There was a little bit of everything at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco today. Kids played with Legos, pranced around with stuffed animals and Salesforce mascots, munched on treats, painted using Sphero robots, tinkered with portable gaming devices, made race cars and dueled with robots.
The festivities had a purpose: to highlight Salesforce’s $12.2 million donation to San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), marking the fifth year of its partnership with the former. Last year the company added Oakland to the list with a $2.5 million gift.
Of the $12.2 million, SFUSD got $7 million and OUSD received $5.2 million, which will go towards expanding computer science education in 68 elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in San Francisco, and 20 middle schools in Oakland.
Salesforce giving to SFUSD
Salesforce has now given $26.7 million to SFUSD. The first year’s gift went towards purchasing devices and upgrading the technology infrastructure, shared Ebony Frelix, the company’s senior vice president of philanthropy and engagement, in an interview with EdSurge. Awards given in subsequent years focused on providing professional development for teachers in STEM subjects. Last year, SFUSD used the funds to hire 19 full-time coaches for math and technology instruction.
This year, the district will also pilot a new instructional model developed by New Tech Network, a nonprofit that helps schools implement personalized and project-based learning.
Part of this year’s money also comes through the “Principal’s Innovation Fund,” a pool of $100,000 that each principal at 34 middle schools in San Francisco and Oakland can use as they see fit. “We think of middle-school principals as the CEO,” Frelix added. “They know what their teachers, students, campuses, facilities need.”
Nicole Pierce-Davis, principal of United For Success Academy in Oakland, plans to use the $100,000 to buy programming technology, develop targeted support programs for communities who have “historically not done well” in the technology field and give kids learning opportunities such as field trips. The other funds from Salesforce’s largesse allowed her school to hire math tutors and a new computer science teacher.
Speaking at today’s event, Vincent Matthews, superintendent of SFUSD, said his school district has tripled the number of students taking AP Computer Science in the last two years. He also pointed out that the number of students who have had to repeat algebra dropped from 43 to 5 percent over the last three years.
In addition to providing money, Salesforce has committed its staff to volunteering 40,000 hours in the classroom during the 2017-18 school year. Matthews says this time is an “essential component” of Salesforce’s contribution to the district.
New OUSD superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell sees access to computer science education as a matter of equity. “It’s wonderful if kids end up going into careers in Silicon Valley,” she remarked. “But it’s about exposure.”
Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff stressed to the crowd that “nothing is more important than our public schools.” Benioff himself attended public schools in the Bay Area. “In a world where every aspect of our daily lives is being transformed by technology, high-quality education has to include computer science education,” he said.
According to the company’s count, more than 3,800 girls in SFUSD have taken computer science—up from 200 in 2013, the first year of the Salesforce partnership. At OUSD, nearly 1,000 students took computer science for the first time last year.
Benioff and the educators were joined by civic leaders who applauded the role of private companies in supporting education. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said Salesforce is accelerating the ability of governmental institutions to prepare students for the future. ““We would not be bringing this quality of 21st century education and readiness for this new economy if it weren’t for Salesforce,” she said.
Receiving outside financial help is crucial, especially for schools in neighborhoods where the families “are not as privileged and not as financially stable,” said Joe Truss, principal of Visitacion Valley Middle School (which is one of the schools getting funding.)
Speaking to EdSurge after the press conference, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called on other tech companies in San Francisco to contribute to public education, either through funding or through volunteering.
“We’re trying to get them to a point where no matter how big or how small they are, they can be a collaborative partner with a school site,” Lee said.
Benioff also had a message after the press conference to other companies in Silicon Valley.
“Everybody has to participate, everybody has to be part of this. It’s not just about technology, it’s about volunteerism, it’s also about money.”