The ORT Kiev Technology Lyceum has become the only school in Ukraine to be chosen by Microsoft to join its small, international group of innovative schools.
The Lyceum’s selection as a Pathfinder School brings it shoulder-to-shoulder with the ORT de Gunzburg High School in St Petersburg, which last year became the only Russian school to make the grade.
“We were shocked when we heard the news,” said the Lyceum’s delighted principal, Yuriy Kinkov.
His was one of 56 schools selected from 114 applicants in 48 countries to be part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Schools Program, a 10-year, $500 million commitment by the company to help schools and teachers use technology to advance teaching and learning more effectively.
“You have demonstrated strong school leadership with a proven record of innovation and successful change implementation,” Microsoft’s acceptance letter stated. “Additionally, you have a vision for learning and have already started on the road to reform and improvement.”
It is a welcome morale boost for the school community, which has battled years of intensifying financial problems resulting from the collapse of the Heftsiba funding system.
Despite the problems – which have left teachers on low pay, taken away free hot lunches and ended the school bus service, compelling many students to travel long distances on their own – the school has consistently managed to raise its educational standards, increase student enrollment and retain skilled staff despite the lure of higher pay at the city’s private schools.
“Our people hope for something better and while they hope they work. It’s our local mentality; it’s hard to explain,” Mr Kinkov said. “We love our students and our students love us; we have a responsibility to them and must keep our promises to them.”
ORT Kiev’s first taste of Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program will be at the Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town next month. There, the Lyceum will work together with five other Pathfinder schools, two mentor schools and a third party coach and the team will have seven virtual mentorship meetings in the coming year.
Over the next 12 months, ORT Kiev will be able to access leading educators in fields relating to innovation and school transformation via Microsoft’s Virtual University training sessions.
And Kiev’s teachers will participate in on-going professional conversations through on-line forums, wikis, and blogs as well as in face-to-face meetings.
The school will be encouraged to work with others in the program to rethink all aspects of school life – from the structure of the day and the use of technology in the curriculum to ensuring that teachers have the space and time to bring innovative practices to the classroom.
According to ORT de Gunzburg’s Deputy Director, Grigory Vodopyan, “The network has given us access to practices which we use to improve students’ 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, communication, contextual learning, creativity, and information and media literacy.
In June, Microsoft arranged for us to visit one of the best schools in Holland and study its experience. Now we’re planning a trip to top schools in Denver, Anchorage and New York to see how American teachers are using the latest Microsoft technology to organize the learning process. Such foreign trips would have been well beyond our financial reach without Microsoft’s help.”
In addition, Microsoft has given ORT de Gunzburg its SharePoint software. Valued at more than $10,000, the software allows users to consolidate intranet, extranet, and Internet sites on a single platform.
“What Microsoft is introducing to the schools is in line with World ORT’s understanding of the main trends in ICT in education,” said World ORT’s Chief Program Officer, Vladimir Dribinskiy. “For example, how to make the library more accessible; how to make textbooks and curricula available to students and parents at home; how to share educational resources between institutions; how to create synergy of teachers’ experience and skills across national boundaries.”
Established in 2000 as an elite secondary school with a competitive admissions policy, the ORT Kiev Technology Lyceum received significant funding from financier Ron Baron in its formative years.
“Ron is recognized as one of the greatest growth investors of all time,” said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer. “He likes to say that he invests in people, not just buildings. Well, his investment in the ORT Kiev school is paying ever larger dividends. What is tragic is that the school was founded on the premise of being Jewish and it is this aspect of the school which suffers most from the Heftsiba funding crisis. However, Kiev is a perfect example of how schools in the worldwide ORT network continually strive for excellence, no matter what the challenges.”