The vision builds on work conducted by SFUSD’s deputy superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, to turn-around the district’s formerly lowest performing schools. He, along with Humanities leaders in curriculum and instruction, worked to roll out the evidence and research-based comprehensive literacy framework workshop model, called Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, across these schools. The goal was to transform traditional rows and columns of seated students into classrooms with robust leveled classroom libraries, organized into learning centers, with opportunities for dynamic small and full group work, and guided, shared, and independent literacy learning.

“With our strong focus on literacy, effective integration of digital devices helps us further advance the attainment of our graduate profile in young learners,” Guerrero. “It also helps ensure we’re supporting families as their child’s primary teacher.”

Moving forward

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, through their foundation, Startup: Education, became interested in working with San Francisco on both the community and classroom side. Supporting the two-generation approach, bringing families and their kids into the program together, was a natural fit. Many families are low-income and English is not the language spoken at home. The district wanted to honor the knowledge that parents brought to the table and be sensitive to their challenges. Therefore, the program allows parents and students to advance in their own languages, as well as in English.

The pilot program does not significantly rely on any public funds. Instead, donations from Startup: Education, and project participation by a host of community groups, made this scalable pilot possible.   Its success will now inform strategic use of public funds.

The key has been engaging the right stakeholders from across the community and nation. The district has learned from the successes and challenges of similar programs, and was also careful to rely on the expert advice of thought leaders within its own administration.

The Early-Digital Literacy pilot is one step toward the vast vision. The district is also poised to introduce a required computer science curriculum, which by 2025 will be in place for all students preK-12. “The emphasis is on teaching programming and algorithmic thinking in developmentally appropriate ways from PreK through graduation,” said Jim Ryan, the district’s STEM executive director.

Rachel Norris is a freelance writer who writes about education and other industries.