Colorado’s GOAL Academy pursues flexible, personal and secure learning with the help of Microsoft tools

A female student looking at her classmates during a graduation ceremony.

With close to one in every 16 students in America dropping out of high school before receiving their diploma, Colorado’s GOAL Academy looks to a technology-driven way to keep students engaged.

This free, public alternative to high school switched from Google to Microsoft education tools last year and now tailors their virtual classrooms for students with backgrounds that don’t easily fit into the traditional education system.

“Over sixty-two percent of our students are self-reported dropouts. So, our mission is to develop productive members of society,” says GOAL Academy Executive Director Richard Mestas. “Our model is both very prescriptive and unique in each student’s learning experience. It also includes not just academics, but wrap-around services and social, emotional growth.”

Considering its virtual classroom environment, each student, staff and faculty member has a laptop as their first learning tool. Microsoft’s Intune for Education, a powerful tool for managing policies, apps and settings across classroom devices, gives GOAL the security and flexibility it needs to manage their tools effectively. What comes after that is an individualized, data-driven educational experience, catering to the needs  each of the school’s 3,800 students.

Mestas says his department prides itself on disruption, innovation, and measurement through data. Using tech to come up with unique and inventive ways to reach students is a top priority at GOAL and, considering last year’s 95 percent workforce certification rate,  also one of its greatest achievements.

Mestas dubs the effect of students going from making steady growth, to really accelerating their learning and taking off toward success, as the “hockey stick effect,” or the “epiphany moment.” Using data from these moments, GOAL works to even further personalize education for its students.

“We are taking both social-emotional and academics data on our students and trying to find out what the profile looks like when the student hits that epiphany moment,” Mestas says. “We don’t want to teach them what they already know. We want to focus on the skills that they can develop. We want to be efficient.”

Part of the academy’s holistic efficiency lies with Microsoft Teams. When it comes to the social component that’s so important in education, Mestas says that Teams has allowed GOAL to be more efficient in its staff communications, helped develop culture, and lit a path toward continuous improvement with real-time solutions.

“We want to make sure that people understand that it’s not just about students getting a diploma anymore,” says Mestas “It’s really about connecting these students and making sure that they have skill sets to be employable because that will help the entire community prosper.”

You can learn more about GOAL Academy by reading the results of a recent case study. Follow Microsoft Education on Twitter and join in on the conversation with other game-changers of education through the Microsoft Educator Community.