(Courtesy photo)

San Francisco schools are making progress toward narrowing opportunity gaps

John Muir, Sherman and Clarendon elementary schools are in different parts of San Francisco but they have one important thing in common: African American students at these schools have demonstrated higher proficiency rates in Math and English than the district average for elementary-age African American students. Let me share a little more about what they are doing.

Muir Elementary’s famous literacy nights and parent conference weeks feature engaging games and information on strategies that can be used at home to promote learning in the evening, weekends, and during breaks from the school year. This set of strategies is enacted in conjunction with supplemental supports such as mentoring programs and wraparound services in order to begin addressing non-academic student and family needs.

Teachers at Muir are also partnering with Zaretta Hammond, author of the pivotal text “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,” to participate in ongoing professional development experiences focused on increasing students’ learning independence, critical questioning, and academic talk.

Faculty members at Clarendon also employ a comprehensive approach to advance African American student achievement. Staff have leveraged Leveled Literacy Instructional supports in kindergarten, first, and second grades to ensure that students read at grade level before reaching the pivotal third grade year when the focus of reading shifts from fluency to comprehension.

Similarly, students and faculty at Sherman Elementary continue to directly benefit from the school’s longstanding and consistent attention to high – quality instruction. In fact, Sherman Elementary is a demonstration site within SFUSD due to the school’s high fidelity implementation of the Comprehensive Approach to Literacy (CAL) and use of assessment data to identify individual students that would benefit from additional supports.

In addition to their focus on quality instruction, Sherman faculty have also focused on shifting adult mindsets for several years. Consistent messaging and professional development on adult mindsets is leveraged in order to develop and maintain a school-wide culture grounded in high expectations for all students, especially those from marginalized and under served backgrounds.

These are just a few examples of bright spots across The City. Across all grade levels and dozens of schools, the seeds of our collective focus on improving outcomes for African American students are blossoming.

Back in 2013, a district work group was formed to provide recommendations to interrupt the inequitable pattern of outcomes for African American students in SFUSD. In 2015, the Board of Education passed a resolution to renew the district’s commitment to African American student achievement. That same year, AAALI was established.

Since then, our schools have seen many successes in improving the outcomes for African American students, which are highlighted in the 2018 report. We have narrowed the gap in graduation rates between African American students and other student populations. We have grown our African American parent leadership network, established new teams and coalitions to support targeted work to serve African American students, and identified practices and strategies that have led to academic successes for African American students.

Last year, we announced a new effort to focus on the most promising strategies at 20 school sites serving nearly 1,400 Kindergarten through 8th grade African American students. This effort, called “PITCH,” is challenge us to build on our collective knowledge of effective practices and implement these at scale.

Today, strategies at these schools include coursework for students that promotes a positive sense of cultural identity, academically rigorous summer programming, and partnering with school leadership teams to monitor African American student outcome data and help schools coordinate high-leverage services for students and families.

We know our work is far from done to ensure that each and every student receives the quality instruction and equitable support required to thrive in the 21st century. I encourage you to take a look at the full report, and join us on our journey with students, families, city, community, and philanthropic partners to provide a high-quality educational experience for our African American students.

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

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