Senate approves San Diego Unified superintendent to become U.S. deputy education secretary

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten was confirmed as deputy education secretary.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten was confirmed as deputy education secretary, despite concerns from some parents, community members and U.S. senators about her record with San Diego Unified.

Cindy Marten is confirmed by a 54-44 vote.


Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, will be the nation’s next deputy education secretary.

The U.S. Senate voted 54-44 on May 11 to confirm Marten for the position. Six Republicans voted to confirm her: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.

It has been almost four months since President Joe Biden’s team announced her nomination.

Marten, 54, has served as superintendent for eight years, as principal for 10 years and as a classroom teacher for 17 years. Biden’s team cited her past work as principal of Central Elementary School in City Heights and San Diego Unified’s above-average graduation rates and growth in reading test scores as reasons for nominating her.

As deputy secretary, Marten will be second in command at the U.S. Department of Education. She will be responsible for assisting the nation’s schools as they navigate the return to in-person learning and helping students recover from the academic and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the months-long school closures.

During a Senate committee hearing in late March, Marten said she has dedicated her life to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students. She promised to use her experiences at San Diego Unified to reopen schools safely across the country and get children back into classrooms.

“My message to students has always been, ‘Work hard. Be kind. Dream big!’” Marten said in a statement May 11. “The students of San Diego Unified have lived up to that challenge beyond anything I could have imagined as a young principal in City Heights, or even as the superintendent of the second-largest school district in California. National education leaders have recognized the gains our students are making.”

Marten essentially will be the Education Department’s chief operating officer and will work with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the former Connecticut chief of schools, who was confirmed at the beginning of March by a vote of 64-33.

In a statement, Cardona commended Marten for providing laptops, free school coronavirus testing and more than 20 million free meals to students during the pandemic.

“Our top priority at the Department of Education is to reopen America’s schools for in-person learning, support students’ social, emotional and academic needs and address inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Cardona said. “I am thrilled that Cindy has accepted this challenge and I look forward to working with her as she continues to serve our nation’s students as deputy secretary.”

Marten’s nomination had drawn support and praise from major education organizations and leaders such as the National Education Association, Great City Schools, the national NAACP and California schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

But it also drew concerns from local parents and community members who have been critical of her leadership of the district, including the district’s student discipline racial disparities and handling of school sexual assaults and other issues.

Some U.S. senators also questioned whether Marten is fit for the job, expressing concern about her slow reopening of schools during the pandemic and her lack of experience with higher education.

Marten likely will not leave San Diego Unified immediately, as she needs to be sworn in before officially taking the job.

“Cindy Marten has been a champion for public education in a way that has made San Diego proud,” San Diego Unified board President Richard Barrera said in a statement. “As sorry as I am to see Cindy leave San Diego, I know our nation’s students and teachers will benefit.”

San Diego Unified Area Superintendent Lamont Jackson will fill in for Marten as interim superintendent while the school board searches for a permanent replacement. The search is expected to take the rest of the calendar year.


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