One of the issues with leaning on a high-tech economic growth strategy in a region where there is incredibly constricted space and housing stock like in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is making sure that the benefits of a boom spread to everyone.
California’s public school system is ranked in the lowest decile of the country’s state educational systems. And San Francisco is no exception, especially given its level of income inequality with the wealthiest families either placing their children in private schools or moving to high-performing suburban school districts outside the city. (For a fascinating read on the future of the city’s school system, go here.)
On top of that, computer science is still not in the core curriculum even though it’s obviously necessary for highly compensated work in the region.
So there are a lot of programs like MissionBit and Code.org that have cropped up to bridge that divide and support socioeconomic mobility between the public education system and the region’s booming tech economy.
Sf.citi, a local politics-focused nonprofit backed by heavyweight investor Ron Conway, is adding to that pool. They’ve been doing a pilot where tech companies can “adopt” schools and answer to whatever their needs are. During a pilot, five tech companies each adopted a school in the San Francisco Unified School District and made at least a one-year commitment to them. Xoom, for example, partnered with Junipero Serra Elementary and donated about 500 balanced literacy books because school administrators said their students needed to perform better in English language arts. Other ideas include hosting career tours and setting up classrooms.
The program, put together by sf.citi, the school district and the San Francisco Education Fund, allows administrators and teachers themselves to dictate their needs. Now, the program has grown to 20 schools under the name Circle The Schools.
While sf.citi has gotten some flack from the city’s progressive left for being a political vehicle, I can’t really express to you how important it is for the broader tech community to engage in the local public school system. The city is now at record employment levels and the region’s infrastructure — in transit, housing and education — is not keeping up with population and job growth for a very long list of primarily political reasons amid enormous economic and demographic change over the last 30 years. That’s putting a squeeze on lower-income communities, who are somewhat rightfully raising criticisms that a tech-heavy economic strategy is primarily benefitting workers from outside of the Bay Area who are moving in and displacing other long-time residents.
The city currently has the biggest construction pipeline it has seen in the last 30 years. But even that isn’t enough to keep up with the 10,000 residents per year that San Francisco has added during this decade. So it’s really incumbent upon tech workers to prove that they can engage with and listen to longtime San Franciscans and include them in every way possible. There are a lot of options, including programs like this. Then there are individual efforts like last week’s $5 million donation to the city’s school system from Salesforce. Choose whatever fits you best.
Last week, I hosted a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt SF with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and David Chiu, who is the president of the city’s board of supervisors and is running against one of the Mission District’s supervisors David Campos to represent San Francisco in the California State Assembly.
He said, “Tech has become a symbol of what is inaccessible,” because of the industry’s lack of diversity.
Please change that.