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Marten Lauds Educators for Innovations in Face of Pandemic

  • U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten lauded urban educators for their innovation and perseverance during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying “you did it with strength, resilience, courage and so much wisdom and grace.”

    Their work, said Marten, has “proven that districts are the hubs for innovation and great thinking [and for] ground-breaking educational leadership” serving students and communities.

    In remarks at the Council’s recent Legislative Conference, she heralded new emphasis in districts on the whole-child approach addressing social and emotional well-being; efforts to strengthen the parent-student-teacher relationship; innovative summer learning programs; and research-based community schools initiatives. Marten also addressed the emerging teacher shortage crisis facing districts across the country.

    “The staffing shortages, the teacher recruitment and retention shortages are not going away, and they’re not simple,” she said, later adding, “We can invest in the recruitment, retention and professional development programs that are going to build the strong and diverse teacher workforce that our students need.”

    She urged educators to “be cheerleaders for the profession, because there are a lot of people saying, ‘Why would I want to be a teacher?’ We can inspire the next generation, despite how difficult it looks with the pay and the conditions. We can inspire young people through great grow-your-own strategies.”

    Marten noted she has been in the education field for 33 years, first as a teacher, principal and then superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District from 2013 to last year, when she was named to the federal post.

    She recalled scrambling, like other superintendents, to create learning plans, distribute food and equip students with laptops at the onset of the pandemic. “We’ve always known that schools play a critical role,” she said. In the pandemic, “We were the largest relief effort in most communities getting meals to our families. What if we weren’t there? We provided the essential lifelines that our families needed.”

    The dire nature of the pandemic “helped you in a major way” in efforts to design systems that “interrupt longstanding inequities,” Marten told conferees. “You got disruption, whether you wanted it or not.”

    Noting the infusion of billions in federal dollars, Marten urged educators to “use this once in a generation opportunity to transform the American school system, doing it together, thinking big together, getting outside of the box.”  They would do well, she said, to ground their plans in the story of a single student. “If you can make it right for that student, thousands of other students” will benefit, she said.