The Full Cindy Marten Interview: New Schools Chief's Whole Take on Her Big Task
Here’s the full transcript of Scott Lewis’ One Voice at a Time conversation with the new schools superintendent, Cindy Marten.
A few weeks ago, I posted one observation from my long conversation with Cindy Marten, who will be the superintendent of San Diego Unified School District.
It got some reaction, including a frustrated commenter who thought I spent too much time in the conversation and in my post trying to find someone to blame for the school system’s current state.
He even went so far as to say I badgered her about it in our conversation.
I thought the whole discussion was a valuable one so I had it transcribed.
Here it is. It’s as far into Cindy Marten’s brain as I could go. I think it’s fascinating and full of potential stories and other observations like the one I made.
Below is our whole exchange, very lightly edited. I cut out only the sentences that didn’t make sense from our recording.
What do you take from it?
You were a teacher in Poway right?
And you decided to move to City Heights, not move but take a job at City Heights Central Elementary right?
Well, I didn’t start as a teacher, let me go back a little bit because you said let’s talk about my bio. I actually started in City Heights as a student at Hardy Elementary with … can I say it … Susan Hobbs and I were students at Hardy Elementary school back in and we won’t say the year, so I went to a school district elementary school and then I went to Middle school in City Heights.
… Then it was time to go to high school and I was in line to go to Crawford High School and at the time Crawford was starting in 10th grade and my parents made a decision that that school wasn’t good enough for their daughter and they didn’t allow me to go Crawford. So they made a decision that they could write a check and send me to a school that was better for their daughter. They sent me to La Jolla Country Day and of course I still lived in the neighborhood but I had to go in a car pool every day to go to La Jolla Country Day.
… I’m sure at the time I wasn’t real reflective about it like I am now but that juxtaposition of what happens when you go to a public school and when you go to a school that someone’s writing a check for — that experience is something that’s a lived experience for me.
Then I went to college in Wisconsin and got … a teaching credential in Wisconsin and minored in special education and psychology. I have an older brother who has developmental disabilities and so the passion was teaching since I was a little girl and wanting to be a special education teacher probably came from growing up with my brother Charlie.
After I graduated college from Wisconsin, it was frankly too cold. Lacrosse, Wisconsin. That particular college, it’s University of Wisconsin Lacrosse and it was founded many, many years ago as a teachers college and so very deep roots in training teachers and Wisconsin you can major in elementary education — not like California where you major in local studies and then get a teaching credential.
Wisconsin was a good place to get a very traditional education training. After I graduated I came back to San Diego and of course with an out-of-state teaching credential I couldn’t get a job right away in public schools because I had an out-of-state credential. Within six months, I got the California credential but my first job was in a private school, at Beth Israel School here in San Diego. … I didn’t teach the religious studies, I taught the regular curriculum and I was teaching at Beth Israel for seven years. I never thought that I’d stay in private school for that long but during the time that I was a teacher there, I went back to UCSD to get a masters in curriculum and instruction and had a deep passion for literacy.
I got really involved in professional organizations… We have the San Diego council of literacy professionals. We would bring in keynote speakers around education.
I was like a big education nerd and a lot of what I was learning and what was happening in my classroom and my master’s thesis was around literacy. I knew that what was working was working because of great instruction and research based practices and it wasn’t working just because I had children who came from homes of privilege.
It was working because it was great instruction so I loved the private school. I had this vision that someday I would want to write a book and write a book about education and just the dream that I had and I knew that I would have no credibility in any kind of national audience if I was only teaching children of privilege in a private school.
So I think that’s where you started my bio. I went to Poway Unified School District and I chose to work in a school there that was a school that had been historically underperforming and a team of people got together and challenged some belief systems that were happening at the school and it was a school that was 50 percent Title I children living in poverty and 50 percent not and there was a half and half not.
… We started looking at research-based processes and a school that had been historically underperforming, after a team effort, we saw some of the things that worked in terms of school culture and research-based practices and I thought I’m ready to take that to a different setting. … Poway Unified was an experience where a great ZIP code gets you a great education and we know Poway Unified has a great reputation, people buy homes up there because it’s an award-winning district and so you have to afford to live there with a great ZIP code and I just really deeply believe in the whole big promise of public education in America and public education is public and it’s not about how to write a check or stand in line or win the lottery or get a great ZIP code.
[rtb-pushquote]Why can’t you just walk down the street from your neighborhood housing and walk into the local public elementary school and have it be as amazing as La Jolla Country Day or Beth Israel or Poway Unified?[/rtb-pushquote] There’s no reason why it can’t. We have the answers, we know what to do and so I decided to show up at Central 10 years ago and do it and I came to Central, it was 10 years ago as a teacher.
One of the worst things you can do…this was a quote, I’m not necessarily agreeing with it but, one of the worst things that we do with teachers is make them administrators. Yet we did that with you.
That was a big fight. I didn’t want to do that. It took a lot of convincing … at Central I was a teacher, didn’t have an admin credential and I didn’t want one, happy to turn it back any day now. It’s an interesting question around taking great teachers out of the classroom but what type of leadership skills do I have to affect change? And I have a skill set that can help support a system where I changed at a school level, I guess that was an opportunity that I had. I did have to get the admin credential.
Let’s fast forward and we’ll come back to Central’s experience. I want to understand the moment that you realized that you might be asked or that you were asked, whichever came first, to be the head of the second largest school district. What happened, literally, what happened?
Yeah, I want to know that too.
Is this something that you were aching for?
