Microsoft's High-Tech School Opens in Philly

The school bell rung for the first time Thursday at the School of the Future, a joint project between the School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft. The two groups say the school is the most advanced high school in the nation, with technology deeply integrated into the curriculum.

Construction began in November 2004, and the project was billed as an integral part of a $1.5 billion plan by the city to reform the city's schools. Mismanagement and low test scores even prompted the state to take over the school district in early 2003.

Entry into the school was selected by lottery, and the students live in area neighborhoods. Additionally, the group is nearly 99 percent minority, with all but 15 percent of them coming from low-income households. Administrators hope the school will have a positive effect on these students that might otherwise slip through the cracks.

"This is how schools of today can and should be designed and developed to adequately prepare students for life and work," school district CEO Paul Vallas said. "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."'

Microsoft echoed Vallas' sentiments, adding that it believed tech companies had a social duty to education, and that use of technology would help to create a more personalized education experience.

The company may also expand the concept to other cities: a meeting is scheduled in New York City next week to discuss a school there. Other schools around the world have also expressed interest, Microsoft said.

Students will use smart cards and Tablet PCs for many of their daily activities, and will be able to connect wirelessly to the schools internal network. Teachers will have less paperwork, as everything from grades to student testing will be handled digitally.

Those involved in the school district said Microsoft's hands-on approach in building the school made a big difference in ensuring the project was completed.

"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."

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