Chester County schools and Microsoft have signed a partnership that will allow the district to “tear down the classroom walls ... and open up the children to experiences that will connect them to the world,” says Superintendent Agnes Slayman.
The Chester County district was one of 12 selected by Microsoft this year. It is the only school district in South Carolina partnering with Microsoft.
The partnership will allow Chester County teachers to get the latest in professional development and allow Chester students to earn Microsoft certifications and take other online courses. Teachers and students will be able to compete for international technology honors sponsored by Microsoft.
The result should increase the academic rigor of the district, Slayman said.
“We are getting professional development from the folks who are the cutting edge,” Slayman said Wednesday. “Chester County can’t afford professional development to this degree.”
Access to professional development, courses and speakers who will come to the county for classes are free under the agreement. The agreement does not include any hardware such as additional computers or upgrades to the Chester informational technology network.
Factoring into Chester County schools’ selection was exposure gained by Great Falls Elementary as a Microsoft Pathfinder school for its use of technology to boost student achievement and the educational vision of Slayman, who . was recently named the superintendent of the year by the S.C. Career and Technology Education Administrators Association.
Technology can help change the way students learn, Slayman said, creating a more collaborative environment in the classroom where teachers become facilitators for learning.
The agreement with Microsoft is for three years.
In the first year, the focus will be on teachers learning how to use technology effectively, Slayman said. Chester County teachers will be part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning network that will allow them to share ideas with educators from around the world.
“The goal of these workshops is to give a teacher, no matter what grade or subject he or she teaches the ability to integrate technology into the curriculum,” she said.
In the second year, teachers will implement what they have learned in the classroom, Slayman said. Students will continue to have access to Microsoft programs in STEM education – science, technology and math.
In the third year, Slayman expects her teachers and students to be competing internationally in Microsoft’s contests. .
The partnership comes as the district determines how best to implement a one-to-one computer initiative that puts a computer into the hands of each student.
Rock Hill schools are doing this next fall through their iRock initiative that will give each student in grades four through eight an iPad 2 computer.
The Chester County school board is scheduled to discuss one-to-one options at its June meeting, Slayman said. An idea would be to start a one-to-one program at Chester County high schools in the second year of the partnership with Microsoft.
Wendell Sumter, principal at Great Falls Elementary, said that the Microsoft partnership is “not just about a device. It’s about teachers being trained to use technology effectively.”
A year as a Pathfinder school increased his students’ test scores, Sumter said. More importantly, he said, it taught them to work collaboratively and do more project-based learning.
“It’s about learning the value of your part,” he said.
Regardless of whether Chester schools adopt a one-to-one model, Slayman said, the benefits offered by Microsoft will touch all 5,400 students, about 360 teachers and 40 to 50 administrators.
The training also comes as Chester County and other school districts implement the state’s common core standards for English and math. The new standards will increase academic rigor. The standards also will require that all statewide common core testing be done online.
The partnership with Microsoft “will allow students to take ownership of their education,” Slayman said.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066