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Reflecting on success as school year begins

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SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza takes a selfie with school faculty during the first day of school at Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco’s Bayview District Monday, August 15, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

It’s hard to believe it, but a new school year has begun.

Yesterday, our first day of the school year, I visited three schools to congratulate the staff and students for the wonderful work they’ve been doing. My visits brought to mind some of the things I am most proud of …

Bryant Elementary: Transformed and Supported

At one time, Bryant Elementary School was on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools. But now it is among those with the greatest gains in the 2016 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

This is in part because Bryant was part of a group of schools in the Superintendent’s Zone. As such, they received more intensive support, and teachers were willing to learn new approaches in order to create the conditions necessary for academic growth for students.

The school takes a community school approach, where academics and social support are coordinated to ensure students and their families have the resources they need to succeed. Teachers work with literacy and math specialists to reflect on what students are learning and adjust as needed.

Thurgood Marshall High: Hub of 21st-Century Innovation

Kids at Marshall High can learn computer science by actually designing their own games. But not only do they learn to code, they then get to “pitch” their ideas to real-life tech industry executives and learn exactly what it takes to be on a tech team.

And at lunch, they serve themselves healthy food and hang out in a completely student-redesigned cafeteria. With new furniture, wall graphics, and different areas to pick up food so that there’s little to no waiting in line, the once underused space is now full of students.

Marshall has really embraced innovation both in and outside of the classroom. Their school has a user-centered design lab onsite (staffed by the school district) where school teams gather from across the city to tackle challenges and generate creative solutions.

Martin Luther King Middle: Growing up and Getting Along

I’m sure it’s no surprise to you: Middle-schoolers have a lot going on. People at every age can learn, step by step, how to manage their emotions, navigate everyday conflict and understand their peers better.

Looking at its suspension rates, Martin Luther King staff, with help from the district experts, took on teaching students more social and emotional skills while also teaching academics. And it wasn’t just students who were learning, teachers worked on understanding their students better.

Why? Because this helps everyone get along. And when that happens, it’s easier for all kids to stay in class, which means more learning.

MLK has cut out-of-class referrals and even more serious consequences, like suspensions, in half in a short amount of time.

There is a lot to celebrate at each of our schools and I wish I could have visited each and every one on opening day to recognize the hard and strategic work of our principals and educators.

Richard Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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