As Microsoft Corp.’s high-tech School of the Future opens its doors to an inaugural class of students this fall in Philadelphia, company officials have released a freely accessible online resource designed to help educational leaders there–and elsewhere–tap the right personnel to fill key jobs.

Dubbed the “Education Competency Wheel,” the resource–already being used by educators in Philadelphia–is the first of many “best practice”-type solutions that will be rolled out to schools nationwide as a result of the software maker’s $63 million collaboration with the nation’s seventh-largest public school system, administrators say. First used by Microsoft as a tool for aiding in the global hiring process, the Competency Wheel consists of layers of skill-sets and personality characteristics–attributes its designers say represent the talents necessary to help school districts achieve success in the 21st century.

Six core “success factors” make up the wheel’s hub. These are Individual Excellence, Organizational Skills, Courage, Results, Strategic Skills, and Operating Skills. From the hub there extend a series of spokes depicting 37 specific competencies deemed essential for success by school district leaders, Microsoft executives, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders consulted during the project. For example, the section dedicated to Individual Excellence includes 11 “competency areas,” including Interpersonal Skills, Motivating Others, Building Effective Teams, Valuing Diversity, and Learning. In conjunction with these attributes, the wheel features brief descriptions of each quality, meant to help human-resource managers and administrators predict a job candidate’s proficiency in a given competency area. The wheel also provides other resources, including sample interview questions and suggestions for helping candidates nurture particular skill-sets.

According to Mary Cullinane, group manager for Microsoft’s U.S. Partners in Learning Program and a corporate leader of the School of the Future project, the wheel encourages employers to think about the jobs they are trying to fill in the context of real-world scenarios, as opposed to a series of hypothetical and sometimes meaningless questions.

The Competency Wheel “creates an outline that allows you to be really reflective from a skill-set perspective … about where you need to go,” said Cullinane, a former teacher. The version of the wheel used in Philadelphia and now available to all schools online was developed in partnership with Lominger Limited Inc., a Minneapolis-based consulting and leadership firm that collaborated with district stakeholders to identify the competencies and attributes featured as part of the resource. Microsoft says the project represents just one of the many ways public-private partnerships can be used to aid public education.

According to Tomas Hanna, senior vice president for the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Human Resources, the resource already is being used to identify candidates for leadership positions throughout the district.

By encouraging job applicants to discuss their past successes as part of the interview process, Hanna says, the Competency Wheel represents “a good predicator of future success.”

Whether identifying candidates for district-level leadership roles, placing principals, or hiring new teachers to staff classrooms, he said, the idea is to “put the right people in the right places” to promote the district’s ultimate goal of boosting student achievement.

Though it’s unlikely any single administrator or district-level employee would embody all 37 of the competencies identified on the wheel, Hanna said, the key is to identify particular skills in certain individuals and to combine those skills so that the district, from top to bottom, encompasses the broadest representation of talent possible.

By making the wheel and its associated resources available free of charge via the internet, Cullinane said she hopes districts nationwide will adopt the tool as a means of guiding certain hiring and personnel decisions.

Philadelphia’s School of the Future is slated to open on Sept. 7.