Pilot programs at three middle schools in The City are giving sixth graders more personalized, project-based learning.  (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Pilot programs at three middle schools in The City are giving sixth graders more personalized, project-based learning. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Middle school education gets a makeover

San Francisco is the city that is changing the world, with amazing technologies, advances in civil rights and brand-new economies.

We are bringing that same creativity and forward-thinking to redefine school. We want to prepare all our students to succeed at school and in life.

We are focused on what all young people need to discover their spark and reach their full potential: 21st century teaching and learning that is personalized and infused with real-life tasks.

Are we there yet? No. But are we getting closer? Yes. Let me tell you about some exciting things happening in our middle grades.

First, I need you to remember middle school. Or junior high. Got that in your mind? Well, we’re changing it.


Last year we invited middle school principals to take part in a design lab. For months they came up with ideas to “hack” the old system and make a new one.

They took field trips to see other middle schools in action, and invited experts to share their own redesign ideas. At the same time SFUSD staff with expertise ranging from curriculum and instruction to technology collaborated to figure out how to make the changes we want to see work.


Willie Brown Middle School, Dr. Martin Luther King Middle School and Visitacion Valley Middle School are now implementing some of these changes. Sixth graders there are engaging in more personalized, project-based learning than ever before. Their teachers are collaborating with principals and central office to make sure these changes are working for students.

Students have access to online personalized learning and content and teachers can access a resource library of projects for planning and design.

(All of this is on top of some other things we’ve already started — nearly half of our middle grade students are taking computer science classes.)

It’s an ambitious undertaking. While the pilot schools will be getting started with these, the Middle School Redesign team is hard at work with other middle schools to get them up to speed on changing their master schedules, and launching other elements to help “retool our schools.”


Anyone who’s been part of a large, game-changing project like this will know that not only is this ambitious, it requires money.

Thanks to the Salesforce Foundation, and its ongoing support of our schools, the New Tech Network Partnership is providing guidance and other resources for our schools.

And San Francisco residents, because they approved the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF), which gives us the technology to help our students access personalized and blended learning.

I couldn’t be happier for these big changes in how our middle grade students are learning. It’s one more way we are on track to helping our kids graduate ready to thrive in the 21st century.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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