You were ever-present at these school board meetings…
I was very active and very engaged in my community and that is what you do as a servant leader. I’m engaged and so I always talk about [rtb-pushquote]the aim in public education is to not produce a test score but to produce an active, literate, contributing participating member of society[/rtb-pushquote] (applause). So I need to live that example. So I’m engaged and I’m participating and I’m contributing to make a positive difference in the world. And so I go to board meetings and I know it’s like a little bit nerdy to show up at board meetings, but I went and when I saw … we had some things on the line that were being threatened and I wanted a voice in that and I wanted to bring voice to what works at our school and to tell that story.
I wasn’t showing up at Board meetings so that someday I could get up there and that was like the last thing I wanted to do, I just wanted to bring voice to what works and I wanted to tell the story of what’s working.
I was literally at my desk, I had been, it was a Tuesday morning, I had been in three classrooms that morning. I came back to my office and had a meeting with a group of teachers and we’re having a conversation and the phone rang and I answered the phone.
It was a school board member and they asked me the question if I was willing to be considered to be the next superintendent…they said ‘Mr. Kowba is considering retiring. Would you be willing to be considered to be the next superintendent.’
And I didn’t quite get what they were saying because the beginning of the conversation was ‘Mr. Kowba is retiring.’ I’m thinking ‘Oh, we’re going to activate the search committee because three years ago, when we were searching for a new superintendent, the board put together a panel, a search committee to select the next superintendent. And I was on that search committee.
So I’m thinking oh, we’re going to put the search committee together again so yeah, I would love to participate. So I said something like ‘I’d love to participate in this process of selecting the next best candidate.’ … and they said ‘No, we’re not talking about that.’
And I said ‘OK, what are we talking about?’
So that conversation was literally that quick and they said that we had a broad discussion and the board members were talking about it and they talked about the concept of somebody with an instructional background and a vision for somebody within the system instead of outside of the system and whether they use a national search firm and what process they wanted to use. And they used the Wizard of Oz theory of you don’t look anywhere beyond your own backyard, we have an answer right here.
They felt like had the answer right here and I said I think it’s really important that there’s…
You said you’re willing to and then they call back and say .. Hey, you just got a text, is that another job offer?
Let me check. It’s Arne Duncan. (Laughter).
I had been asked to take other jobs since I’ve been at Central, offers had come my way to do other work and to be a principal, there’s other jobs in the district, I had been asked and my answer was always no because I had made a commitment to a community and I made a commitment to the children and that commitment was a commitment that I took seriously and I would never leave.
Sometimes the offers would come in the middle of the school year, I didn’t understand turning your back on children during the middle of a school year.
We’re engaged in really important work and I believe that I’m doing the work that I do because it’s not a job for me, I didn’t go to Central to become a principal, I went to Central to do the work of engaging solutions around public education and figuring out what works and sometimes people have quoted me as saving public education.
I don’t quite like that term because it’s a little bit of a negative paradigm. … I wanted to go on the front lines and I didn’t care and still don’t care which is the big irony here what job I have. The job title wouldn’t matter to me, I just want to do the work and I believe that everybody in the system whether you’re a nurse or a councilor or a bus driver … lots of people are doing lots of jobs but the work is the same work and that’s giving children opportunities that they need.
It was a Tuesday and they said we’ve actually made a decision and I said ‘How did you do that, you haven’t talked to the community yet? You can’t make a decision on what the children of San Diego need without wide community engagement.’
And they said ‘Well, we’ve made our decision and we’re going to announce it tomorrow night at a press conference at 7:30 p.m. and said you better go get a haircut.’
[rtb-pushquote]My head was just spinning and I said I don’t agree with this. [/rtb-pushquote]This is not…you didn’t ask the community, you can refer those questions to the board but they are very clear on why they made that decision.
Let’s just be clear that I’m actually not the superintendent yet, my official start date is July 1st and I’m working alongside an incredibly talented man who is very generous in his leadership and his mentorship with me in this transition that’s our current superintendent Bill Kowba.
He’s not here tonight. I had an opportunity to transition — and it’s very rare in a large urban system like this. It’s usually one walks out the door and the other walks in the other door and it happened quickly but now it’s not that quick. Now it’s this period of transitioning and because the community was skipped and it was done overnight I’m not skipping the community now which is why I said yes to something like this and almost anything else that anyone invites me to I say yes because I work for you. I used to say I don’t work for the superintendent, I chose to work in San Diego Unified not for it. I work for the community.
And I used to say I don’t work for the superintendent and now I am the superintendent. Yes, the school board hires and fires the superintendent. It is the most important job any school board does. Yes, they can fire me and when they do, I’ll teach second grade again because that’s the job I love the most.
Are you okay with the selection process now or you put those concerns away?
I’m clear, I’m not changing my mind about it. I’m clear on that process.
Is there a substantial amount of pain that you had to deal with in the community?
You know, the board said let us handle the pain and I thank them for that. I’ve reshaped the way they feel, they’ve been really honest about it. What I really appreciate about the board is that they were crystal clear, all five of them. It’s unbelievable to have unanimous enthusiastic support from five elected officials and so the fact that they’re clear on it is what makes the pain … they can talk about it.
Part of the reason they were clear is this narrative about your success. For years, as reporters, we would say to them ‘What are you trying to do to make this a little better and they’d point to you.
That’s just because I have a big mouth, that’s because I was willing to talk, I’m willing to talk…
But that’s fine but now you’re superintendent. But the reason was, the narrative was that you had turned around and made Central Elementary a success. What does that mean?
I don’t use the word turnaround.
It has been used.
