SFUSD Awards Tied to Tech Industry’s Philanthropic Funding

Philanthropic donations from the non-profit branches of prosperous Bay Area technology companies and entrepreneurs are giving San Francisco public schools a leg up, and garnering statewide awards.

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has been awarded two Golden Bell Awards from the California School Boards Association (CSBA), both made possible with tech company money.

The Golden Bell Awards are meant to recognize public school programs that are innovative and sustainable, make a demonstrated difference for students, and focus on meeting the needs of all public school students, according to CSBA.

SFUSD has received awards in the categories of mathematics and wellness.

The wellness award highlights the district’s Future Dining Experience program, which utilizes student-centered recommendations and community advice to improve the quality and nutrition of school meals and cafeterias.

The Future Dining experience was made possible by a grant from the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of former chairman and chief executive officer of Twitter, Evan Williams.

Working with Palo Alto-based Ideo design firm, the program aims to reflect the input of 1,300 students, parents, nutrition staff, principals, teachers, administrators, and community partners.

SFUSD has revamped cafeterias in an effort to make a financially stable and sustainable food system for the city’s schools.

The program has already altered food systems at Roosevelt Middle School, Thurgood Marshall High School, Everett Middle School and Willie L. Brown, Jr. Middle School.

The mathematics award was also achievable with millions of dollars of support from the philanthropic branch of the cloud computing company, Salesforce.com.

The Salesforce Foundation, the school district and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee launched a STEM and Leadership Initiative to bring technology to the district’s middle schools, including wireless Internet and devices.

This required a large initial investment, contributed by the Salesforce Foundation, and will be maintained by other district resources moving forward, according to SFUSD.

The program aimed to foster deeper integration of technology into teaching and learning, leverage technological tools to create more engaging learning environments and build teacher and leadership capacity.

According to CSBA, entire school faculties were brought up to speed with new technology as a result of the program.

Additionally, the program provides money for the Principal’s Innovation Fund, which gave every participating middle school principal a $100,000 discretionary fund to spend on activities at their schools, such as a platform for online sharing with Chinese students and other creative tech innovations.

Vernon M. Billy, CSBA’s executive director and chief executive officer, said “The Golden Bell Awards recognize the quality and the determination of school leaders from across California in meeting the needs of California’s students through award-winning programs and services.”

Most other schools in California that didn’t receive significant funding from philanthropic foundations were given awards for more traditional and academically rigorous programs, such as Laguna Beach High School in Orange County that created an Advanced Chemical Research program to allow seniors to engage in authentic research and conduct experiments that have never previously been attempted.

In Los Angeles County, Franklin Elementary School in the Glendale Unified School District received an award for its dual language immersion programs that offer students fluency in French, Italian, German or Spanish.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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  • Dana Woldow

    Interesting that SFUSD is receiving an award for “improving the quality and nutrition of school meals,” with credit going to IDEO and the Williams Foundation, when the stated goal of the IDEO/William-funded plan was to stop focusing on the food and instead focus on redecorating cafeteria and speeding up the lunch line. As an October 2013 article about the plan in the New York Times said, “What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?”

    All of the improvements to SFUSD’s meals themselves, including the signing of a contract with healthy meal vendor Revolution Foods, were completed by December 2012, well before the IDEO/Williams plan was first proposed in spring 2013.
    The proposed improvements to SFUSD cafeteria spaces, as well as efforts to get more students to choose school lunch by offering multiple points of sale, loyalty bonuses, and other innovations, are good ideas, although there has yet to be shown any proof that they are working and that more kids are, in fact, eating school lunch now than prior to the IDEO plan being introduced. Perhaps that will come with time.
    But what is known for sure is that the IDEO/Williams plan had nothing – at all – to do with improving the food. That was done by a committee of parent, student and community volunteers working tirelessly (without pay or awards) for over a decade.