Cindy Marten’s statements on Tuesday night’s trustee meeting

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Cindy Marten answered some questions after the San Diego Unified School District trustees meeting Tuesday night decided in favor of allocating up to $40,000 for an independent investigation of board President Marne Foster, who is accused of abuse of power.  

"As a former Principal and now Superintendent I clearly understand the critical role that the Principal plays in leading our schools.  As Superintendent, it is my responsibility to lead, instruct, supervise and – when the situation warrants – reassign or remove Principals. This is a responsibility I take very seriously.  Over the last two years I, alongside my instructional team, have worked to build a team of exceptional site Principals.  We have built an exemplary school leadership team that is second to none in the nation."


"The Board of Education has entrusted me to select site leaders whose leadership brings value to each and every student in the school. Our responsibility is to ensure that each and every teacher and school site has a strong instructional leader to lead the work at our schools so that each and every student is learning at the highest level with a staff that believes in all students’ full potential.

The leadership changes that have occurred in SDUSD within the past two years reflect both the natural movement you would expect to see in a large urban school district and our emphasis on high quality leadership in every neighborhood school. 

If you review the data (see below), you will see a typical pattern of retirements, transfers, promotions, demotions, resignations, reassignments and leaves of absence.  Since I have been Superintendent, we have reassigned some Principals. In making decisions about whether a Principal is a good fit, the Area Superintendents and I review a variety of pertinent information including the leader’s ability to lead change and continuous improvement, instructional leadership, school climate, parent/community relations, and general decision-making in the operations of the school and in supervising staff.

In order to support Principals, one of the first initiatives that my team and I put in place was the creation of the Office of Leadership and Learning as a means to clearly articulate and support a coherent vision for school site leaders.  One of the primary functions of the department is to work alongside Area Superintendents in developing the leadership capacity of our site leaders.  The supports provided to school leaders are in the form of Full Day Leadership Conferences, Half Day Leadership Conferences, Walkthrough Studies, Triad Learning, and Support from the Area Superintendents. These supports are intended to ensure our leaders clearly understand our expectations for their leadership and that they are properly supported to meet our expectations.

When we determine that we are going to seek a reassignment of a Principal, (as was the case with Ms. Lizarraga) rather than demotion or termination, the process for reassigning a Principal is a specific, sequenced Human Resources process that includes very specific steps and timelines. This process includes Principals receiving a required March 15th reassignment notice so that the Principal is made aware that the decision to reassign may occur on June 30."


"I have not before spoken on the reasons for following the reassignment process of Ms. Lizarraga or any other Principal we have reassigned, out of concerns for privacy. However, in the case of the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), Ms. Lizarraga has come forward to place these issues in the public arena.  We believe the public’s interest in understanding the reasons for our decision to reassign her from site Principal to an arts leadership position in our district far outweighs any privacy concerns an individual might have. 

I have been asked publicly: ‘Did a Board Member put pressure on you to reassign Ms. Lizarraga?’  
Yes, I did receive pressure.  And let it be known that I receive pressure all the time from many stakeholders to make decisions from their perspective.  I hear from community leaders, teachers, administrators, parents as well as board members all the time. Educating our children matters to everyone in our society and people have lots of opinions about what is best for our students and our schools. I welcome input and carefully weigh all voices, interests and opinions. I consider the substance of the input, not the source. Pressure to do things that others want me to do comes with being a Superintendent. However, I will say clearly and succinctly, the pressure I received from a board member did not cause the reassignment of Ms. Lizarraga.

I have been asked numerous times: ‘Why did you reassign Ms. Lizarraga?’  
Before I share the details regarding the reassignment of Ms. Lizarraga, let me first say that I recognize the gifts and talents she has in the area of performing arts.  I am aware of and have respect for her national reputation as an arts leader.  I am also aware that upon hearing of her reassignment, many staff members, students, and community expressed concern about her departure from SCPA.  

I am providing this narrative and supporting documents as a means to help the public understand the reassignment process as well as the sources and types of input I received regarding SCPA.

I first became aware of campus climate and leadership concerns when I was still the Principal at Central Elementary. One of my former employees had taken a position at SCPA and contacted me shortly after starting in her new position asking if she could come back to Central. She had worked closely with me at Central for ten years. I knew her and her work very well. She was distressed at the climate on the campus at SCPA and specifically the treatment by administration. She shared several incidents about how administration treated employees, parents and students that were of great concern to her. I referred my former employee to make a report to Human Resources at the time. Once I became Superintendent Designee this same employee reached out again with a greater sense of urgency. I again referred her concerns to the Human Resources Chief and to then Superintendent Kowba.

As you can see from the supporting documents, over 20 staff members have shared significant concerns about the campus climate and leadership over the past several years.

As I stepped into the role of Superintendent, my predecessor, Bill Kowba, provided detailed information about each of the school leaders about which he had significant concerns.

During the transition from his administration to mine, Mr. Kowba was very troubled by the flood of incidents and concerns at several schools that were brought to his attention to solve. You will see that in one communication the week of his departure, he assembled his executive team for his last cabinet meeting and discussed the next steps that should follow for each of the schools that, in his opinion, may need a change in leadership. SCPA was included in that conversation with a sense of urgency. He wrote a memo to the Chief of Human Resources indicating that SCPA was a school where he was considering change of Principal using the reassignment process.