I don’t like it. I lobbied against that word and corrected people on that. The word turnaround has been turned into rhetoric. That’s rhetoric people use when an outsider comes in and saves something from something and that whole Waiting-for-Superman mentality.
‘We’re going to come and fix you and we’re going to come and save you and we’re going to turn you around.’ Define what you mean by turnaround. What I did was I showed up and then worked with an incredibly talented group of teachers and staff members that got to work, rolled up our sleeves and figured out what it takes to give children the opportunity and the equity that they need for the highest quality education known to America.
What was Central like and what is it like now?
When I came to Central there was a lot to love about Central. …Our two kindergarten teachers, they were there before I came and they can tell the story of what it was like. There was a lot to love about Central. There were teachers who were deeply committed to the children and loved the children very much and knew that the children needed the opportunity to learn.
But Central is considered to be a hard-to-staff school. There was a revolving door for some staff. … There was a key group that were there for a long time but a lot of teachers came and a lot of teachers left and there was no stability. There had been two years before I came or three years before I came there was a giant jump in test scores.
There was a 125-point gain on the BPI and then two years after, the scores went down and then down again and then the school was placed under corrective action and the state of California was coming into turn around. That’s why I don’t like turnaround. The state of California sends in a consultant, they hired a company, the company comes in to turn the school around to save it and put up, I think it was, 38 or 32 corrective action items and these corrective action items is if you do this, this, this and this you will be saved.
So they had done an assessment of the schools. … The idea was to stabilize it and instead of having scores go up and down and teachers come and go, how do we build this really strong team that believes in a core mission and a core vision?
And that’s what we worked on for maybe 10 years and had many different jobs while I was there while I did it. But we began, the first few years, as putting in the systems and structures, research based practices from the National Center for Urban School Transformation.
We put in professional learning communities and — you notice the pronouns I use, I didn’t do this, we did this, this was a team that got together and started to figure out what children need.
The principal that was there at the time, Stacey Monrail, she had been the one who actually recruited me from Poway and she was there for the first five years and then she was recruited to Los Angeles … I’m going off topic, sorry.
I still really want to understand why what you did at Central Elementary has thrust you into this position and so I’m trying to understand why Central Elementary, why it is such a beacon of success. What actual metrics can we look at?
One of my dearest colleagues, a man named Donald Graves, who was an education writer who is very well known in education circles. He came to Central a couple of times. He passed away a few years ago but he came to the school a few times. He’s a published author.
He’s the father of writing workshop is what he’s known for, teaching writing. And he called us the Beacon of Hope for public education. And when he said that, I felt like something that was happening there was pretty amazing but that’s sort of thinking your own child is cute.
When somebody outside comes in and says that and so why did what we did at Central thrive? I don’t know why because I felt like this is a team of people putting in research based practices, building a culture of achievement and belief system. And I guess can relate to what the board is looking for.
This Board of Education is clear around the vision 2020 and around the quality school in every neighborhood and they have some ideas about what they believe a quality school is and they’ve spent several years working on strategic process of naming what those qualities are.
And they believe that some of the things that they’ve seen at Central in terms of our school that — it was not just a test score that they saw. When you come to Central, people will talk about it being — it feels different here.
What do you mean it feels different? People would say that, substitutes would come and they’d stop at my office on the way out and say ‘I want to talk to you. What are you doing here? Something feels different.’
And that ‘feels different’ is harder to measure but people will talk about it and so I always say I’ve learned that I have an ability. I guess having a vision means that you can see something, actually you can believe something before you see it.
Some people need to see it to believe it. When I got to Central 10 years ago, I had a vision of what I wanted to see there and that that was a rigorous broad curriculum not just test score driven. I didn’t want to just go for the reading, writing and math score, shoot the scores out and then leave. I wanted to look at having arts and music and rigorous, broad curriculum, like everything that I had at La Jolla Country Day, everything I had at Poway.
So I had that vision and it wasn’t yet there. Some people need to see it to believe it and so we spent 10 years building something that we created solutions that our children needed. Five years into the work, after the research-based practices were in place, the professional development system was solid, the coherent curriculum was in place, the assessment and monetary system was in place.
We weren’t done, we were only 35 percent proficient and as one of our measures. So we ended up putting in a school-based health center, partnering with community organizations … because we saw children were achieving and then they were barriers to achievement and what were those barriers.
We had put in the Central model is work hard, be kind, dream big, no excuses and there were excuses that we were able to give each other about children not achieving or about things not happening and some of those excuses were around access to healthcare.
And I can’t tell the teacher to become a doctor or a nurse because they went to college to become a teacher yet there are community agencies and people who did go to college to become doctors and nurses and so I want to leverage what you went to school for into the support for our children.
The other thing we put into place was I was watching part of the job of the strong leader is to attract and retain the highest quality teachers known to the profession. So that was a strategy I put in place.
And we’ve done that, the revolving door stopped. And … we’ve spent lots of money on professional development investing in the intellectual capital of the teachers serving at the school.
We hear so much about how principals can’t select teachers and yet you’re talking about how you recruited and brought in and now retained.
I said attract and retain.
How have you managed to do that?
You create an environment where people want to come and stay. …People retire, people leave, people transfer and you build a culture that people want to be a part of. People want to come to Central and what happened is that people that didn’t want to be a part of that culture anymore and didn’t want to be a part of what it was about, they left.
I don’t know where they went, they left the profession, they went to other schools. What I saw about five years into it, there were people that were there that were committed to the mission of vision… We found solutions locally that helped build a strong team and take the team that you have and make it stronger.
