Building for innovative learning: A new elementary school takes shape

Beth Hamilton guiding her students on their Surface devices.

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What if you were given the chance to begin a brand-new school, one that hadn’t even been designed yet? Where would you begin?

Beth Hamilton, soon-to-be principal of just such a school, has made it her life’s work and a longtime dream to turn that what-if into an accomplishment for her community. In the fall of 2018, when Wilburton Elementary in Bellevue, Washington opens its doors, her dream will become a reality.

And if you ask Beth for advice, she’ll say: start with the kids.


Disrupting the system


A tranquil, wooded corner in suburban Bellevue stands at the ready for its new life to begin. The space will soon support Wilburton Elementary, an 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility and Microsoft Showcase School. Wilburton Elementary comes out of collaboration between the Bellevue School District (BSD) and Microsoft.

By using the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, which identifies ten critical components of transformation to plan and implement change, and is supported by a comprehensive research reference library, case studies and best practice examples, BSD and Microsoft created a vision that will fundamentally change the way Wilburton Elementary students will learn. Equally important, ISTE and Microsoft supported the development of leadership resources, focusing on providing district readiness and vision for teaching and learning, for the Microsoft Transformation Blueprint and for building leadership capacity.

With naturally lit, flexible, cheerful spaces and a modern design, the structure itself is entirely new, designed using the latest research on how classroom design affects learning outcomes. It’s the first of its kind.

Wilburton Elementary will utilize the district’s standard elementary curriculum enhanced with Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) – an overall strategy, built together with Microsoft, which will not only benefit Wilburton Elementary K-5 students but will eventually be rolled out to students throughout the district. And Wilburton Elementary will become the first 1:1 elementary school in the district, with OneNote Class Notebook rolling out to all students and teachers when its doors open. At its heart, Wilburton Elementary is using research in pedagogy, curriculum, and technology to turn traditional education on its head.

“I want the school to be a model, where we use technology and learning to disrupt the system so that students are engaged and excited to learn,” says Beth. “I want a school that is accessible to anyone, and that can be replicated by anyone. Wilburton Elementary will be a lighthouse school for the district, but we will not only share our learnings, we will learn from others.”

To see more of how Wilburton Elementary came together, explore this detailed Sway presentation.

All means all


Bellevue School District has always done things a little differently. “Our focus is making sure all of our kids are college- and career-ready and getting the support they need,” Beth says. “All means all. It’s every kid in our common curriculum, and the equity behind that.”

Based on her background, her history of innovation and her understanding of the “Bellevue Way,” the school district selected Beth as the Principal for Wilburton Elementary.

As an instructional leader, Beth encourages her educators to think outside the box and use technology as a tool for learning. She understands the importance of academics, but also believes social and emotional needs come first. She has seen first-hand that when students are balanced, they tend to meet or exceed expectations.


Everyone is a learner


Even in a district that values innovative approaches, Wilburton Elementary still represents a mindset change for many educators.

“I love talking and I love being in control, and most teachers want to be in charge,” says Beth. “[This is about] teaching teachers to say, ‘no, you are a learner just like them and you don’t need all the answers.’ Give the kids the control.

I want to provide an environment where everyone is a learner and we’re all collaborating together – educator, students and the community. And I want to bring back the love of learning and curiosity.”

Beth’s goal is to create an overall community of learning, so that no matter where you are in the building, you are learning something new from someone, and everyone is working together toward the same goal: educating students.

We’re proud to partner with BSD and can’t wait to introduce Wilburton Elementary as a Microsoft Showcase School. Follow along with us as we share Wilburton Elementary’s progress. Next up: breaking ground and breaking tradition as Wilburton Elementary works to open its doors in the fall of 2018.

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