Salesforce on Thursday announced a donation of $8.5 million to San Francisco and Oakland schools to support computer science education.
The San Francisco-based software company will continue a four-year partnership with San Francisco Unified School District. Of the $8.5 million, $6 million goes to San Francisco and $2.5 million goes to Oakland Unified School District.
Funding in both districts will go toward hiring math and computer science middle school staff, buying assistive technology for special education students and supporting college and career programs.
Part of the money also goes into the Principal’s Innovation Fund, a grant awarding $100,000 to 21 middle school principals in San Francisco and six principals in Oakland to address school needs. This brings Salesforce’s contribution to both districts to a total of $22.5 million in the last four years.
Salesforce has increased its donation each year since piloting the donation program to school districts in 2013. According to SFGate, CEO Marc Benioff donated $2.7 million to San Francisco middle schools the first year. In 2014, Salesforce almost doubled that amount and donated $5 million. Last year, Benioff gave $6 million to SFUSD.
Salesforce’s philanthropy arm gives to higher education and nonprofits as well, with a focus on Benioff’s hometown of San Francisco. The billionaire CEO of one of the largest software companies has called out Silicon Valley companies for not doing enough charity work or giving enough money to education.
More than a check
Besides writing checks, Salesforce and its employees have committed to volunteering 20,000 hours in schools this year. According to Ebony Frelix, head of philanthropy and engagement at Salesforce.org, volunteers have helped set up classrooms, provided IT support and read to students.
“We want to make sure students are able to compete in the future job market,” Frelix says. “It’s not just about the check.”
“We want to give them the basic skills to compete and then they can make the choice.”
Salesforce will also expand a joint effort with the district and sf.citi called Circle the Schools. Through the program, local companies like Salesforce and Dropbox “adopt” a school and employees volunteer their time in classrooms. Along with this year’s funding, Salesforce says it plans to adopt 26 schools in San Francisco and Oakland and 19 schools abroad.
“We’re taking the playbook in San Francisco to other schools,” Frelix says.
She adds that there aren’t plans to expand to South Bay schools yet, but the company is waiting “to make the right relationships.”
The ‘epicenter’ of tech
Technology’s influence in Bay Area (and beyond) economy, culture and communities is significant, and schools, too, are becoming an important investment for area tech companies.
SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza says he feels grateful for Salesforce’s continued donations. In 2013, San Francisco became the first school district in the country to have a computer science curriculum for all grade levels.
“We’re thrilled Marc is in it for the long haul,” Carranza says. “It makes sense for us in the Bay because we’re at the epicenter [of tech].”
With the funding, SFUSD has hired 19 math and technology teachers and reduced class sizes for eighth grade math from 33 to 24 students, on average. According to Salesforce, the smaller class size increased students’ grade point averages from 2.85 in 2014 to 3.05 in 2016.
At Oakland Unified School District, a new recipient of Salesforce’s donation, the emphasis is on exposing students to computational thinking where computer science may not be offered, says Claire Shorall, manager of computer science for the district.
According to Shorall, Oakland schools will use Salesforce money to hire someone to coordinate middle school science for the district, expand curriculum offerings and hire more computer science educators. Shorall says last year there were three computer science teachers in the district, but this year there will be a total of 34.
Part of the money will go to increasing STEM programming for African-American and Latino students, who make up a big part of Oakland school systems. Data from Oakland Unified for the 2014 school year shows 29.7 percent of students are African-American, and 39.3 percent are Latino.
Shorall’s job, which was created last year, focuses on using computer science as a strategy for schools. The Pre-Pathway model, for instance, gets students thinking about their future career and college goals, and it’s been proven that early guidance can benefit a student, she says.
“I think the real dividend will pay off three [to] five years from now when students pick their Pre-Pathways and make their way up,” Shorall says.
Preparing students for the future
Tech companies have in the last few years reshaped Oakland, with big companies like Pandora and Uber moving across the Bay seeking refuge from a congested, expensive San Francisco. And history has shown gentrification fueled by tech businesses touches every part of a city — from its parks to its schools.
“Tech is coming to Oakland, and we need to make sure we’re preparing our students. The demand [for tech workers] is greater than the supply that we have,” Shorall says.
But to Shorall, money alone from tech companies, while important, will not sustain schools in the long run. It will be sustained and funded by public dollars, she says.
Shorall still teaches high school computer science and has spent six years teaching biology and math before her job managing computer science programs for the district. People often hear computer science in schools and imagine “new age” classrooms, she says, but to her the classrooms just look like students learning and working together.
“Computer science is about problem solving. It’s not always computer-centric. I think kids will be better problem solvers and better agents of change,” Shorall says.