It is clear that the leadership issues which eventually led to our decision to reassign Ms. Lizarraga existed long before I was appointed as Superintendent and those issues were brought to our attention by multiple sources. Superintendent Kowba provided me with a lengthy list of concerns about SCPA that merited immediate attention including allegations of bullying, racially disproportionate discipline practices, inadequate staff and student supervision, and documented employee climate concerns going back several years. 

Area Superintendent Lamont Jackson clearly saw her strengths as well as her shortcomings. He shared with me that he wanted to find a better match for Ms. Lizarraga’s skill set; a match that would allow her strengths to be used in a broader way to make a district wide impact in the area of arts education.

When the district plans to reassign a Principal who has received a March 15th notice, the reassignment conversations with the Principals happen prior to end of the year, by June 30th.  Mr. Jackson engaged Ms. Lizarraga in this discussion about reassignment in early June. She was open to the idea of stepping into a district wide arts leadership role. In fact, she shared with Mr. Jackson that ‘the notion of working at the district level to bring quality arts and arts integration models to other schools at the secondary level appeals to me.’

The decision to move toward a reassignment was based on the totality of input and information from multiple sources, over several years. It was clear that Ms. Lizarraga’s skills would be better utilized in a district-wide arts leadership position rather than in a school site administrator position.  At the same time, and over the course of the year, Ms. Lizarraga had indicated to Mr. Jackson that she intended at some point to move on from SCPA; sharing that she never planned to retire at that school, which made the decision to reassign her the best option for multiple reasons. 

There have been questions about the timing of Ms. Lizarraga’s departure from SCPA.  We fully recognize that it is unfortunate that Ms. Lizarraga was unable to officiate and attend graduation. It was never our intention to have her miss the end of the year with her school community.   Unfortunately, during a meeting with Mr. Jackson and her Union Representative on June 10, 2014, which was scheduled to discuss options for her reassignment, Ms.  Lizarraga shared information which led to her taking an immediate personal leave to attend to matters disclosed in that meeting.  She was unable to return from that leave in time to close out the school year and attend graduation.  We were left with no other option than to have her miss the last few days of school, including graduation. This was terribly unfortunate.

Ms. Lizarraga returned from personal leave on July 2, 2014, and was placed on paid administrative leave from July 2 – 8, 2014, pending her new assignment.   From July 9 – August 10, 2014, Ms. Lizarraga took a pre-arranged and pre-approved unpaid leave to attend a scheduled European vacation.  Upon her return she was assigned to leading the district-level integrated arts program until her resignation on October 31, 2014."


"Public concerns have been expressed regarding the matter of two counselors being disciplined for actions regarding Trustee Foster’s son. As I’ve said, typically we do not comment about confidential personnel matters.  Unfortunately, one of the counselors, Kim Abagat, has chosen to share details publicly. I would like to provide further details about what transpired and demonstrate that our decisions regarding the counselors were made as a result of an independent investigation.

In December 2013 I received a phone call from Trustee Foster who was very angry and upset about something that had just occurred at SCPA where her son was a senior. As I listened to her anger about something a counselor had done that would cause great harm to her son’s future, I immediately interrupted the conversation and asked Ms. Foster, ‘Are you calling me as a parent, or as a Trustee?’ She emphatically told me that she was calling as a parent at which point I said, ‘Then, this phone call needs to end and I need to refer you to the school Principal.’ Ms. Foster explained that she did not wish to work with the Principal.

At which point I then directed her to Melissa Janak, head of Counseling and Guidance, since School Counselors were involved and Joe Fulcher, Chief Student Services Officer, to whom Ms. Janak reported. After referring Ms. Foster to Dr. Fulcher and Ms. Janak, I notified our General Counsel, Ms. Donovan, that a Trustee had contacted me in that manner. Ms. Donovan then engaged the process with Dr. Fulcher to ensure that Board Governance policy was followed and that we were appropriately addressing the needs of the student. I was not involved in the decisions, actions or discipline that occurred with the two counselors at SCPA.

Like any parent, the Trustee had a right to voice her concerns about her own child.  My administration frequently receives complaints from parents similar to those received from Trustee Foster and we take swift action, when warranted, to ensure that our students’ educational rights are protected.  The issues surrounding Ms. Foster’s son’s evaluation were not handled any differently or any more quickly than similar issues raised by other parents whose children had college application issues and risked loss of scholarships due to human or technical errors made by our district.  The entire administration, including Melissa Janak, Joe Fulcher and Ms. Lizarraga, believed the recommendation submitted by head counselor Kim Abagat – who was not his assigned counselor – was not written following best practices by school counselors, making it an incomplete submission.  Therefore, steps were taken to mitigate any harm. 

No counselor at SCPA was disciplined for their subjective professional opinions expressed in their recommendations of Trustee Foster’s son.  Any employee discipline was based on the independent investigation performed by an outside investigator who was retained specifically to ensure that the results of the investigation were not influenced by Trustee Foster or any staff member who may have been interested in the outcome.

Once again, the information provided here includes detail not typically provided to the public or media questioning why certain actions were taken.  It is unfortunate that Ms. Lizarraga and Ms. Abagat felt it was necessary to provide confidential information and documents to members of the media and some members of the public, against professional practice and involving private information pertaining to students."

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