We first met Carl Dorvil, founder of Group Excellence, at a conference in Washington DC examining the role of tutoring low-income students who were behind their grade level or falling further behind.  The ability for a great teacher to close the persistent achievement gap is well known, but consideration of the role of a tutor becomes quickly mired in the politics of SES, Supplemental Education Services, and its current incarnation in NCLB.  At Group Excellence, Carl brings a fresh approach to this issue, and his focus is on students first and foremost.

You refer to Group Excellence as a mentoring company first, and also tutoring company. What’s the distinction?

If you want to be a great writer, you read great writing. If you want to be a great sports player, you study great athletes. If you want to be a successful person, you have to be exposed to great people who can tell you how they made it. I have yet to meet a student, or any person for that matter, who wants to be unsuccessful. However, I have met hundreds, if not thousands, of students who consider themselves to be failures. This paradox exists because students simply do not know how to be successful, so they give up trying. This is why it is so important that, at Group Excellence, we are mentors first. Before the students can master any subject, they need to believe that mastering a subject is even possible.  This is where Group Excellence has been the most influential. We provide role models for students that serve as walking billboards for what is possible if you work hard. The answer to your question can be summed up in this phrase, “Students don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”

You are an SMU trained MBA.  What drew you begin a mentoring/tutoring business?

In January 2004, while in my third year at SMU, I started Group Excellence out of my dorm room after one of my best friends encouraged me to read the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The book challenged me to start a company, and I initially chose tutoring because of the low start up cost required to begin helping kids succeed. However, mentoring/tutoring quickly became more than a business for me; it became my passion.  If you have ever had the opportunity to help a child learning something new, then you know how powerful it is to see the look in their eyes when the light bulb turns on and they get it. The desire to help students in need have those “a-ha” moments is what has drawn me to mentoring/tutoring and what has kept me engaged.

How does technology fit into your work with students?

Technology has played an increasingly important role in working with our students. The most notable way that we have incorporated technology into our daily operations is through the development of SureStudy.com. SureStudy is designed to maximize the student’s time and effort. The system uses an artificial intelligence technology called Intelligent Question Selector (IQS). IQS automatically assesses a student’s level of understanding and adjusts the question difficulty to facilitate true learning. In addition to being able to access SureStudy online, we recently developed an application for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad to give students another way to access the program.

You are also an SES provider in Texas.  What is the current state of SES?

Supplemental Educational Services (SES) provides tutoring free-of-charge to students of low-income families whose Title 1 school has failed to make adequate academic improvements over time. This extra help does not cost the student, parent, or school, because it is paid for by the federal government and can be provided before or after school, on weekends, or even during the summer. Providers of SES may include non-profit and for-profit entities, public schools, public charter schools, private schools, higher education institutions, faith-based organizations and more.

As it stands today, school districts are required to present a list of state approved SES providers for parents to select from at the beginning of each school year. However, the future of the SES program is not secure. The Department of Education has signaled that they are not strong supporters of mandating the right for low-income students at failing schools to have access to high-quality tutoring. Families who cannot afford to pay for tutoring may see this great opportunity slip away because the Department of Education would prefer to give persistently failing schools the option to opt-out of offering SES. Parents and students have to speak up now and show their support for tutoring. To find out more about how to help, visit SupportSes.com where you can sign a petition and let elected officials know that free tutoring for low-income students should not go away.

Where does Group Excellence go from here?

I heard a story about when Samuel Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, told his employees that they should not strive to get bigger faster, but they should focus on getting better faster. He went on to say that if they get better faster, their customers would demand that they get bigger.  This past June, I read an Ed Week article stating, “Among Latinos, 56 percent successfully finish high school, while 54 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Native Americans graduate. On average, only two-thirds of male students earn a diploma, a rate 7 percentage points lower than the rate for female students. Rates of high school completion for males from historically disadvantaged minority groups consistently fall at or below the 50 percent mark.” Those students are our customers, the people we serve at Group Excellence. We must do everything in our power to get better faster because our customers represent the future of the world and they are demanding that we get bigger and better.

(Disclosure: Group Excellence is a VA/R client)

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