Lessons in Leadership: Remembering Barbara Dreyer

“I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late for our call, I had to shovel a path to the barn through two feet of snow to feed the horses.” That’s how Barbara Dreyer started our conversation a few years ago shortly after learning about her cancer. Nothing seemed to slow her down.
As CEO of Connections Education, Barbara was unassuming but demanding. She was honest about what was working and what needed to improve.
Barbara assembled the sector’s best talent and built a loyal team. Like co-founder and iNACOL board member Mickey Revenaugh, Barbara understood that she was building a new sector as well as providing an educational service.
Trained as an accountant, Barbara worked her way up to controller, then CFO of several companies. In the late 90s she started a couple companies and served as a partner at New Enterprise Associates.
Founded in 2001, Connections Education rapidly became one of the nation’s largest online learning providers supporting schools in half the states. After being acquired by Pearson in September 2011, Connections Learning was formed to make courses, platforms, and tools available to schools worldwide.  The new division launched a blended learning high school model called Nexus Academy (see 2013 feature).
Not one for self-promotion, Barbara may have been less visible than other female tech CEOs but the way she conducted herself spoke volumes. Barbara took the long view. She kept students in the foreground. She distributed leadership.  She advanced the sector.
In her famous poem When Death Comes, Mary Oliver says, “I don’t want to wonder if I have made something particular and real.” No question on that front; education in America is better because of Barbara’s work.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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