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New SF schools superintendent returns to technology-driven district

Michael Barba | May 2, 2017 | SF Examiner

Original article

Four decades after he was a student there, Superintendent Vincent Matthews returned to Herbert Hoover Middle School in the Sunset District on Tuesday and stepped into a spacious classroom.

The room, once equipped with ovens, stoves and sinks to teach home economics to junior high students, now features a large green screen and film equipment meant to help kids tackle subjects like climate change through video storytelling.

“You can see just the changes that have occurred over time in terms of making sure that students have the skills they need to have,” said Matthews, who toured the school during his second day on the job.

Matthews plans to tour campuses and meet with students, parents and educators during his first 90 days as the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, before recommending tweaks to the district’s strategic plan.

On Tuesday, Hoover Middle School showed the new superintendent how some schools are now firmly embedded in the 21st century.

Matthews visited a series of classes where teachers integrated technology into their curriculum, whether the course was simply aimed at sending kids to college or a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics workshop.

“What you want to make sure is that the students are actually using creative, critical thinking skills,” Matthews said. “The way [technology] is being used here is exactly the way it should be used to my estimation. This is a model for what we want to do around the district.”

The middle school has benefited from private donations to the SFUSD from Salesforce.org, which donated $6 million for the district to improve digital learning, and Verizon Communications.

Principal Carline Sinkler said the school used the private funding from Salesforce to “transform the school bit-by-bit,” replacing traditional rows for students with furniture and even bean-bag chairs.

“There’s a new sense of thinking about [how] kids should have choices, you don’t always learn sitting down,” Sinkler said.

Hoover is also one of three middle schools to hand out iPads to every student for the first time this school year under a $3 million partnership with Verizon.

Students at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School and James Denman Middle School also received iPads, which were the source of some controversy at the Board of Education last September because of concerns about Verizon advertising to students through the iPads.

“It’s been really transformative,” Sinkler said. “There are things that the kids are doing that they have never done before. They have made learning possible in ways that we just have never seen.”

During the tour, teacher Jacob Aringo had the sixth and seventh graders in his STEAM class programming video games on laptops while viewing a tutorial on game design on the iPads.

“Our last project was creating a cardboard car that moves using its propellers,” said Aringo, noting that Hoover was the first school in the district to offer a STEAM course.

There are now five of such courses at Hoover alone.

Matthews plans to visit schools until the last day of the school year May 26, putting his 90-day tour on hiatus until next school year.

Matthews is also hosting four community meetings this month. The first is scheduled for May 11 at James Lick Middle School.

Page updated on 05/02/17