewide assessment scores.

Stacked up against high schools statewide, Lincoln ranks well below average.

Ray Adair, a former math teacher who organized and administered the California Standards Test (CST) during his tenure at Lincoln, attributes the low test scores to the fact the school had a “shotgun start,” meaning that when it opened, it took in kids from over 70 schools to fill all four grades at once.

Most new charter schools, he said, begin with a 9th grade class and grow their student bodies year by year.

Adair said he wasn’t thrilled by a recent Voice of San Diego story that cited a 300 percent proficiency gain in Lincoln’s CST math scores over the past year.

Math proficiency scores, he said, are still very low — around 15 percent. “When I was there, we had a 300 percent increase, too. But we didn’t go around bragging about it,” he said.

Almost 30 percent of Lincoln’s student body has left since 2009, and so has much of its staff. Adair said a large number of teachers left after a controversial principal, Esther Omogbehin, took over in early 2012.

Under Omogbehin, the school restructured its campus, moving from four academic centers into a single-functioning unit. And district-wide curriculum changes have further stoked the fire.

This year, Lincoln began shifting to an A-G curriculum, meaning students will be required to pass classes that are aligned with University of California admission standards.

To that end, classes at Lincoln that didn’t jive with the A-G curriculum have been cut, and many of their teachers have been excessed or have relocated.

Teachers have accused Omogbehin of bullying staff who grieved her leadership, and transferring teachers based on her personal preferences.

The principal declined to speak with Voice of San Diego, but she told 10 News in 2012 that the animosity is rooted in racial tensions that predate her arrival.

Dan Camacho, a former teacher at Lincoln, has been one of many loud voices at school board meetings for the past several weeks.

Camacho has repeatedly asked the board to conduct a “social audit” that would determine whether school administration is following the district’s ethics code.

Dozens of Lincoln students and staff have appeared at school board meetings, dressed in red shirts, demanding accountability and transparency from the administration. What, exactly, meeting those demands would look like remains unclear, but away from the public podium, teachers agree on this: Omogbehin needs to leave.

This isn’t the first turbulence Omogbehin has experienced at Lincoln. In 2012, shortly after she became principal, a student accused the principal of making physical threats against her. A school district investigation found no wrongdoing, but Omogbehin told 10 News that the damage was done.

Sally Smith, who has served on the school governance board at Lincoln, has opposed teachers and defended Omogbehin in school board meetings and after-school protests.

To Smith, the issue comes down to “bad teachers who don’t want to be held accountable.”

Marten’s Take

As superintendent, it’s Marten’s job to moderate the conversation that can transform the vitriolic bickering taking place at Lincoln into a constructive dialogue.

Part of that, she said, means not taking a side.

“I don’t think either side is right or wrong. Each point of view points to a bigger debate about what people are seeking in school,” Marten said.

Marten said there are opportunities to learn from both sides.

“You talk to teachers, you hear, ‘We need to be nurturing, we love our school and our kids, we need to build relationships, why don’t you let us do it?’ You talk to the other side, they want educated children and they want accountability,” she said. “What we’re talking about here is how to best educate our children in the community, and I believe we can achieve what both sides want. In the end, they all care about students.”

So what’s Marten going to do about the situation at Lincoln?

“I’m already doing it,” she said.

Mediations are under way, Marten said, and there’s been progress. She’s been holding town hall meetings, listening, bringing in district relations personnel to work with the staff at Lincoln.

“At the end of the day, we need to figure this out,” she said. “The students are counting on us to get this right.”

    This article relates to: Education, Lincoln High, News, School Leadership, School Performance, Share

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario asks questions and writes stories about San Diego schools. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    36 comments
    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    What's the "connection" that you're hinting at? It sounds like you're trying to stir up something but afraid to say exactly what you're getting at.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Oh, poor, poor teachers, it's not their fault, their union, which they have zero control over made them terrible at doing their job. If teachers spent more time teaching than they do making excuses, there would be no need for conversations about these atrocious schools that no good parent would ever send their kid to.

    DDunn
    DDunn

    Wrong conversation is aptly put as this has been a decade’s long issue of differing opinions among the community as to the perceived or intended goals for Lincoln, including a restructuring as a Charter school. Why does the school board continually drag their feet to promote any real support for Lincoln? Why does the San Diego media wear such a soft glove on SDUSD investigative reporting? Who are the people waiting to catch Lincoln? What is, if any, the connection among past BOE president/current California Assemblywoman, newest school board member, ousted area superintendent, and Lincoln's principal? Is there is one? Is there a coalition here? As so, there is no diversity here. Is it about race, community, children, or just plain competency? Maybe Lincoln needs take a real look at its stakeholders. Oh yes, there are leadership issues at Lincoln, board meetings are better than Monday Night Football, and possibly in need for a coaching change. And, who the heck is Citizen? And, for the second time, there is “Voice” mention of connection between Supt. Marten and our ex-Mayor. Oddly he was asked to do her swear in, hmm...! Wrong conversation? Yup…! DD

