The San Francisco Unified School District’s African-American Achievement and Leadership Initiative is among the measures being taken to assist all Black students and staff. (Shutterstock)

The San Francisco Unified School District’s African-American Achievement and Leadership Initiative is among the measures being taken to assist all Black students and staff. (Shutterstock)

Supporting success and achievement of all African American students

SFUSD committed to providing necessary conditions for positive outcomes


At the San Francisco Unified School District, we are deeply committed to making sure each and every student has access to the quality instruction and equitable support required to thrive in the 21st century.

At SFUSD we are committed to improving the experience and outcomes for our African American students – a group our district has historically failed to serve well. This commitment extends across all schools and all district staff. In addition, we have a specific group that helps to support this priority – our African-American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI). This initiative is one of many ways we are creating the necessary conditions for positive African American student outcomes, and also maintaining our commitment to chronicling the efforts that we have embraced in order to do so. Even through a shifting landscape caused by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our collective commitment to our African American students and community has not wavered.

Today, in honor of African American History Month, I want to share some of the ways we are engaging in authentic family partnerships, transforming mindsets, and promoting an increased sense of belonging among African American students and families.

Support for students and families during COVID-19

The Advance Program is a high school strategy which monitors coordinated support and addresses service delivery gaps geared towards ensuring Black students remain on-track to graduate, on time, and eligible to apply for California State University/University of California post-secondary options. Services include family engagement, college and career exposure, four-year graduation plans, transcript reviews, tutoring, teacher grade check-ins, credit recovery plans, and positive family partnership plans.

During the pandemic, there was a major shift in the focus of counselors and site staff to ensure the basic needs of students and families, including meals, technology and connections to resources. Increased family outreach became a focal point. The program placed an emphasis on family partnerships as well as partnerships with community-based organizations. Going forward, Advance hopes to continue increasing the family partnerships as well as increase Black student enrollment through summer programming and incorporating a stronger focus on the transition of our students receiving Special Education services.

Preparing students for STEM careers

The Black Star Rising STEM program is a transformative and culturally relevant cohort-based high school readiness and success program, taking place for five weeks over the summer with rigorous direct math instruction; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career exposure; credit recovery and dual enrollment opportunities and paid internships. In 2020, the number of ninth grade participants was 42, up from 33 in 2019.

Improving reading levels

The Mastering Cultural Identity course, which focuses on historical and contemporary African and African American culture, helped improve reading levels among African American males. A collaborative pilot with the American Reading Company was conducted at two middle schools in the district in spring 2020. The results concluded that there were significantly higher outcomes in regards to the reading inventory assessment for the students in the Mastering Cultural Identity course when compared to African American male students who were not in the course.

MCI has continued to develop their partnership with ARC through professional development along with the district’s Curriculum & Instruction department to provide students culturally relevant Lexile level text, affinity space (a safe place to read), reading time, reading assessment, and reading intervention, and improve students’ attitudes towards reading/literacy.

While the pandemic has exacerbated so many inequities, I am proud of the strides that we’ve made to support African American students and their families. I would encourage you to read the latest report from AALI and consider ways you can be involved in helping our students thrive in the 21st century.

Read the 2020 African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI) Annual Report here.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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