School of the Future

Designed with the "average student" in mind, the School of the Future serves a high-poverty, at-risk student population. The partners--the School District of Philadelphia and the Microsoft Partners in Learning Program--believe their thoughtful, student-centered approach can provide a model for other school districts.


Designed with the “average student” in mind, the School of the Future serves a high-poverty, at-risk student population. The partners–the School District of Philadelphia and the Microsoft Partners in Learning Program–believe their thoughtful, student-centered approach can provide a model for other school districts.


Partnering for Change

The School District of Philadelphia works with Microsoft to open a technology-based school.

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Innovations and partnerships made the School of the Future a reality.

Why did Microsoft partner with the School District of Philadelphia to open the School of the Future?  Because Superintendent Paul Vallas asked them to. Microsoft’s primary role in the partnership, however, was not one of providing funding.  The school was built as part of the district’s capital budget.  Microsoft provided human capital for the project, offering a variety of technical and instructional support.   Together, the partners took a thoughtful approach to everything from the school’s location, its environmentally friendly construction, and its size.  With just 800 students, the school reflects attention to recent research that shows smaller high schools have higher attendance rates, lower drop-out rates, and a greater level of satisfaction among staff and students than do larger schools.


Creating a Learning Organization

SOTF educators discuss their use of technology in the classroom.

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Students engaged in collaborative classrooms.

The School of the Future is, first and foremost, a learning organization. Students at the school are referred to as “learners.” Principal Shirley Grover identifies herself as the “chief learner.” Faculty members routinely comment on the amount of learning they have had to do as part of their involvement in the school. Both teachers and students must reflect on their own assumptions about learning and on themselves as learners as they engage in the innovative project-based curriculum.

Reporters often focus solely on the technology at the School of the Future. And, certainly, using technology to support teaching, learning, and administrative functions is central to the school’s development. But technology use is not an end in itself. In an interview with ABC News, Ellen Savitz, chief development officer for the district, said, “It’s not about each kid having the latest bells and whistles. The whole idea is these kids will see their computers as very cool, of course, but as a tool to be used to be responsible for their own learning.”  In answer to the question of whether the school will use any paper-based resources, a Microsoft representative comments, “We believe that the appropriate tool for the appropriate job will be used; all resource decisions will be based on this guiding principle.”

With Microsoft as a partner, it is not surprising that the school features up-to-date technology, with interactive white boards in every classroom and laptops for every student.  Yet, administrators, faculty, and students seem more excited about the learning culture that is emerging at the school—a culture characterized by a collegial relationship among teachers and students.  The school’s project-based learning approach gives students the opportunity to pursue their own interests while also preparing to pass the PSSA, the state achievement test administered at the end of the 11th grade.  Small classes and individualized instruction allow for ongoing assessment of student progress.


Community Connections

Focusing on the community is important for learners at SOTF.

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Interaction with the community fulfills part of the SOTF mission.

Relationships are not only changing within the school walls.  Two of the school’s primary goals are to improve communications with the parents and to create close connections to the community. Community members volunteer in the school.  In addition, students work with community organizations to improve the West Philadelphia neighborhoods that surround the school. The district’s website states, “We are prepared to play an active role in the residential and commercial revitalization of this community.”


Moving Into the Future

Microsoft and the SOTF identify essential competencies to guide the teacher hiring process.

As the school completes its first year, the community faces a new challenge: the loss of its principal. Microsoft, which was involved in the original hiring of all the administrators and faculty, will once again be part of the interview process.  Microsoft’s Education Competency Wheel, developed specifically for the School District of Philadelphia, will figure prominently in the hiring. The Wheel reflects concern for the professional development competencies that Microsoft uses across its company.  The hub includes six core success factors—Individual Excellence, Organizational Skills, Courage, Results, Strategic Skills and Operating Skills. The 37 spokes depict specific competencies that the Philadelphia school district, Microsoft, and other contributors deem essential to success in a 21st-century school environment.

The Microsoft Competency Wheel