History of SJ Learns

SJ Learns City of San Jose public Library

The grant program, launched in 2015 by former Mayor Sam Liccardo, was shaped by the SJ Learns Working Group and Advisory Committee – bodies composed of educational experts and stakeholders representing nonprofits, foundations, school districts, county offices of education, and the City of San José. In 2018, the Library became the City lead for SJ Learns as part of the Education and Digital Literacy strategy – Learning at Grade level Proficiency, Expanding Education Beyond the School Day.

The current SJ Learns Grants Committee, comprised of community members and SJPLF board members, is a standing body of the Library Foundation board that guides award decisions and supports the administrative grant team as needed. Grants are administered by the San José Public Library Foundation (SJPLF), with the San José Public Library’s Education Team providing leadership for the grant process and all related administrative, programmatic, and evaluation activities.

The SJ Learns initiative was launched in response to low academic performance among students in low-income communities in San José. Approximately half of third-graders are not proficient in English Language Arts (ELA), Reading, and Mathematics, and nearly 5,000 at-risk K-3 students lack access to free, quality, school-based after school programs. These students are more likely to be English language learners, children of low-income families, and/or boys of color.

High-quality extended learning programs provide crucial academic support for struggling students in the classroom. They are especially important for students from low-income families who cannot afford fee-based alternatives.

In 2018, SJ Learns staff developed an expanded learning collaborative with a strong focus on continuous quality improvement in order to amplify the positive impact of programs for students and their families. In partnership with the Leo M. Shortino Family Foundation, Region 5 Expanded Learning, and Cisco Impact Grants, the SJ Learns program convenes the Expanded Learning Community of Practice (ExL CoP). There are over 25 active members representing grantees from all funders, meeting quarterly. Library staff provides management for administrative, programmatic, and convening activities.  

The ExL CoP functions as a professional learning network that enables peer organizations to exchange knowledge and develop competencies. It provides LEAs and expanded learning program staff with opportunities to connect and solve problems, share ideas, set standards, and deepen relationships.  

The ExL CoP has been an intentional component of advancing the goals by providing a venue for peer sharing and co-constructing knowledge around expanded learning. CoP members are encouraged to become “official” collaborators based on their expertise and interest. Collaborators are involved in planning and facilitating convenings. This has enhanced levels of engagement and provided members with opportunities to share first-hand knowledge and to develop facilitation skills. The CoP Scope and Sequence was developed collaboratively among members to include a focus on three main topic areas:  

  • Social Emotional Learning & Mental Health  
  • Student/Family/Community Engagement  
  • Equity & Inclusive Teaching

The ExL CoP has maintained a consistent purpose to build “a safe space for learning and continuous quality improvement to ensure the implementation of high-quality expanded learning programs that are integrated into a shared vision for student achievement” and set of goals. The goals include:

  • Provide opportunity to share promising practices  
  • Leverage our knowledge and resources  
  • Align with the Expanded Learning Quality Standards & evaluation practices
  • Provide opportunity to create space to learn & work through challenges together
  • Develop a funders network  
  • Develop & leverage collective voice in support of in school and out-of-school cohesion (e.g., increased awareness of pending legislation, education trends, etc.)  

For the initial adminstration of the SJ Learns program, the Mayor’s Office partnered with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). SVCF brought philanthropic and regional education expertise to the table, supported the grantmaking process, provided oversight of programs and evaluation, and facilitated the development of a grantee learning community.

In 2019, The City of San José annualized the grant, recognizing the importance of the City’s role in educational programming and funding. The San José Public Library’s Education Team leads all related administrative, programmatic, and evaluation activities for the RFP. The Library Foundation administers the grants.