It’s not just clean them all out and bring in all new people, make that team stronger. About five years in, a whole bunch of the young teachers that we have are getting married and started getting pregnant and I saw like 10 teachers in about a five-year period were about to have babies and go home.
And then I was going to have to start all over again and so we decided to put in daycare … to keep those teachers in the inner city school.
That’s a form of compensation.
Why do you say that?
Daycare at work.
We looked at Fortune 500 companies, the ones that are considered best places to work and everyone wants to work at Google, why can’t public school be the best place to work and what does it mean to create it?
You mentioned that the people who weren’t into the culture that you were creating did leave. You actually described this to Will Carless over here.
My best friend. … I do have a very healthy respect for the work that you do as an organization and being a writer and what it takes to be a writer and how to engage in critical discourse and critical literacy and I respect the work that you do as an organization.
You were responding to a hypothetical business guy, reformer, who would offer you this magic wand to fire any teacher that you needed to and you said that ‘There’s not one person I would wave that wand on right now.’ Meaning that there’s not one teacher that you would just fire. But you did say that if there was somebody that was struggling, that wasn’t going to work out, that you would invite them to find another profession. What if they declined that invitation?
I remember that conversation clearly because Will wanted to just have this phone call about it and I said ‘No, come to Central and spend a day with me.’ And I made you come, remember? I made you stay with me. Let’s get in the classroom, let’s talk about this work because we’re not going to simplify this.
…This is a people-driven business and to lead and to support people to be the finest that they can be is the job of the leader. That’s what I need to do.
So your question is, I invite them to leave and they say no. You’re going to get me right to that point where they’re going to say no. I don’t know that that’s going to happen. It doesn’t go right down to they say no, I’m not leaving the profession. I have watched that happen, I’ve supported teachers to get stronger and I’ve supported teachers to find other places where they can be effective.
The trick is creating conditions for efficacy. Everybody wants to show up at work and feel like they’re making a difference and in the teaching profession especially they want to feel like they have a sense of efficacy. And a lot of people have a lot of hopes about saving a child and there are some false hopes there and there’s some things where it gets hard and then they can’t do it and then they realize ‘I thought this was going to be easy. I thought I was going to be able to save the world.’
And then you show up and you have kids that are really difficult to teach and parents that might not be supportive and a system that’s not working for you and you start to give up and you start to lose hope and you begin to not give children what they need.
And so when you hold up the mirror to somebody like that and you start having that conversation about what did you set out to do and are you actually doing it? Maybe you would want to be a camp counselor or maybe you would want to have a home daycare or there’s other things that you can do because you love children and you want to save the world besides teaching on the front lines of the most challenging children in the country.
So you continue to have that conversation.
So the mandate district the board gave you was to take what you did at Central Elementary and now apply it to the entire district.
Not quite. Close. They don’t want me to take Central and replicate its daycare and healthcare center. It’s around the processes and practices that are solutions that are grown locally.
It’s a leadership philosophy and stance that I hold and the Board of Education is interested in a quality school in every neighborhood. So defining ‘What do we mean by quality?’ At this point, we don’t have a shared definition of that. You can ask different people what they think a quality school is…
You’re stealing my thunder.
I know where you’re going.
I’m a parent and I have two small children and they’ll need to go to school. They could try to go to a charter school or we could be so pressed and so worried that we would be forced to move, which a lot of parents do. Everybody my age, that I know that have the means to, have moved farther north to get into different schools. I don’t agree with that. That’s not a decision I’m going to make. But it’s something that obviously my wife and I have to have conversations about.
How old are you kids?
Four months and two and a half years. My point is I can’t rely on a feeling. I can’t just say ‘I’m okay with him going to this school because there’s a few teachers there that say they have a good feeling. And yet I can’t look at test scores because you’re saying test scores don’t matter.
I didn’t say they don’t matter.
They’re not supposed to be what we base our judgments on.
I didn’t say that either. It’s not the only measure. Let’s get clear about the aim of public education. What do you want for your 4-month-old? You want him to be healthy and then what do you want?
I want her to be healthy, I want her to be okay, that’s literally all I want.
What does it mean to be okay?
want her to go to a good school.
What’s a good school to you?
I want her to be a happy, literate… (mumble and laughter)
You’re almost able to say it and you can’t quite say it. That’s part of my job is to get this whole city to say that.
I also want her to be around peers that challenge her to be better and to pursue passions as opposed to some of the things I used to do.
How will you know?
I don’t know. Tell me, what am I supposed to know?
You want her to be happy, literate, contributing, participating member of society who makes a positive difference in the world and you want a school, you want her to be healthy, you want her to be happy…
I want the teachers to challenge her to think critically, I don’t want them to be obsessed with tests but I also want to know how they’re doing and I want to be able to evaluate them and make decisions.
How will you know if that’s happened when your daughter is happy when she becomes a contributing member?
They didn’t give me that handbook.
This dialogue that we’re having is a dialogue I want to lead around this entire city. These are our schools. This is not my school system. I’m not doing something top down to you. I’m not going to do this to you and I’m not going to do this for you. I’m going to do this with you. We’re going to do this together and we’re going to create a school system that is the best in the nation.
So what is a good school? I’ll say the test score is a byproduct. We will always have a test score — some type of way to measure objectively what is happening in schools.
One of my dear colleagues Don Graves, the one who said that Central is a beacon of hope for public education. He told me — he’s very wise — he told me that in my career, I will go through seven rounds of standardized testing. I went ‘Really?’
