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SFUSD is ready to be a digital district but it needs money

Laura Dudnick | October 21, 2014 | SF Examiner

Original article

Last school year, Grey Todd, a math and sciences teacher at Presidio Middle School, finally had enough computers in his classroom for each student. However, after spending nearly a decade gradually adding the machines, they were outdated.

"I started out eight years ago with a few computers in my classroom that I bought on my own," said Todd, who teaches sixth- and seventh-graders in the San Francisco Unified School District. "Last year, I had enough for a computer for each kid, but they were very old [and] running Windows XP, [which is] no longer supported by Microsoft."

Todd is not the only public-school teacher in San Francisco to see firsthand the lack of state and federal money for technology advances in the classroom. While recently allocated state funding provides every public school in The City with at

least one cart of devices for taking the California's new online standardized tests -- a total of 4,646 devices districtwide -- fewer than 3 percent of public-school students in The City are issued personal technology devices to use during instruction.

The district is trying to bridge the financial gap through public-private partnerships. Most recently, the Board of Education on Tuesday authorized district staff to finalize a memorandum of understanding with San Francisco-based crowd-funding site Tilt, which will host a platform to raise money for SFUSD's technology goals, among other district priorities.

But Todd has already sought help on his own. To assist in raising money for new computers -- which Todd estimated would cost $500 each -- he took to GoFundMe, another crowd-sourcing website that has seen education-related fundraising campaigns soar from 135 in 2010 to more than 100,000 so far this year.

After charging $8,500 to his personal credit card over the summer to buy 32 new computers for his classroom, Todd was told this month by his school's principal that he would be receiving $5,000 from the Principal's Innovation Fund to help pay for the new devices.

"It helps a lot," Todd said of his first funding from the SFUSD for high-tech equipment.

SUPPORT FOR TECHNOLOGY

Established in 2013 as part of the Middle Grades Leadership Initiative by Mayor Ed Lee, the SFUSD and the Salesforce.com Foundation, the Principal's Fund allocates $100,000 for each middle school principal to invest directly into their respective schools.

This has allowed principals like Carline Sinkler of Herbert Hoover Middle School to purchase iPads for sixth-grade instruction and renovate the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) classroom last year.

"That had been a room that had been basically desks in rows, lots of filing cabinets, cabinets that were closed and full of textbooks," Sinkler said of the learning environment that now boasts a lounge area and both tall tables for students to stand at and communal tables for group activities.

The newly designed room, an ongoing process that received ample input from students, supports the project-based learning environment emphasized in the STEAM curriculum. And the several dozen ThinkPads that Sinkler purchased with money from the Principal's Fund enhance the school's five daily STEAM classes, she said.

"Often, the kids have six-week-long projects, so they're not coming in and learning a lesson -- there are lessons that are all related to one long-term goal," Sinkler explained.

In September, the Salesforce.com Foundation doubled its investment in San Francisco middle schools, announcing a $5 million donation to expand the initiative to K-8 schools for the first time.

That gift includes $3 million that will buy an additional 1,200 iPads and 800 Google Chromebooks for computer science classes. The remaining $2 million goes to the Principal's Fund.

Putting technology into the hands of each student is part of the district's long-term goal of outlining the skills and competencies kids who were kindergarteners in the 2012-13 school year will be expected to possess by the time they graduate from high school in 2025, according to SFUSD officials.

THE DIGITAL DISTRICT

Aptly dubbed Vision 2025, technology is among the objective's top priorities. The SFUSD is trying to raise $40 million over the next three years through public and private funding to support its digital learning efforts to provide what the state cannot. Overall, the amount of money allocated per student is dramatically lower in California than in almost any other state in the U.S.

"Vision 2025 [is] where we want to be in 2025 -- it's absolutely not even a consideration that we wouldn't have robust technology," SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza told The San Francisco Examiner on the first day of the school year, Aug. 18.

"Obviously we can't pay for all that, so really having our business community understand the investment in technology is critically important," Carranza said of the SFUSD's funding struggles.

District officials established a five-year roadmap to promote technology in schools. The 2014-19 technology plan, the Digital District, emphasizes how the SFUSD will embrace modern advances in classrooms. It's estimated that a total digital transformation would cost $195.6 million over five years, but the SFUSD says it is worth it.

"We consider technology as a tool that includes computers, tablets, smartphones, video and audio equipment, communication equipment, and even stargazing and navigation equipment," Luis Valentino, the district's chief academic officer, said in a statement to The Examiner.

"It is about developing a comprehensive knowledge base and extensive skill sets for our students," Valentino said. "We view technology as an advanced tool that helps teachers to make that happen."

This month, the SFUSD also announced an expansion of its Circle the Schools initiative that will connect nearly two dozen San Francisco-based tech companies with The City's public schools through an adopt-a-school model.

Per the initiative, tech companies partner with principals and teachers to organize volunteer activities based on an individual school's needs, including hosting career tours and setting up classrooms. The program, which expanded from five to 20 schools this year, is aiming to have every school "circled" by May.

IN THE CLASSROOM

The SFUSD acknowledges that it still has a long way to go before technology is as common in the classroom as textbooks.

Fewer than 3 percent of students are issued personal technology devices to use during instruction, according to the Digital District report. More often than not, students leave their classrooms for computer labs to receive technology-enabled instruction.

Additionally, the district does not issue laptops to teachers. Fifteen percent of educators report having no computer in their classroom, while a third of teachers bring their personal devices to work. The SFUSD wants each educator to receive a device as part of the technology plan.

Ensuring each classroom is equipped to handle such technology is also an endeavor. Many of the district's classrooms lack basic education technology, 65 percent don't have wireless coverage and just half have projectors.

Each classroom should have a projector, screen, document camera, printer, modern phone, audio equipment and technology that allows content on a student's device to be displayed on the projector, along with wireless Internet access, the report states.

Such goals emphasize the need for public-private partnerships in the SFUSD.

"The Digital District plan alone will require a significant investment over the next three years above and beyond what the district receives from current and projected revenue sources," SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

For 13-year-old Luis Merida, an eighth-grade student at Hoover Middle School, having technology in classrooms makes learning fun. On a recent Thursday morning in his STEAM class, Luis explained how he was using Glogster, an online learning platform, to display a habit of mind such as listening, humor or thinking flexibly.

"[We] make a template and add pictures, videos and images," Luis said of his Glog.

Luis, who wants to be a software developer, particularly loved creating a digital roller coaster in the STEAM class last year.

"We built it in the computer, and we tested it and made sure it was safe to ride," he said.

Page updated on 10/21/14