When the Community Works Together, Our Schools Prosper

Todd David believes that "A strong public school system is the foundation of a healthy local economy and a vibrant democracy." When his eldest daughter enrolled in kindergarten, he was amazed at the great things happening in the neighborhood school, Alvarado Elementary. Only 15 years ago, the school's outlook was gloomy; with low test scores and lagging community involvement. It took only a small group of involved community members to change that, and by the time Todd and his family arrived at Alvarado, the school had a thriving environment, including a strong PTA that now raises close to $400,000 per year. Alvarado was a model of how a community can turn a weak school into a flourishing school, or as David says, "Alvarado is not just a great public school, it is a great school."

David began examining other public schools and found that all over San Francisco, amazing changes were taking place at the grassroots level. Like Alvarado, other top elementary school PTAs are now raising nearly half-a-million dollars a year in flexible spending. While other schools, those without strong parent organizations, are bringing in less than $10,000. This discrepancy seemed to make the difference between a prospering school and an underperforming one.

How to remedy this inequity and encourage community activism in all the San Francisco public schools became David's focus. One answer was to seed each school with an additional source of flexible spending dollars while promoting a citywide collaborative effort, working to make all schools better.

Two years ago with this in mind, David started edMatch, a fiscally sponsored program of the San Francisco School Alliance, dedicated to helping raise funds for all San Francisco public schools. It challenges corporations and private individuals to match the amount raised by parent organizations across the SFUSD, and then distributes these funds equally to all 113 of San Francisco's public schools, on a per student basis. Each school's site council, comprised of parents, teachers, and the school principal, is then empowered to decide how best to spend the money to achieve their desired educational outcomes. edMatch also provides schools with a library of best-practices and neighborhood-based organizations to work with, including literacy specialists, arts educators and more.

This week, edMatch is launching its first annual "Support San Francisco Public Schools Week." From September 24 to September 29, dozens of local merchants across the city, as well as a few national businesses, are donating a percentage of their sales to San Francisco public schools through a partnerhsip with an online school fundraising platform called Schoola.

The culminating event of the week will be a citywide "Tech Savvy Scavenger Hunt," where teams will use their smart phones to explore the city, solving puzzles, completing assigned tasks and racing to be the first team to finish all their "missions." Working with local businesses like Patxi's Pizza, Rickshaw Bagworks and the SF Wax Museum, edMatch has secured prizes for the winners that include lunch with Mythbuster's Tory and Kari, signed Matt Cain jerseys, locally made messenger bags and a behind-the-scenes tour of the SF Wax Museum. All the proceeds from the event, which David hopes will attract hundreds, will go directly to San Francisco public schools. Individuals and teams can register here.

edMatch will not be able to solve the underlying inequity of the public school system on its own, but by aligning the interests of each individual school with each other and fostering a collective, citywide spirit, it is helping build one more plank on the bridge to equality.