…There’s always some type of measure, some type of way that the public and the public should, the taxpayers deserve an answer a return on the investment so a public school system, what are we returning to you and how do we know that we’ve returned a quality product. I want to go beyond that definition of the product is solely the test score. That’s a byproduct and so I will say the product is a contributing participating member makes a positive difference in the world. How do you measure that, that’s really wishy washy, how do we know?
Tthe number of inmates goes down because an inmate is a contributing member of society? People might argue a contributing member of society could be a mom who stays home and raises her kids and raises great kids or somebody who becomes a doctor or someone who becomes a teacher or somebody who becomes a bus driver or mechanic. As long as they’re making a positive difference in the world and so maybe less inmates is going to be one they could look at that.
Pick my school for my daughter.
No you can’t because that’s too far out in the future and so what are the other qualities that we can look at in the here and now. Factor test scores in. That will be part of what we look at: broad challenging curriculum that can be measured through test scores with the new — we do have an opportunity coming up in the next decade with the Common Core state standards.
We’re going to change the assessment system from the CST, the California Standards Test, to a Smarter Balanced Assessment. The name of it hopefully indicating that we’re be a little bit smarter and a little bit more balanced in the way that we test our children. Because testing is not teaching and how do we measure the learning that’s happening? And how do we know if learning has occurred?
A friend and I were talking. What if it were a combination of some kind of index with the community, a parent evaluation, student evaluation, test scores and then some kind of index on graduation rates?
I like the idea of index and this concept of broaden the definition and put some targets in it. Put some measures in there and so there’s examples around the nation about how you do that so some of the jargon is using multiple measures and not just one single measure. The dialogue then needs to be that we need to have as a community is ‘What are those other measures that we would value?’ If we’re going to put multiple measures in, I’m not going to decide by myself what those measures are.
I’m going to have a broad-based conversation around what are the ways that we’re going to measure a school that you want to send your 4-month-old too? That school is good and you’ll know it’s good if we are able to show markers on multiple indicators in sort of an index and I’m going to say what those are because I don’t want to.
Parents expect some kind of…
That’s the dialogue that I’ve been hired to lead. That is what the Board of Education wants. They have made it very clear that they want there to be multiple measures and ways to indicate the quality of a school, whether it’s a good school or not a good school.
It can’t be done before I start. Because — maybe, actually, it can. Because there are some examples and I don’t want to talk about other superintendents but there are examples in this nation where a superintendent comes in and just says this is what it is and tells people and some people think that’s really great because you know what, this is it, you people just all line up to it.
I have the advantage of being from this community, being of this community and already having a parent relationships and the teacher relationships or relationships with the unions, relationships with the parent groups, the relationships with students, the Board, the citywide conversations that I can have those dialogues with people and we can begin to look at what are the measures that we will value and that we will have ownership over.
There was a teacher who wrote in last year and we were doing a series about this situation that your predecessor had warned the district was going insolvent and that would lead to the district being taken over by the state and that there would be all kinds of problems with that. We did a series and we asked teachers and parents of students to write what they thought should happen at school.
It felt like a crisis moment that we could talk about and John Rick wrote something that I wanted to read to you and get your reaction to. It stuck in my head ever since he wrote it. He said – ‘Don’t begrudge the unions for the salaries and benefits they had negotiated. It is, after all, what they have been tasked to do and from the teachers point of view has been done well. They should, however, see that it’s time for a change, go to any school campus and ask the major parties, parents, students, teachers and administration who the three weakest teachers are and chances are you’ll get the same three names.’
Is that something you agree with?
No. Chances are you’ll get the same three names, I don’t know. He’s making a case there that there’s some sort of calibration that everybody agrees what a weak teacher is that you could all say?
Yeah. He’s saying that everyone know on a campus that there’s struggling teachers and there’s no way to deal with it.
I don’t agree that there’s no way to deal with them and it’s not about dealing with somebody. It’s about how you support. And so when …a teacher is not experiencing effectiveness in a way their servicing and supporting children, what can we do about that?
There are clear ways to engage that. One of the reasons I said yes to this position, which some people want to know ‘Why did you do that?’ is we have a presence in the teachers association. Bill Freeman is a teacher and he came from an elementary school in our district that had children that came here with a great deal of struggle and Mr. Freeman believes in quality teaching.
Mr. Freeman believes in what is important for children to have in terms of their experience and I know that I can work collaboratively with him and with all of our teachers unions and the teachers to make sure there’s support and there’s action taken when children aren’t getting a quality experience.
Did you hear what I said? That there’s action taken when children aren’t getting a quality experience and people wanted to find that action and you better to do this to that teacher. There’s a lot of action that you can take when child’s not getting a quality experience and you can change that more quickly than people want to believe.
I think that when this conversation comes up it’s often ‘You just have to fire them and they should have the power to fire them.’ I think that a lot of people who run organizations — and I run an organization — and if there was so much restriction on what we could do to counsel, to help, to even reward or otherwise incentivize teachers or the people that work for us, then it’s hard for us to imagine how those restrictions would allow for the proper growth that you’re describing.
They don’t feel like restrictions to me. You want to characterize that as a restriction, I’ve never felt restricted in my ability to support our profession to get stronger every day.
Let’s talk about the finances for a second.
At the beginning of that question I thought we going on the brink of insolvency.
That’s who brought it up, Bill Kowba brought up the insolvency. Does the school district receive enough revenue?
How can I answer that? I have no idea. What do you mean do we receive enough revenue?
Do you have enough money to do what your job is?
