​On the Hotseat: 7 Questions for Kickboard’s New CEO, Stefan Kohler

Movers and Shakers

​On the Hotseat: 7 Questions for Kickboard’s New CEO, Stefan Kohler

By Sydney Johnson     Jan 14, 2017

​On the Hotseat: 7 Questions for Kickboard’s New CEO, Stefan Kohler

Many new CEOs face a learning curve when they enter the edtech industry. But at Kickboard, an online school culture system management system, it’s a straight dive in for Stefan Kohler, a former teacher and executive at companies including Scholastic and Pearson.

As part of EdSurge’s new Q & A series “New Gig Hotseat,” where we look at who’s working where in the never-ending career shuffle at companies, schools and other education organizations, we asked Stefan to tell us a bit about his past and present leadership roles, his plans for the New Orleans-based company, and what type of trouble he got in as a kid. Here’s what he said:

EdSurge: Let’s talk about your “ed-cred.” What’s been your involvement in education in the past? (Sorry, simply having been a student doesn’t count!)

Kohler: Aside from being a student, a high school teacher and coach, and having my Superintendent’s License, for the past 20 years I’ve worked for and led companies that serve and support K-12 education. All were highly respected and successful companies, and in this market that doesn’t happen unless you’re really listening to educators, understanding their needs and challenges, and working closely with them to ensure that they and their students are successful.

What did you love about your last job? What don’t you miss?

What’s really excited me about each and every job over the past 20 years has been the opportunity to go into schools, talk with educators, and see first-hand the impact our solutions were having in the classroom. In my last job, I had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the top education thought leaders who all taught me a great deal about their various areas of focus. The insights I gained from Rick DuFour on PLCs [professional learning communities], and Bob Marzano on teacher effectiveness, Juli Dixon and Tim Kanold on mathematics, and Anthony Muhammad and Tom Hierck on climate and culture were just incredible. The reason I chose to move to Kickboard was the opportunity to focus on school climate and culture, which I believe is a vitally important area that doesn’t receive the attention it should. I hope to fix that.

If people at your last gig gave you a nickname, what would it be and why?

I’d like to think that if I had a nickname it was ‘coach.’ And, being from New England, I’d be really honored for that nickname to be Belichick-like: strategic, thoughtful and pulling together all players to maximize their individual talents in order to move the team forward to the Super Bowl (which in our world is helping schools get better).

What got you interested in Kickboard? Why did you decide to take on this role?

It was Kickboard’s mission to help educators build safe and happy school environments by focusing on climate and culture. There are so many schools out there that are in desperate need of help. While many programs and companies are helping in terms of good curriculum, technology and teacher training, no one was addressing the need to establish and maintain a positive climate and culture, despite research demonstrating the direct impact it can have on everything from teachers’ attitudes to drop-out rates. I wanted to be part of the solution, to help really make a difference in these teachers’ and students’ lives.

What’s the most important thing for a new CEO to do in the first 100 days?

Kickboard’s founder, Jen Medbery, did an amazing job building the product and helping early adopters achieve success. So my focus is to work with her to build on that foundation, to make school and district leaders aware of the power of a school climate and culture system, and ensure that our solution is making a difference. We’re adding significantly to the sales team and adding an advisory board comprised of several important thought leaders to ensure we remain on our research-based path. We’re also investing resources to ensure our status as a total solution provider—one that combines the technology with assessment tools, coaching, implementation services and ongoing support.

If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the US education system, what would it be?

While I’m very happy that with ESSA, the pendulum is swinging to focus more on non-academic factors—such as school climate and safety—to promote a broader vision of school success. But if I could wave a wand it would be to require even stronger accountability requirements for states to address critical areas like climate and culture.

Kickboard's behavioral management tools remind us that no one is perfect. So, what's the worst trouble you ever got in as a student?

If anything it was talking too much! I was a bit of a geek in school. I loved learning new things and was very inquisitive, always asking questions and engaging in conversations. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good thing to do while my teachers were presenting lessons!

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