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Microsoft, Philly plan 'school of future'

The software titan spreads the brotherly love to Philadelphia, where it will help design and build a new high school that's wired with the latest in educational computing tools.

Microsoft is teaming with the School District of Philadelphia to design and build a new high school that's wired with the latest in educational computing tools.

The school district and Microsoft announced on Friday that the school they'll construct will tie technology into nearly every aspect of its operations. A school district capital program will fund the estimated $46 million project, with Microsoft reporting that it will donate software, professional services and support staff for the school.

The yet-to-be-named high school is part of the school district's effort to align new facilities with universities and businesses that are interested in establishing long-term sponsorships. It is planning 11 such schools, and institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania are already signed on to participate. According to Paul Vallas, the school district's chief executive, Microsoft is the first corporation to get involved in the program.

"The important thing to note here is that this is a long-term relationship, with Microsoft acting as a sponsor and contributing to the development of the school for many years to come," Vallas said. "It's amazing how quickly they got on board with the project and everything they're planning to do."

Vallas said Microsoft would be involved with the school in a variety of roles, including curriculum development, introduction of technologies such as e-report cards and providing tools for students with special needs. The open-enrollment "magnet" school will cater to students from every corner of the city, with no emphasis put on previous academic performance, Vallas said.

Planned to open in September 2006, the school will serve roughly 700 students, the district said.

The two parties said the school would aim to deliver a "holistic view" of what a learning environment can be when outfitted with contemporary technologies. The school's curriculum will be designed to facilitate "any time, anywhere learning," the two groups said, and will feature systems that are designed to help teachers give lessons and evaluate student performance.

Technology will be also be used to streamline school administrative functions such as keeping attendance, ordering lunches and school supplies, training teachers and tracking student progress.

The organizations reported that the effort would be part of a comprehensive development plan to make use of Microsoft technologies to meet needs defined by the District.

"The foresight of the School District of Philadelphia will provide value for not only those who experience the end result, but ideally for all students and educators," Sherri Bealkowski, general manager of the Education Solutions Group at Microsoft, said in a statement.

In order to meet the targeted opening date, Microsoft and the district reported that they would jointly establish and staff a project-planning committee and that Microsoft would assign a full-time technology architect to the project. District officials said the high school will be financed under a new five-year capital plan with the backing of $697 million in bonds.