We have seen the disinvestment in public education across the state and across this nation over the years. I’ve seen the alligator charts and the amount of funding that’s gone down and down over the years with this disinvestment in public education. And so it’s really hard for me to answer ‘Is it enough?’ because for the last 10 years at Central we’ve lost and lost and lost millions of dollars and I am still in charge of having to provide a quality education to the children at that school with less resources.
And so, for me, I have to make a decision with whatever dollars we have, it’s my job to create quality so part of me wants to answer that we will always ensure that our children have the highest quality experience no matter how much money we get.
And part of me wants to be really angry about the fact that it’s not enough and that we disinvest in public education and maybe we’ve created that on our own because the public has lost faith and they think that it’s not working and the promise is being broken. But in San Diego and in this state there is hope, we passed Proposition Z. We passed, in the state, Prop. 30.
We have a clear message from the voters that we believe in public schools and we want to see them make a difference. And so I want to stand up to that beginning of resources coming back into our system and be really smart about leveraging those resources in a way that the public sees that we will use those dollars and we will use them well.
And I don’t want to talk about there’s not enough and we have to keep begging for more but I also want to be smart and be fair about the dollars that are coming in and are we appropriately funding education so children do get a great deal …
Let me ask you about that because down the street from La Jolla Country Day is Bird Rock Elementary. Parents at Bird Rock were asked individually for each student for about a thousand dollars per student to fund their foundation that helps subsidize a lot of efforts. …
You’re talking about resources and dollars and it’s important that we figured out how to leverage the dollars that are in the system from an equity standpoint and I have to talk a lot about equity and what’s equitable is not always what’s equal and if you live in a neighborhood in the city where the parents can and do and will make a decision to give money to a foundation and then the school uses that money to somehow equalize or create equity or maybe lack of equity.
We have to talk about that because we’re very clear at Central, we talk all the time about public education, public education that’s free and a parent shouldn’t have to pay a penny for anything for the child to get a high quality education. If they choose to, if they choose to give to a foundation and they choose to give money it’s not because the school is going to fall apart and it’s not going to be a great education if they don’t.
I need to be able to prove that we are able to use the dollars that we have to provide the Common Core curriculum that’s going to make sure every student across the city learns and that is part of my leadership. What I’ll need to do is make sure that we have a monument and we have clarity around the strategic mission.
I will say that there’s fragmentation. That we’re spending dollars on things that maybe at one point were important and aren’t as important anymore. I have to lead that prioritization process so that the dollars that that in the system.
I will always advocate for more dollars coming in through the public funding sources and working with the governor and the control funding formula and advocating on the policy state on the legislative level around funding but leverage the resources that we do have in a really smart way so it’s not that you have to give to a foundation, you have to…
Except that if Grant sends out a fund raising request and says you have to give this or we’re going to lose our teachers.
I don’t know anything about you have to. That would be news to me if they said you have to.
The message coming across in all of these fundraisers and that being the situation…
A fundraiser is a choice.
It is a choice except that it’s not a choice to me if teachers are going to get cut and so if those teachers are being asked for more money or those parents, are they ever going to support broad based tax increase when they’re already paying…
I think they just did.
That’s what I mean.
I think we just passed that.
At 55 percent but a parcel tax locally would be 66 percent.
I think what you’re getting at is that there might not be some trust and if we’re putting out handouts saying you have to help us because there’s not enough money, why are you doing that? And ‘Do we, as a system, have to keep doing that to equalize this? Do we have to turn to the community through fundraisers in order to make the schools great?’
We shouldn’t have to and the degree to which we’re doing that is an indicator of where we are right now in the system and I need to engage that and make that stronger.
If you are saying that we need more money in the school system, that is, like you said, asking taxpayers for investment. But the measurements to measure how an investment is actually paying off are not there, as you say. How are we ever going to get to the position where there’s excellence that can be measured so that we feel good about investing?
That’s the work that the board decided to do. This is about having clarity around what a quality school is and when you have clarity then you know what you’re building and when there’s the singularity of purpose and mission and you know what you’re building you use your dollars for that and for only that.
And some of the things that we might be spending our dollars on right now don’t matter anymore when you have singularity of purpose and vision. … I think a key word is around focus, the key word is focus and alignment. To focus the dollars, align the resources, align those strategic initiatives and then you focus the dollars that you do have in the right way so that we can start to build again.
Let’s talk about. One of the big chunks of the tax increase you just pointed to, a big chunk of it is going to the construction of facilities for charter schools. One of our writers, Oscar Ramos, is here.
One of the things he wrote was that, as a response to our Dear Superintendent effort. …
Oscar … wrote about Charter schools and as a teacher at one he said – “I hope that Marten takes steps to make the best use of San Diego Unified School Districts successful charter schools as a resource to improve education for all district students, not just the ones who attend those schools. In other words, that a charter school’s value might not be in educating the kids it puts through but also in creating a setting that allows for experimentation and innovation that can be transferred over. What kinds of ideas do you have about what we could take from schools that are doing things differently and then spreading them around the way that you’re being ask to?
This is a citywide dialogue around quality education. It’s not just in the districts. I happen to have 7,000 classrooms and I’m in charge of creating quality around 200 schools. … I want every single classroom experience in the city whether it’s a charter or non charter or private, every child has an incredibly high quality education and working together with everybody that’s in the city figuring out what those solutions are.
There’s no silver bullet. There’s no competition. … When innovations occur in different places why can’t we collaborate and share that knowledge? Absolutely.
Let’s talk about poverty for a second. This is an issue that comes up a lot. You say no excuses, that’s a big part of it but there is a word that you used – challenges to success.
The risk factors.
