San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten is undergoing a confirmation hearing in DC for the position of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. However, a group back in San Diego is protesting her tenure at the school district.
Speaker 1: 00:00 The woman who leads San Diego’s largest school district faced questions from senators today during her confirmation hearing for deputy us education, secretary here’s San Diego unified school district superintendent, Cindy Martin,
Speaker 2: 00:14 If I’m honored enough to be confirmed, I will work to use my experiences in San Diego to help support efforts across the country, to reopen schools safely and bring children back to the classrooms. This pandemic did not create the inequities in our education system, but it has highlighted just how much work remains to be done. I’ve dedicated my life as an educator to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students
Speaker 1: 00:42 Heart and has received praise from prominent educators across the country. But there are local voices raised in opposition to her nomination, charter school advocates, and the local chapter of the NAACP have taken issue with some of her policies as superintendent. And joining me is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong. Welcome Jo. Hi Maureen. Thanks for having me. How did this morning’s hearing go for Cindy Martin? Yes.
Speaker 3: 01:08 So the, the tone and tenor of sort of the questioning, um, was divided across partisan lines today. She received a lot of praise from Democrats for shipments at San Diego unified, particularly in the area of, you know, raising graduation rates and college readiness rates for students of color and low income students. I’d say the part where she struggled the most was during questioning about her experience with higher education specifically in regards to, uh, managing the student loan portfolio and managing student loan forgiveness, which is a big issue. It was a Republican Senator bill Cassidy from Louisiana, who was really grilling her on her lack of experience with higher education. And when he asked her about her thoughts on student loan forgiveness, she gave an answer that sounded, you know, very rehearsed and Cassidy called her out on that. But she ultimately kept saying she would refer to her staff were experts on the subject. And, um, she ultimately didn’t give her own opinions about student loan forgiveness. So I think that was a little frustrating for, for the center
Speaker 1: 02:07 And outside of that, what were the other topic areas that she was questioned about in this morning’s hearing?
Speaker 3: 02:13 Yeah, so the, the main issue obviously was the, the various aspects of, of post pandemic recovery and what public school is going to look like, um, in the coming months, making sure students get back on campuses as soon as possible, making sure they’re back safely. She talked about the need for standardized testing this year. So we know how much work educators have to do once they come back to the campuses and making sure that students are taken care of both academically, but also in regards to their mental health. So making learning enjoyable again, when school is reopened and, you know, the need for more investments in STEM education, as well as, uh, CTE, uh, career and technical education, which were both big, big topics in the Senate hearing for secretary Miguel Cardona as well. And of course, you know, making sure students with disabilities are getting the resources they need. That was also a big topic.
Speaker 1: 03:06 Now, if confirmed, what will Martin’s role be as deputy education secretary?
Speaker 3: 03:12 Yeah, so I’m deputy education secretaries, they play a key role, you know, they’re the second in command of the agency. They help set policy and, and lead major initiatives. They’re basically next in line to take over the agency of if the secretary leaves it’s often referred to as the, uh, the chief operating officer of the education department sort of overseeing the day-to-day operations.
Speaker 1: 03:35 And why did the Biden administration say she was chosen for this position?
Speaker 3: 03:39 Yeah, it goes back to her success, moving the needle with vulnerable student populations, uh, students of color low-income students seeing measurable progress, both in terms of literacy rates, math scores, and just her success in this sort of challenging area of public education of, of really seeing progress with those student groups.
Speaker 1: 04:02 Can you remind us about Martin’s background in education?
Speaker 3: 04:06 Sure. So, uh, she spent 17 years as a teacher, um, and she was later eventually promoted to a principal, uh, at a school in city Heights. Uh, she was praised for, you know, starting a gardening program and really seeing a lot of success there at a, at a more localized level with again, students of color and low income students. Then, uh, she was promoted as a superintendent and she’s been superintendent for about eight years today. Um, and often she, she talks about her brother who has special needs and who has been an inspiration to her as an educator.
Speaker 1: 04:42 Now Martin has gotten criticism from charter school advocates. Is she against charter schools?
Speaker 3: 04:49 If you’d allow me to provide some background, you know, before the pandemic charter schools were probably the hot button issue in education. And I’d say that most school district administrators are not big fans of charter schools because they take students away from the traditional public schools and the money goes along with them. And, uh, additionally teacher’s unions often oppose charter schools because teachers at charters are usually not in the union that said, Cindy Martin did say today that she believes parents should have the choice to put their children in the learning environment that’s best for them. Uh, she said, ideally, that would be the neighborhood public school, but she said she supportive of parents seeking alternatives.
Speaker 1: 05:32 Now the San Diego chapter of the NAACP also criticizes Martins charter school policy, but they also take issue with the number of suspensions of black and Brown students at San Diego unified. Tell us about that.
Speaker 3: 05:46 Yes. So, uh, today there was a small protest, uh, at the district office and the disparities in school discipline at San Diego unified was a big issue. The protestors black students, and, uh, often Latino students are more likely to be suspended and expelled, particularly in the, uh, the youngest grades. And, uh, this has been a problem. I mean, this is a problem across the country. Uh, this has been a problem for San Diego unified, but Cindy Martin has seen, um, a little bit of progress in this area, but her, you know, critics say it, it hasn’t been significant enough.
Speaker 1: 06:26 And so was Martin asked about that and what was her?
Speaker 3: 06:30 So she didn’t directly, uh, address the issue of racial disparities in school discipline, but she did cite a study, uh, finding that SD, uh, S the unified is an outlier when it comes to urban school districts who have moved the needle in regards to black student academic success. Um, in terms of reading and math scores,
Speaker 1: 06:51 We know about the timeline for the confirmation vote for Cindy Mark.
Speaker 3: 06:55 So comments can be submitted by, by senators until tomorrow. Um, the, uh, the Senator, uh, who, who chaired this committee said she wants to vote as soon as possible. So, uh, Cindy Martin can get to work right away, but there’s no, there’s no set date yet for the vote.
Speaker 1: 07:14 So back here at San Diego unified, any word on who the new school superintendent might be,
Speaker 3: 07:19 No permanent replacement yet. Um, Lamont Jackson who, uh, served as an area superintendent under Cindy Martin will serve as interim superintendent while the district conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement. Um, the, the district did form a committee of close to 50 people last month who will select 10 semi-finalists for the position. And then the school board will then narrow that list down to three candidates. And, uh, then the new superintendent is expected to start at the start of the 2022, uh, calendar year.
Speaker 1: 07:54 All right, then I’ve been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe hung, and Joe. Thank you. Thank you, Marie.
Speaker 4: 08:13 [inaudible].