The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on April 25 donated $8 million to promote small high schools in Colorado by starting new ones and splitting existing ones into smaller units.

“The whole idea is that it’s possible to have a high school education that’s much more personal, with a different relationship between students and teachers, and really meaningful involvement by a community in a school,” said Barbara O’Brien, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. O’Brien added that smaller schools provide safer learning environments for students.

O’Brien and Gov. Bill Owens announced the grant to the Children’s Campaign, which must raise $16 million in matching funds in five years.

The Gates Foundation, launched in 2000 by the founder of Microsoft and his wife, has promoted smaller schools among its education initiatives. The foundation has given $225 million in grants and $1.3 billion in scholarships nationwide. The Colorado grant marks the first time the foundation has given money to support the creation of smaller schools outside of California.

The grant will pay for three initiatives: starting charter high schools for technology; improving large, poor-performing public high schools; and creating a network among existing charter schools.

The New Schools Development Corp. will create four technology-centered charter schools with about 400 students each. The first is scheduled to open in 2003 at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.

Manual High School in Denver will be the model for the large-school program. Manual will receive at least $660,000 to transform from a single school with 1,112 students into three small schools with distinct missions. Denver school board members approved the plan last week.

The network of charter high schools is intended to increase communication and share expenses, such as teacher training.