Right. Poverty comes up all the time in this discussion. It’s always like we can’t have excellent performing schools, we can’t have these students, we can’t expect more in some ways because the fact that we deal with such immense poverty. So many people without access to the healthcare, even the diet we want. You say no excuses, does that pair up?
First of all you said we can’t have success (1:00:41), children who come from poverty can achieve and can achieve at very high levels. So first of all you have to understand do you believe that? Because not everybody does. Some people think that if you come from less and your parents aren’t educated and your father is deported or somebody is incarcerated, somebody is addicted, that the cycle of poverty and what that does to a learner can actually be a barrier.
I think that was the word, a barrier to learning. I talk about what Central had, 99 percent of the students live in poverty and so we’ve addressed those needs and it’s a matter of…so a child comes to kindergarten or comes to preschool and one of great preschool teachers Alma, Miss Tidwell is right here, Central Elementary preschool teacher, she sees them right when they come in.
Children come to Central, 3 and 4 years old, living in poverty and they haven’t had thousands of hours of what we call lap reading in the literacy world, I don’t know if you’re reading to your Four-month-old…
So you’re ahead, so she’s exposed to literacy, she’s held a book before she walks into the classroom. She’s held a crayon. She can’t read before she comes in but she has access to literacy in her home.
The children that walk into our school, through our school gates when they come from poverty very often have not had the same access to literacy. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn to read. So how do we account for that and what do we do to saturate the home with books?
What do we do to make up for those lost hours or reading? How do we teach a child who’s coming in with less?
We know what to do, that’s what’s amazing to me is that in the medical field there are illnesses that there are not cures for. There are illnesses that if you get diagnosed with some whatever type of cancer we don’t have a cure for and they say you have six months to live and there’s just nothing we can do about it.
In education, a child who comes to school from poverty or a child who doesn’t have English as a first language in the home being able to achieve, we have those answers. It’s been done again and again and again and again so any time you see a child that comes from poverty who’s not achieving, it’s not because we don’t have the answers.
It’s a matter of leveraging the resources and putting in the research-based processes, practices and systems that — I don’t know if I can ever say make up for poverty but — address where that lack might be. That’s where you talk about equity. That what’s needed for that child who comes from a different experience to create an equitable situation, that’s our job to create the resources that make that happen, that level, that playing field.
Here’s a question from a former teacher in Oakland: ‘Given the support for an inclusionary model for special education students and general education classrooms, what changes do you feel need to occur to provide adequate support for the general education teachers?’
This is a really important topic. Did I talk about my brother? Yeah. My brother Charlie’s developmentally disabled. … I believe that supporting children with special needs is our job, it’s a moral obligation and the way in which we do it, so we’ve talked about special education so this not being replaced. You don’t go to a place to get your services, it’s a service that’s provided and whether that happens in an included classroom or a classroom that’s a separate setting, we make those decisions individual student by student and the general Ed teachers need support.
When you have students fully included in your classroom and I knew to make sure that we have created a structure that makes that support work.
One of the things we’ve done a lot of reporting on is the actual skyrocketing or huge cost of special education and the actual decline of enrollment. There’s audits going through to address this, do you have any insight into what might be done and what you’re looking at?
I know that’s something that we’re engaging in. I think the CAC people here right now, we’re having those conversations right now around allocating supports and resources appropriately to make sure children are getting what they need. And that’s a dialogue that is personally and professionally very important to me and I understand it from the school level and I’m understanding the system implementation.
I believe in what we’ve done, I believe in an inclusion model but if we don’t have the right supports around it we could end up creating a situation that causes unintended harm because there aren’t the right supports in place and so there funding problems with that and we do need to solve those.
As far as the revenue budget finances you’re going to have to rely on people in many ways to help you with that. Do you trust your CFO Stan “Data” Dobbs?
When I was first appointed I started sitting down and meeting with him and having him teach me and show me the way he’s looking at the budget, showing me what we have in place and he is absolutely giving me clarity around the resources and the dollars that are coming into the system. … And he is absolutely clear that it’s his job to make sure that the priorities that we identify as a school system are the priorities that we have the funding to do.
So he’s helping me understand where those pockets of money are and how we create clarity around the budget and I told him the most important thing that we can do is work as a team to make sure the public understands the dollars that are in the system and how using those dollars to support children. Maybe an advantage is that as I ask for clarity, for me to get clarity from Mr. Dobbs, is I’m coming at it maybe from more of classroom teacher’s perspective. If it’s not going to make sense to the general public, then we want to make sure that the budget and the money that we have make sense to people.
And I count on Stan to help us make it make sense to the public.
Did you have to whip him into shape at all?
That is not what I’d say.
You are a very strong principal… Unfortunately not all principals are effective. You talked about training teachers, what about training principals?
It is critically important that the leader of this building, the school leader is probably one of the most important components. You create the culture and the climate and the mission and the vision and you execute that at your school.
You need a strong leader and so the qualities and characteristics of strong principal leadership is absolutely important to me. …
I expect Principals to be very actively engaged in the needs of their schools and principals can drive or work at this district by feeding back up and we at the Ed Center work on behalf of the principals on behalf of the schools where the principals lead the dialogue among the schools.
So I want to support those principals to be able to advocate and know what they need in terms of their own professional growth and we have principals on all ends of the spectrum so it’s my stance and my leadership voice that will help shape the type of culture and climate that I want to create across a district and it starts with quality principals in every school.
You might have to fire the top leaders right?
I’m going to make the best decisions that I know how to make to make sure every school is a quality school.
Question here about Common Core.
