San Diego schools Superintendent Cindy Marten poses with students after December 2016 event. Photo by Ken Stone

Praise for San Diego Unified schools chief Cindy Marten poured in after her nomination to a federal education post was announced Monday.

Mayor Todd Gloria called it “a great pick” by President-elect Joe Biden for deputy education secretary, saying: “I’m excited that San Diego will be at the table in the new administration.”

Current and former school board members were unified in support of Marten as were a variety of business and education groups.

Even a former student chimed in.

“Cindy Marten was my second-grade teacher,” tweeted Jacob Reed. “She is a wonderful, thoughtful, and inclusive person and a fierce advocate of disability rights.”

But the NAACP’s San Diego chapter and community activist Tasha Williamson, the former mayor candidate, issued bruising statements opposing the Marten nomination.

Katrina Hasan Hamilton, the local NAACP’s education chair, said: “Educators at all levels must have a track record of dismantling the harmful practices of Anti-Black Racism that occur in schools. Cindy Marten has a historical pattern of allowing the excessive suspension and expulsion of Black students in San Diego.”

Addressing Biden, Hamilton continued: “With all of the qualified educators we have in our nation, this is not a good choice for healing Black students, families and educators, nor is it a step in the right direction for repairing harm in our schools.”

In a Facebook post Monday morning, Williamson said Biden couldn’t have made a worse choice than Marten.

“She has committed so many atrocities against children, parents and staff!” Williamson said. “I think everyone impacted should write a letter to Washington and send it to me to be provided in a packet with others!”

Marten, she said, “is horrible and continued the legacy of racism.”

On a Zoom news conference, school board president Richard Barrera was asked his response to Williamson.

He said: “What we’ve seen today is an outpouring of support for Cindy’s nomination and particularly for her work in advancing equity from her time as a principal at Central Elementary and in this district. That’s the only response I’ll have.”

(The news conference was held before the NAACP registered its opposition.)

Another national group was enthusiastic for Marten.

Michael Casserly, executive director of Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, said: “Cindy Marten will be the perfect complement to Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona. Both have been school-level leaders and thoroughly understand the complexities of public education at the state and local levels like few other leadership teams in the department’s history.”

He said Marten has boosted graduation rates and developed a reputation for excellence, collaboration and fairness among stakeholders.

“[She] has led the school systems to be among the fastest improving urban school systems in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” he said in a statement.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the former San Diego school board president being elevated to California secretary of state, called Marten “a great voice for our students and educators. Thank you for your equity work, spanning 31 years in education.”

In her own message Monday, Marten said she had already spoken with Education Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona, “and I have never been more optimistic about the future of the American education system.”

In a note to district families, she said she shared excerpts from a poem — “Continue” — by Maya Angelou “that I have turned to many times during the current crisis for inspiration.”

“I encourage you to read the poem with your family today, of all days, as we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Marten said.

Some early reaction included comments from San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan and former school board member John Lee Evans:

State schools chief Tony Thurmond, who chose Marten for a superintendents advisory board, called it “a great day for California and our nation, and I am proud to call you a colleague and friend.”

UC San Diego (where she earned her master’s degree) and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce added their congrats.

On Facebook, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer posted his own congratulations, saying: “Marten has always had such a big heart and worked tirelessly for San Diego. Very happy for you, Cindy.”

Congratulations to my friend Superintendent Cindy Marten for being nominated as the next Deputy Secretary of Education…

Posted by Kevin Faulconer on Monday, January 18, 2021

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher added his attagirl: “I first saw Cindy Marten’s passion and commitment more than a decade ago as principal of Central Elementary in City Heights. Now the whole nation will see it too!”

I first saw Cindy Marten’s passion and commitment more than a decade ago as principal of Central Elementary in City…

Posted by Nathan Fletcher on Monday, January 18, 2021

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the San Diego Continuing Education Foundation, called Marten a “teacher’s teacher who knows how to lead with authenticity and compassion.”

Another former student checked in:

But Williamson and the NAACP aren’t Marten’s only critics.

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