Microsoft Partners in Learning recently announced a new class of Pathfinder and Mentor Schools, which will be joining the Innovative Schools Program, part of Microsoft’s 10-year $500 million initiative to help teachers and school leaders more effectively use technology as a tool for teaching and learning. Citizen Schools, in partnership with expanded learning time partner Jane Long Middle School in Houston, TX, was chosen after a rigorous global application process, and joins a global community of 80 schools in 46 countries. Over the course of the next 12 months, Microsoft will work with educational experts to help the schools through a process of whole-school transformation, aimed at creating a community that is focused on innovative teaching and learning practice. Citizen Schools and Jane Long Middle School were chosen as a Pathfinder School because of their innovative expanded learning time partnership that lengthens the school day for all sixth graders by nearly three hours each day, adding extra time for academic support and hands-on, project-based learning.
The Innovative Schools Program is based on the notion that innovative teachers can only thrive with system-level support, so the program gives school leaders the opportunity to learn from other leaders from around the world, as well as from educational experts. Participants traveled to South Africa late last year to kick off the program. Mandy Haeuser, Program Director for Citizen Schools Texas, and Diana De La Rosa, Principal at Jane Long Middle School, joined educators from across the globe to learn and share best practices.
“The school visits in South Africa were really pivotal, “ said Haeuser. “The opportunity to be exposed to projects and programs led by different schools and teachers around the world is phenomenal.” Ultimately, the schools are selected because they can serve as regional exemplars for integrating innovative teaching and learning into the whole school environment. These schools can influence other schools within their own community, country and around the world. Leaders at these schools have articulated a vision for what they want to achieve, and the program will help the school leaders refine the vision, make it stronger and implement it.
“This program will allow us to better document the phases of the expanded learning model,” said De La Rosa. “It will lead to a greater effort to collect and use data, making this thing sustainable and helping us expand to other grades.”
Jane Long Middle School is the first school in the Houston Independent School District to implement Citizen Schools Extended Learning Time model, paving the way for other schools to see how a public school can partner with a second shift of educators to increase learning time, close the achievement gap, and make connections between current learning and future opportunities.
“While there are millions of innovative teachers in the world, without the support of their schools and school systems they remain islands of innovation in a sea of mediocrity. We believe that system level change and school level support ensure a healthy place for kids to grow and communities to thrive,” said Andrew Ko, Senior Director of U.S. Partners in Learning, Microsoft. “Seeing the continued development and adoption of the Innovative Schools Program in so many classrooms across the world is a great indicator to me that we’re on our way to helping students leave school with the right skills to work in a new globalized economy.”