Salesforce gives SF and Oakland schools a boost


Seven years ago, billionaire Marc Benioff’s cloud computing company, Salesforce, gave San Francisco schools the biggest corporate giveaway the district has ever seen.

The check was for $ 2.7 million, enough to buy hundreds of iPads and wireless access for the city’s colleges.

Benioff then asked officials to ask for more, noting that his San Francisco company was “loaded” and pledged to spend 1% of its profits on philanthropic activities, including education.

They have been asking since.

This year, Salesforce will surpass the previous seven years, giving schools in the city $ 8.5 million and $ 8.7 million to schools in Oakland, which also began receiving annual grants in 2016. Donations carry total donations to the two districts to $ 66 million. Oakland Unified’s annual budget is $ 570 million and San Francisco Unified’s is $ 1 billion.

Salesforce remains the largest donor in every district.

“We’re just as excited about this as we were on day one, year one,” said Ebony Beckwith, director of philanthropy at Salesforce. “Love this is something we really stuck with.”

While the initial funding was focused on technology, math, and computer science, this year’s grants will support a wide range of programs, including services for refugee or recent immigrant students in Oakland as well as recruitment and retention. teachers in colleges.

In San Francisco, administrators are allocating the funding to improving math scores and establishing computer classes in every middle and high school, as well as two-thirds of elementary schools.

Currently, 25,000 students are taking computer courses, up from 700 before grants, said Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

The district “was able to move much faster in transforming our schools,” he said.

Salesforce funding also includes up to $ 150,000 in “innovation grants” for each college, to be used for whatever the principal and school community wish. This is a rare, unconditional gift that principals look forward to each year.

Some bought furniture to create a more collaborative classroom with clusters of curved desks. Others have created “maker” laboratories, launched coding courses or paid for field trips and tutors.

Students exercise in the schoolyard during a physical education class at Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, September 10, 2019. Salesforce provided funding to renovate and modernize the yard school and library.Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

At Presidio Middle School, each student has a Chromebook to use courtesy of Salesforce, while the library has new books and a librarian, who has helped start a Wednesday morning book club for Afro students. -Americans, led by the school security officer.

The students loved it, at one point they took a field trip to Oakland to meet author Angie Thomas and have her sign her book, “On the Come Up,” which they had read, said the director of the school. school, Emma Dunbar.

“All these African American boys and some Latino boys joined us – (students who) maybe weren’t very motivated to be in school on time,” she said. “They ate breakfast and read together every week. “

In addition to the money, Salesforce also provides volunteers for schools, who help with painting, tutoring, or doing whatever is needed. Benioff volunteers at Presidio, where his personal support helped build a new schoolyard, replacing the bitumen built in 1932, Dunbar said.

The new yard has trees, green spaces, a variety of seating and play areas, designed by students and staff in conjunction with a professional design team provided by Salesforce, the manager said.

“I think the kids really feel loved, valued and important,” she said.

In the early years of the funding, Benioff pledged $ 100 million to local schools over a decade, saying people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can. do in 10.

Benioff has joined a growing group of high-tech titans – including Netflix’s Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Reed Hastings – throwing money at education reform efforts with varying degrees of success or failure. .

The Salesforce founder was somewhat of an exception among the crowd, taking a more informal approach, holding listening sessions with directors at his home or top-floor offices to find out how they were using innovation grants. and what they thought was still needed. to help students.

Benioff’s non-disruptive philanthropy is rare in the public school world, where reform can mean take or leave money tied to a benefactor’s vision – small schools, smaller classrooms, or high school redesign, for example. example.

“It’s not just parents or local businesses that are contributing,” said Janelle Scott, professor of education at UC Berkeley. “These are big dollars spent on changing the public education policy or program in the imagination of donors.”

While Salesforce grants are less prescriptive than most, the question is still whether they will have a lasting impact, said Jason Dougal, executive vice president of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

While the technology and tutors are great, they don’t change the schools built for an industrial workforce 120 years ago, he said. The education system needs an overhaul, with educators and support systems – such as teacher training, recruitment and retention – that meet the needs of all students.

“You don’t see a lot of sustained and improved performance for students long after the investment is made,” said Dougal. “More money in a broken system won’t help in the long run.”

It’s also unclear how long Salesforce will continue to make the annual and early funding announcement, which districts and schools now rely on for extras.

Salesforce, however, won’t stop giveaways after 10 years, Beckwith said.

“We will certainly not walk away,” she said. “We’re never going to not support the Bay Area.”

Benioff echoed this, saying the company “is committed to long-term investment in public education. Anyone can adopt a public school. The results are felt throughout the community when you do so. … The spectacular results we have seen over the past five years have motivated me to do even more.

Jill Tucker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jilltucker

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