Local committee will help choose San Diego Unified School District’s next superintendent

The San Diego Unified School District board meets in April 2019.

Supporters say a local committee will know the district better than an outside search firm.


The San Diego Unified School District board will appoint a local committee to vet applicants for the district’s superintendent position, the board decided unanimously Feb. 2.

Cindy Marten, who was appointed superintendent in 2013, is expected to leave the district this month to become the U.S. deputy education secretary alongside the education secretary nominee, Miguel Cardona. Both are awaiting Senate confirmation.

Last month the San Diego school board appointed Area Superintendent Lamont Jackson to serve as interim superintendent until the end of the 2021 calendar year. Meanwhile, the board will conduct a search for Marten’s permanent replacement.

The board opted for a board-appointed committee of locals rather than paying for an external search firm to find and screen applicants.

Some parents objected to using a board-appointed committee, saying the board has not always represented their interests. A coalition of several community groups, including Parents for Quality Education, the Association of African American Educators, NAACP San Diego and the local ACLU, called for the board to use an external firm to find the best superintendent candidate.

Board President Richard Barrera says he agrees that the search should be an open process.

Jan. 28, 2021

“Parents have too much experience, unfortunately, in this district in participating in town halls, think tanks and feedback committees only to find it was an exercise San Diego Unified used to check boxes rather than gather meaningful input,” parent Courtney Duthie said during the Feb. 2 board meeting. “Only an independent placement firm can instill confidence that all stakeholders will be heard and will be heard equally.”

More than a dozen other people, including parents and union leaders, spoke in favor of using an appointed committee rather than an outside firm. Some said San Diego voters elected the board to hire a superintendent and that delegating the search process to an organization outside the San Diego community would mean a loss of local accountability.

“No one voted for the role of this board to be outsourced to consultants or those from outside of the community who cannot be held accountable and who have no real connection to the San Diego Unified community,” said Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Unified teachers union.

Board President Richard Barrera said any candidates need to understand that the district is looking for somebody who will continue the progress the district has made in recent years, not try to change everything.

“You’ve got to come to the table not expecting that you’re going to reinvent the wheel,” Barrera said. “You’ve got to come to this table ready to understand the work that this district has made, the clarity that this district has about where it’s trying to go, and what do you bring to get us to move to the next step in the development of our vision.

“We’re not looking for a savior; we’re not unclear about what we want.”

How the search process will work

Each of the six San Diego Unified board members, including student trustee Zachary Patterson, will get to choose three representatives for the committee, Barrera said. The board is expected to confirm committee members at its Feb. 23 meeting.

The committee will solicit a third-party organization to conduct town halls, public forums and other community engagement efforts during the late spring and early summer. The point of those efforts is to collect community feedback on what the vision of the district for 2030 should be and what qualities the next superintendent should have to achieve that vision, Barrera said.

The committee will then use that feedback to write a job posting. Candidates from around the world will be able to apply.

The committee will screen the applicants and recommend up to 10 people to be interviewed by the board in September.

By October, the board will narrow the pool to three finalists. In early November, the committee will hold more public forums to introduce the finalists to the public and collect input on the candidates.

Finally, the board will select the permanent superintendent by early December to allow for a month-long leadership transition.

Here is the list of organizations that will get a representative on the committee (including but not limited to):

  • Administrators Association of San Diego (district’s administrators union)
  • California Charter Schools Association
  • California School Employees Association (district’s classified employees union)
  • Community Advisory Committee for Special Education
  • District Advisory Council on Compensatory Education
  • District English Learner Advisory Committee
  • Parent Teacher Association
  • San Diego Community College District
  • San Diego County Board of Supervisors
  • San Diego Education Association (district’s teachers union)
  • San Diego mayor’s office
  • San Diego Schools Police Officers’ Association (district’s police union)
  • San Diego State University
  • San Diego Unified subdistricts A, B, C, D and E
  • San Diego Workforce Partnership
  • Student Advisory Board/Associated Student Body
  • UC San Diego
  • Visual and Performing Arts Foundation

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