Posted by Byron V. Garrett, Director of U.S. Innovative Schools Program, Microsoft

Change is the one variable that seems to arrive late to the education sector, but is a constant nonetheless.  With technological advancements in health care, government, business, and other industries one has to ask, how we expect young people to advance if the schools and systems they are learning in are not designed to meet their current needs.  Today, as part of celebrating World Teachers' Day, we are announcing our new cohort of Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder and Mentor Schools.  These are schools on the cutting edge, pushing the envelope to ensure students are gaining the skills they need to be successful in a 21st century environment. The U.S. schools selected from Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington are among 99 schools selected wordwide from 51 countries.

In order for America to remain relevant on the global scene, we must embrace a shared and collective responsibility to create and support a climate of innovation on campuses across the United States.   It’s odd that a student can often times gain access to more programs and services beyond the bell than during the school day.   However, there are many education leaders who are making investments today, in hopes of strong return on investment for decades to come.

In Virginia, Superintendent Eric Williams and the York County School Division is in its 7th year of providing a virtual university, offering high quality online courses and experienced staff.  Students demonstrate mastery of the content as they gain 21st century skills with real world experiences.  Recently, students had the opportunity to work with software programmers, graphic designers, product developers, and marketers to develop mobile applications for learners.  The process allowed students to further develop and reinforce their interest in coding.  Application development is one of the fastest growing career interests of students.

The notion of going to school to simply learn without any real world application often falls on deaf ears of students of all ages.  College and career readiness is the mantra and mission of schools far and wide across the country.  There is a renewed interest and focus on career and technical education, extending career pathway programs for high school down to middle and elementary schools.  Parents and students are looking for opportunities to develop skills that will prepare them to not only become gainfully employed but also be prepared to pursue a postsecondary education.

The Lake View Early College STEM School in Chicago, IL has entered into a partnership with DePaul University to implement a grade 9-16 program.   The  program allows students to complete their high school coursework and earn a diploma while also gaining credits to seamlessly transition into DePaul University.  Students who attend Lake View this fall as freshmen will be the first enrolled cohort in the new program.

More opportunities like this should exist across the country.  These are just two examples of how schools can not only foster a climate of innovation, but also demonstrate to students and the broader community that they are committed to ensuring students are college and career ready upon graduation.  Many have debated the notion of whether every student should go to college; however, when talking with a recent group of high school students in Philadelphia, it was made abundantly clear to me that they want to be prepared to do either or as one senior stated, “I want to be prepared to do both – go to college and work simultaneously.”

In guiding the Microsoft Innovative Schools Program for the U.S., I am excited about the opportunities that exist for educators to gain additional professional development to further support their goals of more effectively engaging students in the education process.  Teachers need our continued support and like other professions, must continually learn to improve their craft to further advance the intellect of their students.  It has been said that if you improve a school you improve the neighborhood.

While the above is correct, I fundamentally believe that a great country is composed of great states, great states are composed of great cities; great cities are composed of great neighborhoods; great neighborhoods are composed of great schools and great schools are composed of great classrooms.  We have the talent to achieve this, now we need the public and political will to make it so.