- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

RICHMOND — Microsoft is giving Virginia’s school turnaround program up to $3 million over the next five years, Gov. Mark Warner and company officials said yesterday.

The investment will help support the state’s efforts to improve low-performing schools by having principals and other administrators apply management skills and other business practices to improve student test scores.

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the Curry School of Education have trained 10 principals to boost school achievement, much like their corporate counterparts do for ailing companies.

“This is a very high-profile project,” Mr. Warner said in an interview. “I want to see some progress this year in these schools.”

Microsoft officials were to announce the partnership at a news conference at Stephen H. Clarke Academy Elementary School in Portsmouth, one of the schools involved in the program.

“It takes vision, persistence and determination to inspire change and confront the challenges of reshaping the culture and perception of high-poverty minority children in a low-performing school,” said J. Harrison-Coleman, principal of Stephen H. Clarke.

Through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, the money will go toward increasing school divisions’ funding for the turnaround program, provide a digital forum to share and access multimedia case studies and create sustained funding for the program.

One priority is to have funding in place to give specialists bonuses if their schools show improvement, Mr. Warner said.

“Principals should get additional compensation for performance,” he said.

The Microsoft partnership resulted from discussions during Mr. Warner’s chairmanship of the Education Commission of the States and of the National Governors Association. Microsoft “liked the business aspect of the ideas,” Mr. Warner said.

Microsoft and Mr. Warner hope to make the turnaround specialist concept — one of the governor’s high-profile education initiatives — a model for national use.

Improved test scores are the benchmark, but a strong school leader also can mean lower teacher and student attrition rates, fewer disciplinary problems and increased parental involvement, Mr. Warner said.

Virginia’s Department of Education assigned specialists to schools that consistently have fallen short of federal or state achievement-testing benchmarks. Many of the principals already had been working in their assigned schools when the program started this fall.

Each principal must commit to three years in their assigned school. At least 10 more candidates will be selected for the 2005-06 school year.

Mr. Warner said he hopes to have a cadre of 30 to 40 principals who will work to turn around underperforming schools.

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