Global CTO for Education at Microsoft
With a mission to empower all educators and learners to achieve more, Microsoft is at the forefront of the transformation of the education industry.
Providing a range of end-to-end education solutions which can be leveraged by educators and to improve student outcomes, the company is heavily involved in the AI revolution - sparked last year by the dramatic rise of ChatGPT.
Few people are as involved in this tipping point in the world of education as Serena Sacks-Mandel, Global CTO for Education at Microsoft. With over three decades of experience in technology and business leadership, Sacks-Mandel joined Microsoft as its US leader for Customer Success in Education three years ago, taking on the role of Global CTO for Education two years later.
Her move to the education space followed a 25-year stretch in commercial IT, including a role as a marketing rep in the financial services industry in New York City with IBM and leading IT, leading strategy, leading governance, project management at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“I worked for a number of other corporations in commercial IT, basically fine-tuning my craft as an IT leader and organisational leader,” she explains. But after the economic downturn of 2008, when consulting with Florida Virtual School, the ‘aha moment’ came.
“I realised that I could use my powers for good,” she adds, and that I could use my organisational leadership and technology skills to transform education.
“That has started me on this 15-year journey so far in educational technology because it makes such a difference for students. We need to reach every student where they are. We need to get away from this factory model and help every student reach their potential and understand their unique gifts and talents.”
Prior to Microsoft, Sacks-Mandel was CIO for two very large school districts. The first, Florida Virtual School, is the oldest and largest K-12 online school with 650,000 students.
“I worked there for the CEO, Julie Young, who was the founder. And I learned from the best and the brightest in this educational technology space about how we can leverage technology to personalise learning for students and really enhance their experience,” Sacks-Mandel explains. “And from there, I wanted to implement a model for personalised learning at a brick and mortar school that would help create this model for the rest of the country and beyond.”
A role as CIO at Fulton County Schools followed, where innovative use of technology was able to transform outcomes for thousands of students.
“We increased across every demographic test scores, reading levels, math levels, graduation, college entrance, scholarships, and moved the needle incredibly across all those metrics across every demographic. And then, of course, the pandemic hit. And we were the first large district to pivot to remote because we'd already done so much digital learning.
“The rest of the country and the world were in this shock state, and that's when I pivoted and said, ‘I want to go to Microsoft’. I knew this remote learning space would be pivotal.”
“A hundred years ago, we were minting workforce for factories, and that's what the goal of education was. That isn't the case anymore. We have the internet, we have AI, and we need unique human talents. And so, schools and education have to evolve to meet the current needs of the workforce. And I am just so passionate about that.”
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It’s not just about mission – it is about a whole-of-enterprise transformation. The way you maintain superiority is through digital transformation, culture and process reform, and rapid adoption of commercial technology.