Dreamforce book drive stresses literacy in SF public school classrooms

SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza, Mayor Ed Lee and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff encourage Dreamforce guests to donate books for The City's public school classrooms on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Laura Dudnick/S.F. Examiner

The San Francisco Unified School District made headlines earlier this year when it approved a plan to teach computer science to all students, from preschool to 12th grade.

City and school leaders, however, don’t want students to forget the importance of books as well.

Such was the sentiment Wednesday smack in the middle of the Dreamforce event in San Francisco, the world’s largest software conference, where a makeshift schoolhouse with bookshelves for walls beckoned guests to help reach a goal of donating 1 million books for public schools.

“Books are important because you have to have a solid basis in literacy,” said Superintendent Richard Carranza. “Even in the new Common Core State Standards, students have to be able to describe their thinking in their problem solving process.”

Carranza, along with Mayor Ed Lee and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, urged Dreamforce guests to support the book drive and even donated a handful of books from their homes. More than 800,000 books had already been collected as of midday Wednesday.

“Everyone knows that our K-through-12 education system not just here in San Francisco but across our whole country needs our attention,” Benioff said. “The people who can make the biggest difference when it comes to our K-through-12 education system are the very people attending Dreamforce.”

Mayor Ed Lee noted that when such companies invest in public schools, it helps encourages San Francisco students to enter the technology sector.

“Ultimately…we’ve got to create the talent for these companies for future generations,” Lee said.

The book drive piggybacks on efforts in recent years by Salesforce to add technology to The City’s public schools. Last month, the Salesforce Foundation announced a gift of $6 million to the school district, bringing its total contributions primarily to enhance technology in middle school classrooms to nearly $14 million in the past three years.

The $6 million for schools this year includes $100,000 grants to middle school principals at 21 SFUSD schools as part of the Principal’s Innovation Fund, as well as hiring 14 full-time coaches and teachers to support math and technology instruction in middle grades, and five full-time staff members to assist teachers and implement curriculum.

“Just three years ago, when we started our partnership [with Salesforce], you would not have heard in any of our middle schools anything like a maker space, or design thinking, or computer science and programming,” Carranza said.

“Now you go to any of our middle grades…and you will find maker spaces, you will find kids programming, you will find pre-kindergarten students learning the fundamentals of computer science and how to program.”

James Lick Middle School eighth grade student Temani Morris, who is taking his first computer science course this school year and toured Dreamforce with his classmates Wednesday, said he has already practiced enough coding to know he wants to pursue the skill as an adult.

“I would like to be a computer designer or video game designer or engineer, something that involves technology,” he said.

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