PHILADELPHIA — Sept. 7, 2006 — At 8 a.m. today the bell will ring to open one of the most advanced high schools ever conceived. The School of the Future is the result of a unique collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia, Microsoft Corp. and the community of West Philadelphia that will deliver a new approach to curriculum and school design and the infusion of technology into the daily lives of educators and learners. The school is a state-of-the-art working example of this public-private partnership, featuring a progressive and research-based curriculum, integrated technology, and environmentally advanced architecture. What’s more, the entire project was completed within the strict confines of a standard urban public-school budget.
“What we have proven through this project is that the ‘School of the Future’ is not too futuristic or out of reach,” said Paul Vallas, CEO of the School District of Philadelphia. “This is how schools of today can and should be designed and developed to adequately prepare students for life and work. I hope the school leaders who come and see what we’ve accomplished here in Philadelphia walk away saying, ‘We can do that, too, and we can start now.’”
For the 170 freshman students who will make up the first School of the Future graduating class of 2010, today’s opening signifies new hope and opportunity through an experience that will involve the whole community in the educational environment and encourage college attendance. The opening class selection was based on an open lottery and pulls from area neighborhoods, making this a truly local school. The class has a nearly 99 percent minority population, and approximately 85 percent of the students come from low income families.
“Today it is more important than ever for companies — especially those in the technology industry — to help global educators meet future economic and social needs. Information technology will enable our schools to meet the challenges of the 21st century by creating more personalized learning experiences,” said Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. “The School of the Future shows how public and private partnerships can yield new thinking and sustainable change in educational systems around the world.”
Global Influence and Impact
Building on the work done in Philadelphia, Microsoft is helping other school leaders around the country and world plan their own schools of the future through quarterly briefings and annual global forums. The next quarterly briefing will be held Sept. 12–13 in New York, where experts will discuss the next steps for potential expansion of the School of the Future concept. The next global forum is scheduled for Nov. 13–15 at the Philadelphia school.
Through Microsoft’s U.S. Partners in Learning — part of the company’s global effort to work with state governments, local schools, teachers and partners to establish a sustainable foundation for continued advances in education and learning — the School of the Future project has created education-specific tools for school administrators, faculty and the community in which they live and work.
The instructional, environmental, architectural and technical elements are all focused on building a sustainable, curriculum-driven setting to help students learn and help teachers and administrators succeed. These findings, designed by a global team of educational experts, included feedback from students, educators, parents and community members, and are available for public use to encourage broad implementation and benefit.
Bringing Technology to the Classroom and Community
From smart-card-accessible lockers to a Tablet PC for every student (including wireless access at school and broadband access at home), the school incorporates advances aimed to expand the whole educational experience. The technology is an integral part of bringing together the students, teachers, parents and community and not just a parade of new gadgetry. A rigorous planning process allowed the school district and the community to identify the educational needs first and then determine where and how technology could address them.
For example, the Virtual Teaching Assistant, created by Microsoft specifically for the school, provides teachers with active, online tracking to target student progress and development areas. Through teacher-distributed assessments the software gauges the progress of each student individually, and allows deeper instruction for the advanced student and more review for those needing additional time with a topic. Other innovative elements include the media-rich classrooms and the Interactive Learning Center, which replaces the traditional library — allowing content to be constantly updated, in essence creating textbooks with local, regional and global information that is always refreshed and never out of date.
In addition to the educational resources available to the students — from the Interactive Learning to the smart classrooms and personalized media portals — the building itself incorporates the latest advances in environmental design including a water catchment system on the roof, where rainwater will be collected and used for nonpotable applications. Photovoltaic panels in the glass windows and roof will also reduce heating and cooling costs by converting sunlight into a direct current, contributing electricity for the building and transmitting real-time data for students so they can see the positive impact on the environment.
Rethinking All Elements of School Reform and Education
Incorporating technology into the learning process was just one step in rethinking school reform efforts nationwide. Starting from the design process and continuing through the administration and education processes, the school district and Microsoft teamed to incorporate best practices from business, not often found in a traditional education administrative environment, into the overall School of the Future design. The result included an industry expert-developed Education Competency Wheel, which is a guide for identifying and nurturing the right talents in a district’s employees, partners and students. The Education Competency Wheel, which could be used by educators anywhere, outlines the success factors and critical attributes required for key positions within any educational environment. Microsoft also contributed best practices guidance through both a full-time project manager and a technical advisor.
“It is better that Microsoft didn’t simply write the school district a big check. Education is too big an issue for any one organization to tackle by itself, and the hands-on contributions of a partner like Microsoft will prove to be worth more than any dollar amount,” said James Nevels, chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. “This collaboration accomplished in three years what no single entity has ever been able to do alone.”
Taking advantage of its location and emphasizing the importance of the School of the Future’s role in the community, the building and the school’s curriculum are designed to interact with and contribute to West Philadelphia. For the students, the school and curriculum will take advantage of local resources including the nearby park, museum and zoo. For the community, the school will be broadly available as a resource to host continuing education activities and specially designed courses for family members to learn some of the student curriculum. Further, the school houses a customizable performance center with two hydraulically-rotating lecture halls to create small performing spaces for school and community performances.
Details of the curriculum, environmental, technical and architectural features of the school are available at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/sotf/default.mspx.
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