By Margo Day, Vice President of U.S. Education: West Virginia Department of Education Teams with Microsoft to Bring Innovative Technology to Schools Across the Entire State

Margo DayWe're always inspired to partner with forward thinking customers like Sterling Beane, the West Virginia Department of Education's chief technology officer who's challenged his team to think outside of the box and bring far-reaching opportunities for students and teachers in West Virginia. The resulting work of the West Virginia Department of Education paves a new way for states to do business by forming a bold strategic partnership between the public and private sectors that will result in lower costs and broader access for the schools and families in West Virginia. The long-term benefits of this first-of-its-kind relationship are focusing on increasing student outcomes and graduating students who are better prepared for entering the workforce and furthering their careers.

I asked Sterling to answer some questions to get a deeper look at this unique approach to bringing innovation to schools from the state level. If we work to bring together the resources of private companies with the experience and expertise of states-together we can have an amazing impact and could even expedite the digital transition in our country.

– Margo

Q&A between Margo Day, Vice president of U.S. Education at Microsoft and Sterling Beane, the West Virginia Department of Education's Chief Technology Officer

Margo Day: Can you share what your top priorities are for K-12 in West Virginia schools?

Sterling Beane: We want to provide students, teachers and administrators access to the best technology possible to make learning relevant, exciting and meaningful. The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Division of Technology is tasked with reducing the barriers that prevent empowerment of our teachers and students and becoming a conduit through which innovative technology is identified and implemented.

We set out to design and implement a robust, standards based, infrastructure that will support a technology rich learning environment and facilitate 1 to 1 and BYOD initiatives that engage our students and empower our teachers. Standardization of our infrastructure will allow for robust interoperability across systems. This will set the stage for more technological autonomy and creativity at the classroom level.

MD: How do your technology decisions, as CTO, support the state's vision and direction for K-12?

SB: Our State Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education are committed to the academic achievement and success of every student in West Virginia. Technology is a key component to the fulfillment of this mission. Every decision regarding the implementation of technology is focused on improving students' achievement and preparing them for college and career.

MD: How have you teamed with Microsoft and what was some of your thinking that guided the restructuring of a statewide agreement in software and services?

SB: We have fundamentally changed our relationship with Microsoft. What was once a traditional client/vendor relationship has been transformed into a true partnership and collaboration designed to meet the educational needs of the students in West Virginia rather than simply obtaining a product or service. We started with an open dialogue and that has led to a complete evaluation of our needs and a comprehensive plan to address them. What began as just a conversation on how to upgrade our e-mail system, has led to a plan that addresses everything from software licensing and system upgrades to changing the way instruction is delivered in the classrooms of West Virginia. The implementation of the solutions will be much easier than under the old model and will provide a far greater return on investment, something all states value.

MD: We know that Office 365 has been an important suite of tools for students and teachers for communication and collaboration, and that our partnership provides Office365 access to every student and faculty. Why was this important to you?

SB: One of the biggest challenges we face is to provide equity of access to all students and staff in West Virginia. Office 365 is a wonderful set of tools that we believe can truly transform the learning environment. I want every student and staff member in West Virginia to have access to the best technology tools available. For me universal access for all of K-12 in West Virginia was non-negotiable.

MD: You are entering new territory with state-driven technology implementation in schools. What are the advantages and considerations for providing software and services for students and teachers across the state, as opposed to decisions being made district by district?

SB: Flexibility and autonomy for local districts is very important. The ability of teachers to weave the technology tools that they value most into the curriculum is very important. However, when we are able, at the state level, to identify a set of tools that are universal in their application and benefit, we actually support flexibility and encourage innovation through standardization. The implementation of a common platform like Office 365 gives teachers and students the ability to share resources across schools and districts and communicate and collaborate in ways never before imagined. The device agnostic nature of the software allows it to be implemented in all districts, regardless of the hardware platform they prefer. It also makes it possible for us to align staff development and support initiatives at the state, regional educational service agencies (RESA) and district levels and maximize limited resources.

MD: Thank you Sterling for your innovative thinking and for taking the time to share your valuable learnings with us. We're proud to work alongside your efforts to bring technology to the students gaining valuable technology experience skills that according to a recent IDC study, will help them secure a high-growth, high-wage job in the future.

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