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SFUSD kicks off school year with emphasis on technology, communication

Laura Dudnick | August 19, 2014 | SF Examiner

Original article

Cold and foggy weather didn't dampen 5-year-old Laniya Durgin's spirit as she skipped to her first day of kindergarten at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday morning.

"I like doing the work," said Laniya, referring to her past year in transitional kindergarten. She proudly showed off her new backpack decorated with green and purple peace symbols. "It's got all sorts of stuff in it -- pencils, a notebook, a paper folder."

Laniya was one of more than 55,000 pre-kindergarten through high school students welcomed back to the San Francisco Unified School District's 131 schools Monday as city and district leaders highlighted numerous goals for the school year, including greater emphasis on technology in classrooms and a more defined community-schools approach.

Superintendent Richard Carranza told the approximately 200 students at Bret Harte Elementary, the first of five schools he visited Monday, in both Spanish and English to "have fun" this school year. Principal Jeremy Hilinski said about half the students are Spanish speakers, and the school offers one of the district's nine Spanish-immersion programs to help ensure students are biliterate by the end of fifth grade.

Carranza, joined by Mayor Ed Lee at two schools, touted recent technological advances, including how the district issued a laptop to every middle and high school teacher for the new school year for the first time, and next year will include elementary teachers. A technology bond may be considered within the next several years as well, he said.

"I think most people would be chagrined to understand the state of technology in public schools," Carranza said. "Here we are in San Francisco, I call it the Mesopotamia of technology, and yet the level of technology we have in our schools -- because we don't get the funding for it -- has been very far behind."

Also on this year's syllabus is more defined collaboration among the district, city and businesses to provide a "synergistic approach" for students' needs, as part of the federal School Quality Improvement System that rolled out last year, according to Carranza.

"More than ever we're communicating and sharing," Carranza said. "Children come to our schools from poverty, so some will come hungry, some will come traumatized, some will come without school clothing or supplies."

The superintendent added that the district will focus on how to "connect families and children with the resources and support that they need in an integrated way."

This school year also marks the first time that all 1,800 math teachers in The City will implement the Common Core State Standards curriculum. The SFUSD implemented its new core curriculum for English-language arts this past school year, which is also based on the Common Core standards.

New classes offer game design for first time to SF students

Teacher Angie Hoffman jumped right into an assignment for her new game design class on the first day of school Monday at Balboa High School, one of two San Francisco Unified School District high schools to offer the class for the first time.


  Balboa High School teacher Angie Hoffman, a former game designer at Zynga, is leading a new game design class at the school.
  • Balboa High School teacher Angie Hoffman, a former game designer at Zynga, is leading a new game design class at the school.

"I'm teaching them about how to give computer-explicit instructions based on how they tell me how to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," Hoffman, a former game designer at San Francisco-based Zynga, explained of the program's different functions.

Throughout the school year, students will make playable games through a process that involves pitching their game, meeting a budget, creating a marketing plan and presenting their completed games to Zynga, Hoffman said.

Monday's initial assignment followed a visit from Superintendent Richard Carranza and Mayor Ed Lee, who emphasized the importance of learning technology-based skills.

"Whatever you do to better yourself in this skill set, you're going to be able to take with you in literally every profession that you choose to have," Lee told the more than two dozen 11th-grade students in the class.

San Francisco today has 1,978 technology companies, but skill sets achieved from learning how to design games can also be used in fields such as medicine, another blossoming industry in The City, Lee said.

Page updated on 08/19/14