Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife have given New Jersey a $5.1 million grant to teach school superintendents and principals how to use technology to improve learning.

The grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s State Leadership Development Program was announced Dec. 6 at a state Board of Education meeting.

Jeffrey V. Osowski, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Board of Education, said the money will allow the 4,000-plus superintendents and principals in the state’s public and non-public schools to attend sessions on different technology topics.

With the state’s $8.6 billion school construction program just getting under way, technological knowledge is even more important, Osowski said.

Osowski said the three-year program will begin this month with a pilot group of the most technologically advanced school leaders. They will be asked to provide feedback on the course setup and assist in shaping the program for others.

Since the Gates funding is a challenge grant, participants must pay $150 for each session, Osowski said.

The program, known as the New Jersey Educational Leadership Institutes for Technology in Education, or N.J. ELITE, is being developed in a partnership between the state Department of Education, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and the New Jersey Principals’ and Supervisors’ Association.

David Nash, assistant director of government relations for the NJPSA, said the program will help superintendents and principals become more adept at using the internet. He said many school executives didn’t grow up with computers in school and might not be as knowledgeable about them as their students.

“It’s sort of like a foreign language—the earlier you start, the more comfortable you are with it,” he said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s State Leadership Development Program will provide grants to all states that demonstrate a commitment to professional development programs for principals and superintendents, Education Executive Director Thomas Vander Ark said. Twelve other states already have received awards totalling $18.6 million.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

New Jersey Board of Education