In the last 48 hours I had two great meetings in Boston about tools for schools. The first with Kim Rice, COO of Boston Public Schools. I met Kim a decade ago when she was the architect of the Massachusetts Virtual Education Space (VES). Kim started as a fourth grade teacher and quickly gained a sense for how technology could engage students and how data could transform learning.
The plans for VES looked a lot like the current Gates-funded Strategic Learning Collaborative and North Carolina’s Instructional Improvement System, but Kim was a decade ahead of her time (or more precisely, we were all a decade behind Kim). She had the right vision of data-driven learning and the right design principle of teacher collaboration, but the project was just ahead of funders.
The second meeting was with the Curriculum Associates team. For 40 years CA was a supplemental text publisher. After building a great business, founder Frank Ferguson built a plan to leverage for-profit power with a nonprofit purpose. Frank hired CEO Rob Waldron to build on the student-centered, impact-focused, high-confidence low-ego core values he put in place.
Rob says it like it is—he discusses corporate cash flow with the sales staff so everyone has a shared context. He models integrity and demands that his folks to do the right thing even when no one is looking. He takes the long term view but works the short term agency with urgency.
While Kim was decade early, Rob’s leadership on Common Core curriculum and adaptive learning looks like it will hit the blended-learning-meets-Common-Core window. After a very compressed development cycle, Curriculum Associates launched Ready, custom-built K-8 Common Core instructional materials and i-Ready, an adaptive diagnostic and instruction system.
The right vision and values are important parts of the impact equation but, as noted in 5 Things I’ve Learned About Startups, hitting a market window with the right product at the right time is essential.
Kim is leading the BPS shift to digital—the city is finally catching up with her. Some components of her early vision, like a single identity system—One Card—that works across schools, food service, transportation, and libraries, are already delivering citywide benefits.
These two meetings suggest that making a difference takes a compelling vision, productive values, and good timing.
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