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SF Superintendent pitches achievement gap to business partners

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Vincent Matthews, Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District (far left), briefed business, tech and education leaders on Wednesday on the district’s strategies for addressing its persistent opportunity gap. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Superintendent Vincent Matthews called on business and tech leaders Wednesday to invest in San Francisco’s public schools by improving educational and workforce opportunities for black youth.

Forming partnerships to address an opportunity gap that spans decades in San Francisco and disproportionately affects schools serving large populations of black students was a goal of a breakfast and business briefing about the My Brother’s and Sister’s Keepers program, held at the LinkedIn headquarters in South of Market.

The program was formed in response to the 2014 My Brother’s Keeper initiative, launched by then-President Barack Obama to address persistent opportunity gaps for young men of color through a public-private partnership.

On Wednesday, attendees were briefed about the San Francisco Unified School District’s African American achievement initiative and participated in a conversation about addressing inequities through partnerships.

Matthews was joined by a panel of speakers that included Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Right Commission, and HOPE SF Director Theo Miller.

San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the country, said Matthews, yet inequalities are persistent and seen throughout The City’s classrooms.

“Resources in this city have increased, yet the [achievement] gap remains the same,” said Matthews. A 90-day assessment of San Francisco’s public schools by Matthews revealed that half of the school district’s black students attend just 20 of The City’s some 140 schools, he said.

The average experience level of teachers at those schools is a third of the district average of 12 years, he said.

Matthews pitched a five-pronged approach to addressing barriers to equity in the school district and called for buy-in from business, tech and community leaders.

When asked about the “highest leverage actions” that businesses can take to support the work of the school district on its path to equity, Matthews cited a recent investment made by tech giant Salesforce, which donated $7 million to the district last year for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

“Salesforce has stepped up in a big way with dollars targeted at middle school math,” he said. “We have seen the result — a huge spike in middle school math [scores] over the last few years.  It absolutely makes a difference.”

The panelists also urged the tech sector to provide underserved students with opportunities through internships, incubators and mentorships.

“When we brought 100-plus kids into this space and said, ‘this is where people work’— it’s a whole other way of living and thinking,” said Davis. “But if I have never been here, or have never seen anybody that looks like me and I have to be the one that makes that happen, that’s terrifying. The pressure is too much.

Matthews said that one of the district’s goals is to equip students with the “21st century skills”to succeed in an ever changing workforce.

“This is not going to come from the district or the government,” said Miller. “It’s about entrepreneurs, it’s about anchors in the business community helping to activate and create incubators where our young folks can have access to those innovative jobs right here.”

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