Empowering Students: An Interview with CEO Sari Factor

Empowering Students: An Interview with CEO Sari Factor

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The Learning Council | Kenna McHugh | June 21, 2018

I talked with Edgenuity CEO Sari Factor soon after she was honored at the 9th Annual ASU+GSV Summit with the organization’s inaugural Power of Women Award called POW! She received the recognition as one of the “Female CEOs leading and achieving successful outcomes for companies at scale in the learning and talent technology sector.”

Factor began her career as a Middle School Math teacher in 1980 and then worked in educational technology before computers had become devices we hold in our hands. “I was frustrated with the speed of technology adoption in schools, so I moved into educational publishing, and subsequently held leadership roles at Kaplan, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin before coming to Edgenuity,” explained Factor.

She joined Edgenuity, then known as E2020, in 2011, after learning about the success schools and students were experiencing with the company’s solutions. Established in 1998, the company makes education easier for school districts, teachers, students, and parents. “Edgenuity has helped thousands of schools with millions of students improve their academic outcomes – from better scores on standardized tests to significantly improved graduation rates,” explained Factor.

With confidence, she talked about empowering students to control their own learning. “Amazing things happen when students are given choice and some control over the pace and place of their learning. No two students learn in exactly the same way, nor do they learn at the same pace. Every student has individual interests and needs. When a teacher attempts to meet the needs of every student without the support of technology and tools like ours, they inevitably end up ‘teaching to the middle,’ leaving some students behind and preventing others from moving more quickly or learning more deeply.”

Empowering the teachers and elevating them to do their job effectively is just as important as empowering the student according to Factor. Through Edgenuity, teachers are given real-time access to student performance data. Helping teachers see where students are having difficulty and then making an informed decision on how to course correct quickly and appropriately.

“Our goal is to free teachers up from administrative tasks, such as grading quizzes and tests, to focus on high-value activities, mentoring students, facilitating classroom discussions and providing additional, personalized instruction to individuals or small groups of students with similar needs,” describes Factor.

“Because we hear from them all the time, we have many, many touch points with customers and potential customers. We think about it as a kind of life cycle of working with educators even before they’re customers of ours. They reach out to us. We’ve got a team. Our marketing team is working with customers to identify what they’re looking for and get them channeled to the right product.”

Factor spends a great deal of time with customers. “I like to be out in the market, in the field getting feedback. I travel with our salespeople or with our professional development people to observe training, or to participate in customer meetings.”

Edgenuity supports little over 600 staff with two offices. One is the company’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona where Factor works. Another office in Austin, Texas where the company acquired Compass Learning in the summer of 2016. She affirms her commitment to staying in touch with her staff. It is just as important as staying in touch with their customers. “I’m looking for input from a wide variety of constituencies to identify the strategies we should move forward. I spend an awful lot of time with our employees because I want to know how to make their lives better.”

She wants to know what would make their lives and jobs easier. “You know, the idea here is how do we empower them. How do we help them do their best work and clear the way for them to be innovative and imaginative? I think about how to improve our processes, how to streamline things that might be difficult for them to do.”

Many staff work offsite such as salespeople, professional development people, account managers, and virtual teachers. Virtual teachers work from home. They need to be certified in the state and subject area they are teaching. Most live in the states where they are certified to teach. “We just celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. We had an online party for them because we can’t get them all together,” laughed Factor, “but I wanted to let them know how much we appreciate them and get to speak to all the teachers. It was really fun.”

Factor calls attention to the fact that it takes a special person who wants to work in education. She praises her technical team for being a good solid team. “We found it’s sometimes hard to find developers. Finding people who want to do great development work and work for a company that’s in education.”

Finishing up our meeting, Factor clarified the importance of investing her leadership skills towards educational technology. “I began my career as a mathematics teacher but wanted to find a way to impact students on a broader scale. I came to Edgenuity because I knew from the start that it was a company where I could fulfill a vision to use technology to enhance student learning. It is an industry that takes something we all encounter often in our daily lives—technology—and creates a modern, high-impact solution to one of the most important issues in the world: education.”

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