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga

    What's the "connection" that you're hinting at? It sounds like you're trying to stir up something but afraid to say exactly what you're getting at.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox

    I tried finding some value in what Cindy supposedly said, but I could not find anything. It looked like more gibberish from a bureaucrat to me. I'm not convinced yet that anything is wrong. If parents moved their kids to a better school then good for them. That is a win for them. Of course it is a loss for taxpayers when we are forced to pay over a hundred million for a school, and the system still fails the kids. Perhaps if we would have spent another $100 million, things would have been fine.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    I tried finding some value in what Cindy supposedly said, but I could not find anything. It looked like more gibberish from a bureaucrat to me. I'm not convinced yet that anything is wrong. If parents moved their kids to a better school then good for them. That is a win for them. Of course it is a loss for taxpayers when we are forced to pay over a hundred million for a school, and the system still fails the kids. Perhaps if we would have spent another $100 million, things would have been fine.

    DDunn
    DDunn

    No Dust Up: Wrong conversation is aptly put as this has been a decade’s long issue of differing opinions among the community as to the perceived or intended goals for Lincoln, including a restructuring as a Charter school. Why does the school board continually drag their feet to promote any real support for Lincoln? Why does the San Diego media wear such a soft glove on SDUSD investigative reporting? Who are the people waiting to catch Lincoln? Did I say "Sisterhood"? Oops, yes sisterhood! – and what is, if any, the connection among past BOE president/current California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, school board member Marne Foster, ousted Dr. Campbell, and Lincoln's Dr. O? Is there is one? Is there a coalition here? As so, there is no diversity here. Is it about race, community, children, or just plain competency? Maybe Lincoln needs take a real look at its stakeholders. Oh yes, there are leadership issues at Lincoln, board meetings are better than Monday Night Football, and possibly in need for a coaching change. And, who the heck is Sally (?) Citizen? And, for the second time, there is mention of connection between Supt. Marten and our ex-Mayor. Oddly he was asked to do her swear in, hmm...! Wrong conversation? Yup…! DD

    DDunn
    DDunn

    Oh please, Matt. Teachers belong to unions by requirement. They teach by profession. Don't connect the two, and don't assume that San Diego teachers actually support their union 100% DD

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Oh, poor, poor teachers, it's not their fault, their union, which they have zero control over made them terrible at doing their job. If teachers spent more time teaching than they do making excuses, there would be no need for conversations about these atrocious schools that no good parent would ever send their kid to.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish

    This is the same tired story over, and over and over again. Whether it was Michelle Rhee in DC, or Omogbehin here, it's the same. Unionized teachers and bureaucrats don't ever want to be held accountable. The second someone wants to do so, they scream bloody murder. The writing is on the wall people, union thugs have to go. Get their boot heels off the throats of these poor kids.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge

    And Matt yours is the same old tired far right mantra of 'blame the teacher'. You don't even want to recognize any of the good the public education system has produced. 'Throw out the baby with the bathwater' is better? That's what Omogbehin has done. The lowered enrollment at the school (down from 1800's last year at this time to 1300s one year later) says it all. Staff and students have been driven out. Computer programs, fire pro academy, social justice and AVID all whittled down or gone. The political forces at work have done some irreparable damage. Everyone from our school board trustee, to area superintendent all the way to our new assemblywoman are fighting for 'diversity' and yet their tactics are having the opposite effect. They have polarized ppl where there was not polarization before. Lincoln opened with the most diverse administration and staff. The difference between then and now is 'Experience' at the high school level. Previous admin had it all. Current admin has almost none.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    "You don't even want to recognize any of the good the public education system has produced. " That's a laugh, trying to take credit for kids who did well despite public dumbing down who still would have been better off in a private school. Lousy union run public schools hurt all kids, some manage to do OK regardless.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish

    Holding someone accountable for the job they do was not a concept that was invented by the far right. Rather, it's common sense.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    This is the same tired story over, and over and over again. Whether it was Michelle Rhee in DC, or Omogbehin here, it's the same. Unionized teachers and bureaucrats don't ever want to be held accountable. The second someone wants to do so, they scream bloody murder. The writing is on the wall people, union thugs have to go. Get their boot heels off the throats of these poor kids.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    Holding someone accountable for the job they do was not a concept that was invented by the far right. Rather, it's common sense.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge subscriber

