With support from Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and his foundation, seven school districts across North Carolina will share $300,000 in grant money that will help them prepare small, technology-themed high schools, Gov. Mike Easley said May 18.

The money will be used by the districts to plan schools based on a New Technology High School in Napa, Calif. Schools modeled on the Napa facility reportedly have opened in 11 spots nationwide. (See “New ‘high-tech’ high schools aim to transform learning“.)

The target date for the new schools to open in North Carolina is fall 2006.

“When you get a chance to see what’s going on in these schools, you can’t help but get excited,” said Jim Merrill, superintendent for North Carolina’s Alamance-Burlington school district. “We hope these schools will be models for replication across the state.”

The schools will teach traditional subject matter that meets their districts’ requirements, said Susan Schilling, director of the New Technology Foundation. “It’s just presented in a different way.” Her foundation supports the Napa school financially and helps create other schools on the same model.

Multiple study topics might be combined in a single study exercise, related to real-world situations, she said. Teams of students then work together to tackle the problems, much like colleagues in an office.

In North Carolina, about $73,000 each will go to the Alamance-Burlington, Camden County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cherokee Central, Robeson County, Scotland County, and Wake County public school systems to help them plan how they will create and equip the technology schools.

Additional grant money will be provided once the school districts decide how much they’ll need to enact their plans, according to Gov. Easley.

The program is part of the North Carolina New Schools Project, which is funded by an $11 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The New Schools Project will create more than 100 new and redesigned high schools across the state.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on increasing graduation rates by supporting the creation of new high-quality schools and the transformation of existing low-performing high schools into more focused and effective schools. To date, the foundation has invested more than $1 billion to improve the nation’s high schools, including supporting the creation of more than 1,500 high-quality high schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Links:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org/default.htm

New Technology Foundation
http://www.newtechfoundation.org

Alamance-Burlington School System
http://www.abss.k12.nc.us/

New Tech High
http://www.nths.nvusd.k12.ca.us