Do people know what that is? Raise your hand if you know what Common Core is. That’s a problem. A year from now if I ask that question what’s Common Core, everybody should raise their hand and don’t just know what it is but have experienced it. That’s part of the citywide dialogue, quality education is if we don’t know what Common Core is yet, we have work to do around communications. Do you want me to say what it is?
I think you should. Where do you stand on the national Common Core standards that drive curriculum testing and teacher evaluation, they want opinions on all three. I’m not sure what they mean by that but curriculum, testing, teacher evaluation and take a second to say what Common Core is?
Common Core is a national state standards and so the California State standards, each state has their own set of standards, now there are 46 and that might not be right but almost all the states have adopted the Common Core national standards. Those national standards are…to have national standards is a shift so what are the three things you want to know about it?
Curriculum, testing and teacher evaluation.
So they’re all kind of connected together. So the Common Core national standards will require instructional shifts and our approach to the curriculum which will be driven by the Common Core standards for our staff members, our teachers, our professional development together around our stance towards the Common Core, to make sure we know there’s a level of rigor that will be expected of our students in the Common Core.
The assessment that’s going to come with the Common Core standard is going to be — I talked about it earlier — the Smarter Balanced Assessment System that’s going to ask our students to take a performance-based assessment online.
So it’s a computer driven test instead of paper and pencil test so that’s the assessment component and then I want to make sure our system is ready for our children to take the Common Core test.
We will not be taking the Common Core new test until the end of the 14th-15th school year. Next year we’re going to be getting ready for that test by shifting.
We have to make some instructional shifts in our classrooms to be ready, if you’re going to ask students to do that type of performance based assessment that your way of teaching needs to be different and your way of assessing needs to be different.
And then teacher evaluation is connected to that because you’re looking at expecting teachers to teach in a way that asks one of the biggest instructional shifts is you’re looking at students ability to create an argument or argumentation, building a case in math and literacy and what it takes to be able to build and support an argument is a higher level of critical thinking.
… I want to make sure people understand the shifts and the city needs to understand that with the new assessment system coming, the predictions are the first year of the Common Core the test scores are going to go down.
They are making these predictions, we’re not sure what that means. Across the nation, the test scores will go down and is that going to be, once again, another weapon for the public to say ‘See, those schools are failing!’
Let’s talk about it ahead of time, let’s say we know how we’re going to do, we have some formative assessments that help us predict proficiency on that type of assessment and let’s be ready for it before it comes and that the response to a declining test score doesn’t mean ‘Ha! That school is failing!’
It means, what are we going to do next and how do we improve?
I do have something that I want to address and it’s about the role of parents and what do we, as parents, get to do in this system? And how can we best contribute to this but also be recognized that we had a role with this? I think a lot of parents want to demand a type of excellence that you’re talking about, the type of excellence for every school. We all look at these schools and say they need to be excellent but then that is often written off as an attack on the current people working at it — teacher bashing and all that stuff. How can you demand excellence and to facilitate it and help with it without crossing whatever line is it?
Maybe it’s not about demanding excellence. Maybe it’s in participating in creating it. The goal of a parent to demand it or to be a part of it and maybe a parent doesn’t feel a part of it because they feel that when they try to participate in it, they get shut out or they’re not listened to.
And so I don’t know how to do the work without parents. At Central, we would have Family Fridays. When we first started doing it, 25 parents would show up. The last Family Friday which was in February, 300 parents came.
The other word you used was role. What is the role of the parent? I think that it’s really important that I help define that role because what I want is parents to be great at being great parents. I want teachers to be great at being great teachers. I want principals to be great at being great principals and to support a parent to be a better parent because you don’t have teachers that will say the parents need to do better.
No. Parents saying teachers are bad, you need to get better teachers and everyone is going like this to each other so you have a parent telling the teacher how to do better and you get a teacher telling a parent how to be better, that just ends up demanding.
‘I’m demanding you be a better parent’ and then nothing happens and everyone is pointing fingers at each other. And so what supports can I put in place to clarify the role of the parent and do parents need support being a better parent? Do parents need to learn how to advocate and participate and contribute to making a school the best school that they want and what avenues do they have to do that?
I was very grateful that right after my appointment, Amy Redding, I think she’s here, she’s an active parent, she’s the Chair of our DAC, the District Advisory Council, Dave Page is here, he taught me about active parent involvement. Sally has taught me about the role of a parent.
What roles do they play and what roles do we all hold an important role in improving education and supporting our students? But what Amy did right after my appointment, she gathered together a group of parents from lots of different stakeholder groups and a press conference on my behalf saying ‘We support Cindy Marten.’ And that was a tremendous honor to me.
I’ve got Susan from the Safe Schools Task Force over there. So really active parents have ideas around how to make our schools better and how to make qualities and conditions for children the best.
And so the way I want to engage that, first of all, that press conference said to support Cindy Marten and what I said to that is supporting Cindy Marten is supporting children because I work for the children…
…When I ask the community to dream big and I ask the parents to dream big and say ‘What kind of schools do you want? What are you looking for for your children?’ That’s where the conversation needs to stay.
Talk about what you want and talk about why you want it. When you start demanding it, how it needs to be done and when it needs to be done and if you don’t do it this way, then you’re a bad school and the fight happens and the demands happen.
Sometimes, the way we get it done might not be the way we thought. It might be a great idea for you in, that little setting, but I’ve got a system-wide view that I need to look at and I will engage the solution. I will find, together with the community, when the parents are clear on what they want and why they want it, we’ll find the solutions.
It might not be how they want it done but it will get done.