    And Matt yours is the same old tired far right mantra of 'blame the teacher'. You don't even want to recognize any of the good the public education system has produced. 'Throw out the baby with the bathwater' is better? That's what Omogbehin has done. The lowered enrollment at the school (down from 1800's last year at this time to 1300s one year later) says it all. Staff and students have been driven out. Computer programs, fire pro academy, social justice and AVID all whittled down or gone. The political forces at work have done some irreparable damage. Everyone from our school board trustee, to area superintendent all the way to our new assemblywoman are fighting for 'diversity' and yet their tactics are having the opposite effect. They have polarized ppl where there was not polarization before. Lincoln opened with the most diverse administration and staff. The difference between then and now is 'Experience' at the high school level. Previous admin had it all. Current admin has almost none.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    "You don't even want to recognize any of the good the public education system has produced. " That's a laugh, trying to take credit for kids who did well despite public dumbing down who still would have been better off in a private school. Lousy union run public schools hurt all kids, some manage to do OK regardless.

    richard gibson
    richard gibson

    The education agenda is a war agenda. It is an empire's war (human munition factories) and class war (booming inequality). Any country writhing and decaying in those conditions is going to make peculiar demands on school. The shell games, like small schools in big schools, racist high stakes exams, do nothing to upend the poverty that capitalism always creates. Doing school reform without doing social and economic reform will never work. As my colleague Jean Anyon said, "it is like washing the air on one side of a screen door." In the absence of a social movement for equality and justice--it is just more organized, or unorganized, decay within the corporate state.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish

    Nice progressive talking points, but the polar opposite is true. Capitalism has lifted more people out of the default human condition of miserable poverty than anything else in human history. We need more of it, not less. Feel-good terms like "social justice" are meaningless and do nothing to help.

    richard gibson
    richard gibson subscriber

    The education agenda is a war agenda. It is an empire's war (human munition factories) and class war (booming inequality). Any country writhing and decaying in those conditions is going to make peculiar demands on school. The shell games, like small schools in big schools, racist high stakes exams, do nothing to upend the poverty that capitalism always creates. Doing school reform without doing social and economic reform will never work. As my colleague Jean Anyon said, "it is like washing the air on one side of a screen door." In the absence of a social movement for equality and justice--it is just more organized, or unorganized, decay within the corporate state.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    Nice progressive talking points, but the polar opposite is true. Capitalism has lifted more people out of the default human condition of miserable poverty than anything else in human history. We need more of it, not less. Feel-good terms like "social justice" are meaningless and do nothing to help.

    James Wilson
    James Wilson

    Cindy is the only adult in the conversation. When Lincoln was rebuilt it was constructed to have four schools within the high school. The idea was to offer four different career academies at Lincoln. The problem was that several superintendents have come and gone and the school didn't get the leadership that it needed. Now they are attempting to squeeze their kids through a University of California college prep curriculum. This makes no sense. There are probably fewer than ten percent of the kids who will actually attend one of the sites of the University of California. The kids and parents see this in flunking these courses and leave or dropout. The problem is the curriculum and an ignorant school board.

    James Wilson
    James Wilson subscriber

    Cindy is the only adult in the conversation. When Lincoln was rebuilt it was constructed to have four schools within the high school. The idea was to offer four different career academies at Lincoln. The problem was that several superintendents have come and gone and the school didn't get the leadership that it needed. Now they are attempting to squeeze their kids through a University of California college prep curriculum. This makes no sense. There are probably fewer than ten percent of the kids who will actually attend one of the sites of the University of California. The kids and parents see this in flunking these courses and leave or dropout. The problem is the curriculum and an ignorant school board.

    richard brick
    richard brick

    Some commentators are clueless, not Marten. Why would she say what she was going to do in the newspaper? She probably already has a plan in mind, but first she must make sure that the personnel involved.are treated in accord with their contracts, be it teachers or administrators. As far as the new principal goes, what's the old saying " a new broom sweeps clean". Just make sure you don't throw out the good with the not so good. Saying that teachers don't want to be accountable is also saying I don't like you as a person and as a teacher.It is not difficult to get rid of poor teacher, but the administrator needs to follow the procedure that is outlined in the contract. If they do it takes less than a school year to do it. You know, it is called having proof. You gather the proof by visiting the classroom several times a week unannounced.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge

    She was brought in for a reason alright. She was brought in to dismantle the school, the teachers, students and programs so it can be miraculously transformed into a charter school. Good luck America. You get what you deserve.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Some of the commentators are just as clueless as Martin. Martin took Central Elementary from being a sub par school to being a sub par school, with much fanfare. Everyone was singing her praises but her performance didn't match the hype. Is it true she got this job after being alone with Filner? Just wondering. As far as the schools, they have been in slow, steady decline for more than a half century, through generations of Martins, each as bolstered with false hope and paper thin achievements, each leaving the kids worse off in their wake. Cindy Martin, just one more union owned cobblestone on the long downhill road to an ever more expensive less productive public school disgrace. But she'll have "conversations" and nice catch phrases along the way.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin

