ReDEFINING the Middle School Experience

Middle Grades Redesign


Middle school is a critical stage in a student’s life and education, the "make it or break it" years when some students begin to disengage, increasing the likelihood of dropping out of high school. But at Spark* SF Public Schools we see the other side of the coin, where middle school is a prime opportunity for students to discover themselves and their interests. We believe it is our responsibility is to make certain that the middle school experience not only helps students cultivate their passions but prepares them holistically for high school and beyond. 

NEED AND CURRENT REALITY: At the moment, however, English Language Learners and students with learning challenges have the fewest opportunities to explore their interests in middle school. In the typical middle school six-period day, students in study skills and English Language Development (ELD) courses are unable to take elective classes given limited time and mandatory courses. This leads to vast disparities in participation in elective courses like Computer Science and performing arts, with some schools seeing less than 10% of students enrolled in those courses.

SFUSD is taking bold and innovative steps to address these barriers to access through its Middle Grades Redesign initiative. By incorporating an 8-period class schedule that supports equitable access and frees up time for teachers to design and collaborate on lesson plans, the district will be able to provide deeper learning experiences that include more elective and acceleration courses, project-based learning, technology integration, and social-emotional learning. 

Having studied examples from around the country and implemented elements of the redesign prototype in “early adopter” schools, we know what’s possible. At Everett Middle School, an “early adopter” site, the school-wide acceleration model resulted in 1.5 years of growth in reading and 2.9 years of growth in math in just one academic year. To build on these early successes, SFUSD is adopting a phased approach to implementation, with two middle schools (Francisco and Roosevelt) piloting the full redesign model during the 2019-2020 school year.

middle school students doing classwork

VISION: By 2025, the Middle Grades Redesign will be implemented across all 13 SFUSD middle schools, maximizing the use of space and time to better prepare students for high school, college, and careers in the 21st century. Redesigning our middle grades will require us to:

  1. Build the instructional capacity of teachers, leaders and central office staff through professional development, coaching, and collaboration, with an emphasis on mathematics and literacy

  2. Upgrade classrooms to reflect 21st-century learning standards, including new furniture, equipment, and technology that facilitates both project-based and interdisciplinary learning 

  3. Scale programs and practices that enable deeper social-emotional learning to ensure students receive the comprehensive supports and services they need to be successful inside and outside of the classroom

  4. Develop curriculum for Accelerated courses to ensure students furthest from grade level have access to personalized learning that will accelerate their knowledge in core subjects like Mathematics and English. 

  5. Create a change management narrative, build data and evaluation systems, and develop the tools and resources to facilitate scale. This includes hiring an external evaluator to research the impact of the Middle Grades Redesign model over the course of the pilot year and share findings that will influence future design and implementation. 

INVESTMENT: Spark* SF Public Schools is seeking $1.5 million in private philanthropic investments over two years. Day in, day out, students, educators, school leaders, students, families, central departments, and community partners have joined together to create this innovative educational model that combines the best of traditional education with the latest insights into how students learn. 

We hope you will join this game-changing movement. After all, change often starts with a challenge and an idea—a vision of what could happen to create better learning experiences for our students. But a vision is just the start. Real system-wide change happens when we translate our vision into reality, and your support can help us get there. Help us to redefine the middle school experience today! 


  • Enroll 100% of students at pilot schools in an elective course and exploratory wheel courses (computer science, health, world language, visual and performing arts) 

  • Engage 100% of teachers in aligned professional learning opportunities focused on deeper learning

  • Increase English and math proficiency by 10% for the academic year, particularly for the lowest performing subgroups (African American, Latinx and English learners) 

  • Offer 72 hours of staff professional learning at each comprehensive middle school and 61,920 instructional minutes annually (nearly 15% more than the minimum state requirement) to realize universal course access and Vision 2025 learning in alignment with the Graduate Profile.