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School of the Future

A partnership between Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia brings about innovation.

The FUTURE ARRIVES IN WEST Philadelphia on Sept. 7, a first-of-its-kind building and concept in the world of how K-12 public school should operate.

About 750 high school students, mostly minority and living below poverty level, will shuffle into The High School of the Future, which was made possible through a partnership between Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia.

It is just the beginning.

" My hope is that people will see this as a great model that can be replicated."
-James Nevels, chairman,
Philadelphia School Reform Commission

The $63 million project-three years in the making-has been realized sporting three architecturally distinct levels with an underground performance center with two rotating lecture halls; various green school features including a water catchment system so rainwater is collected and used for toilet water and boilers; and a Flex Center where staff go for teacher training, professional collaboration and project development activities.

Students will benefit from one-to-one wireless computing with Gateway laptops; SmartBoards; smart cards for everything from the cafeteria to an Interactive Learning Center or virtual library; and digital resources, with access to the Library of Congress or the Louvre, Nevels adds.

Open from about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but with school hours from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the school day will be project oriented, not based on the traditional seated time. Students will learn how to use scheduling software and attend classes, meetings and meals as appointments.

Beyond Nevels, planners and administrators who made this happen are more than excited. Mary Cullinane, group manager for Microsoft Partners in Learning Program, points out the active directory solution, whereby everyone has a role on the network either as student, teacher, parent or administrator. "So when you log on in this school, it [the network] will know what information you will need to have access to" including who a parent should talk to about getting information and what a student's schedule looks like, she says. "It's a much more efficient environment."

As exciting as this opening is, Cullinane says she gets frustrated when people claim the school is a "miracle." "It shouldn't take a miracle," she says. "One message I hope we get across is that we all have to be part of the solution," she adds. Public/private partnerships must be used for future growth in education.

She explains that many administrators still look for "the silver bullet" in education. "We need to step back and we need to look at the holistic perspective," she says. "And see the individual pieces of the pie and see how they collectively have an impact."

Angela Pascopella is senior features editor.