    Esther Omogbehin was brought in for a reason and the Unions didn't like it. She has high standards and expects accountability. I think its refreshing. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if that student that lodged the complaint was put up to it by the teachers that felt threatened .She should of been Suspended on the spot for her actions and behavior but was not. Speaks volumes to the culture of that school (and the district). We'll see what Martin does in this situation but from the sounds of it it will be a holding of hands and some happy talk. We shall see if she backs Esther Omogbehin or the status quo. Hope you do a follow up on this Mario.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    Some commentators are clueless, not Marten. Why would she say what she was going to do in the newspaper? She probably already has a plan in mind, but first she must make sure that the personnel involved.are treated in accord with their contracts, be it teachers or administrators. As far as the new principal goes, what's the old saying " a new broom sweeps clean". Just make sure you don't throw out the good with the not so good. Saying that teachers don't want to be accountable is also saying I don't like you as a person and as a teacher.It is not difficult to get rid of poor teacher, but the administrator needs to follow the procedure that is outlined in the contract. If they do it takes less than a school year to do it. You know, it is called having proof. You gather the proof by visiting the classroom several times a week unannounced.

    Lou Dodge
    Lou Dodge subscriber

    She was brought in for a reason alright. She was brought in to dismantle the school, the teachers, students and programs so it can be miraculously transformed into a charter school. Good luck America. You get what you deserve.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Some of the commentators are just as clueless as Martin. Martin took Central Elementary from being a sub par school to being a sub par school, with much fanfare. Everyone was singing her praises but her performance didn't match the hype. Is it true she got this job after being alone with Filner? Just wondering. As far as the schools, they have been in slow, steady decline for more than a half century, through generations of Martins, each as bolstered with false hope and paper thin achievements, each leaving the kids worse off in their wake. Cindy Martin, just one more union owned cobblestone on the long downhill road to an ever more expensive less productive public school disgrace. But she'll have "conversations" and nice catch phrases along the way.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Esther Omogbehin was brought in for a reason and the Unions didn't like it. She has high standards and expects accountability. I think its refreshing. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if that student that lodged the complaint was put up to it by the teachers that felt threatened .She should of been Suspended on the spot for her actions and behavior but was not. Speaks volumes to the culture of that school (and the district). We'll see what Martin does in this situation but from the sounds of it it will be a holding of hands and some happy talk. We shall see if she backs Esther Omogbehin or the status quo. Hope you do a follow up on this Mario.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    So basically Marten is clueless? How did this person get put in charge?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    That's redundant Jim. The district is happy with Happy talk and it appears Happy talk is going to rule the day. “social audit”. Yup. That'll do it.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    So basically Marten is clueless? How did this person get put in charge?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin

    That's redundant Jim. The district is happy with Happy talk and it appears Happy talk is going to rule the day. “social audit”. Yup. That'll do it.

    Marilynn Gallagher
    Marilynn Gallagher

    Love the Title.. .Well, I am pretty sure a single person might be able to destroy a school district. It is happening in Carlsbad. I just got my program Improvement letter today. At the school board meeting on weds, our leadership suggested fixing our class size problem.They would like to remove 1-2 kids per class per year to get down to the recommended 24 kids per class by 2020. Hmmm...so if one school currently have 3 3rd grade classes, and 36 kids are in each class, how do you make that work.? Are you going to take 6 of those kids and move them to 2nd or 4th grade for the next year? Then, what are you going to do with the 6 2nd graders that you move out of that grade? Are you going to move them into a first grade class? So, then we will just be full of combos? or are you going to hire one teacher to handle all of the 2s and make it just one big classroom of k-3s? The scariest part of all was hearing one of the trustees words of caution....."we had better do it slowly and carefully, ......, cuz the last time we LOWERED class sizes in Carlsbad, the teachers did not know how to handle it...": .Seems pretty easy to me...quieter class. less distraction, more personalized instruction. I think our teachers would be able to handle it. OR, it could be fixed like this.... We have two schools that are half full, one school that is rented out completely, and an empty lot that is sitting in CBAD, rotting. Merge the schools, lease out the left over propertys, and get rid of excess staff. You do not need 2 asst principals (3 total) at a jr high school, for goodness sakes. Then, use the overflow teachers that are left from the merger and hire a couple more, you could drop class sizes in two years. And, you would get K-3 funding (millions) And LCFF incentives for getting class sizes down to recommended levels. Next, you add back the writing program the gate program and some language. And, you quit relying on the parents to fund ART MUSIC PE AND SCIENCE. with all of the money you have you can create good schools in CARLSBAD again. Run the schools like they are a business.