School Leaders Share the Best Ways to Get Your Product into Their...

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School Leaders Share the Best Ways to Get Your Product into Their Districts

By Blake Montgomery     Mar 13, 2019

School Leaders Share the Best Ways to Get Your Product into Their Districts

The best outcomes for businesses and school districts are deeply intertwined and require balancing philosophies and approaches at exactly the right time. Dr. Kecia Ray, who once turned around a failing Tennessee school with a handshake, believes that companies should act as thought partners with the school districts they’re selling to.

After a chance meeting with Rob Waldron of Curriculum Associates, Ray, the founder of the consultancy K20Connect and former executive director of learning technology for Nashville public schools, took him along to visit Stratford STEM Magnet School Lower Campus, a middle school in Nashville that was failing at the time. After visiting the school, Waldron suggested that it was the perfect place to pilot his new ed-tech product iReady, which was designed to improve student outcomes.

“[At that time] he was trying to move his product into middle grades, and I thought, ‘It would be great if you could pilot it here and see if the kids respond to the images you’re creating” offered Ray. “If you don’t charge me for the year you’re building it, we could probably figure out a procurement agreement in the future"

They shook hands while still in the car and implemented iReady the next week. The project was so successful that Tennessee later adopted the technology statewide.

A discussion of how a company’s product can best fit a school’s needs is, to Ray, more likely to result in a long term partnership than the short and impersonal interaction of seller and buyer. She coaches companies and school districts on how to establish these kinds of relationships.

“In marriage counseling, you don’t just work with the wife or the husband. It’s both. I like working with both companies and districts so that both sides see the benefits,” she said.

Another company whose product she used, which she declined to name, was less helpful. The teachers she worked within the school district weren’t adopting the company’s technology even after seven years of its availability. She asked the company’s representatives if the school could use the tool in a different way that might boost the teachers’ use.

“Their answer was that it was ‘their way’ or ‘no way,’ so I said it would be no way. I couldn’t sacrifice my teachers’ happiness for the company’s end game. We broke the contract, and the CEO was livid.”

But she said she had given the company ample chances before reneging on the agreement.

“I came to that company with a problem and tried to work with them to solve it, but they were telling me that they weren’t willing to do that,” she said. “That’s not how partnerships work. There has to be some give-and-take.”

Tommy Chang, former superintendent of Boston Public Schools, also believes districts shouldn’t buy from companies that aren’t invested in becoming integrated partners.

“Companies have to be willing to do the deep design work with our schools. If not, they’re just not a fit,” he said.

He gave an example of a school he oversaw in the Los Angeles Unified School District that refocused its middle and high school experience on entrepreneurship: morning classes were traditional instruction and “information intake,” then small group problem-solving, and finally afternoons involved working on an actual product. The specialized needs of the school made it difficult to find edtech that meshed with what instructors wanted.

“That school needed to find technology that fit their model rather than buying an edtech platform to use as is,” Chang said. “We needed companies that would partner deeply in the co-creation of the school’s vision.”

Though it was more difficult to find companies willing to commit to such a time-intensive development process, Chang said that those who did end up doing such work almost always became long-term partners.

Ray also acknowledges the process can be more involved than some startups can handle, so she advises small and mid-size companies with fewer resources to find partners that can amplify what they do. But believes that the investment of time will bear fruit, and she said even opponents have come to agree with her. She said the CEO of the company she broke a contract with approached her years later to admit she was right and that he had made a mistake.

“He said I taught him a valuable lesson,” she said. “I wish he had learned it before.”

Kecia Ray and Tommy Chang will be coaches at EdSurge Immersion. Join us in April to learn first hand how to successfully sell into K12 Schools.

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