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Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

I’m so excited to introduce you all to Carey Jackson, BenchK12’s current Graduate Product Fellow. As I often say, her title really doesn’t do justice to the wonderful role and work Carey has contributed to our small, but growing BenchK12 team. 

We hope that we’ll be able to keep Carey on the team for some time to come. As potential investors and client-partners of BenchK12, you can help us retain Carey and hire even more great educators into our organization as we grow. It is so important to us to have educators and parents on our team because they bring such a critically important perspective and fierce urgency to our work. Carey’s additional expertise as a partner to a Diplomat has also, further, grounded our work in making sure that BenchK12 also helps State agencies solve the technology challenges inherent in reciprocity for educators who are highly mobile. 

So, before this turns into a way-too-long intro before you can *finally* get the content you came for, I introduce you to Carey– who you can also find at the ASU+GSV Summit this week in San Diego!

-Brooke 

First things first, tell everyone a little bit about you. How would you define yourself personally and professionally? 

These days, my personal life is defined by being a mom to my three little kids – 7, 5, and 2 years old. In between dinner prepping and driving to soccer practices, I love traveling, reading, and music (I’m a violinist and singer when I get the chance). Professionally, I still define myself as a teacher, even though it’s been three years since I’ve been in the classroom full-time. I started teaching high school social studies in 2012 and adored it. I’m still actively involved in the K12 school world. My husband is a U.S. diplomat and we’re currently posted in Guatemala for his embassy assignment, where I serve on the Advisory Board of Guatemala City’s main K-12 American school.

Top three career highlights in education and/or tech: 

  1. There’s no way to choose a specific highlight from my time as an educator; the daily experience of teaching, relationship-building, and helping students understand how to play with learning were all highlights for me. 
  2. Another highlight was starting a small social studies curriculum development business almost ten years ago – it’s been extremely rewarding hearing about my ideas being implemented in tens of thousands of classrooms since then. 
  3. As for a career highlight in tech, other than working with BenchK12, I also work with another EdTech startup called Kyron Learning. Kyron is developing an AI platform to support K12 learning while maintaining a focus on empowering teacher autonomy and centering the teacher-student relationship. It’s been really interesting to be part of this work and it feels especially important to keep the educator perspective present during the current AI boom.

What made you want to do a Product Fellowship at BenchK12?

The main drivers for my current work in EdTech have been my experience as a teacher and wanting to address issues in education on a larger scale than I could from my classroom. While teaching through COVID, I became increasingly converted to the transformational possibilities EdTech holds for K12 education. I’m committed to improving the lived experiences of teachers and students in the classroom; the national teacher shortage, in particular, is the issue closest to my heart. Teachers are and always have been the beating heart of education – addressing their needs and creating rational systemic changes is one of the best ways to simultaneously improve student educational experiences. I see the EdTech field as doing some of the most innovative, implementable, and impactful work in K12 education. As an MBA student and a Partnerships Director in the MBA EdTech Community, I’ve had the chance to observe and interact with many of today’s leading EdTech companies and most interesting startups. BenchK12’s mission and product jumped out at me as important, logical, and massively scalable – I immediately wanted to get involved!

What has your experience at BenchK12 been like so far and what are some of the things you’ve worked on? 

I’ve loved being part of BenchK12! Something I really value is working with good people who are committed to social justice values. That was always a hallmark of my work experience in the teaching world, but it’s a bit less part of the culture of the MBA world. I valued that BenchK12 was a woman-founded company and that Brooke is open about intentionally creating a progressive and ethical work environment. I’ve since seen that its employees walk the walk. All of BenchK12’s employees are aligned in seeking to improve experiences and amplify voices among under-represented groups.

At BenchK12, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of things at the intersection of product, partnerships, and strategy. I’ve contributed to research on and discussions with potential strategic partnerships with educational agencies, tech vendors, and interest-aligned organizations. I’ve also assisted in implementing integrations and designing BenchK12’s product.

When you look ahead ten years, where do you see BenchK12 headed as a company?

In ten years, I see BenchK12 serving as a credentialing platform for most certified positions in K12 education across the majority of states. BenchK12’s use case is so strong and it is implementable with such high efficiency and low cost, that I see it being adopted by states quite rapidly after our first successful pilots are completed. In ten years, I also see BenchK12 improving not just numbers of classroom educators, but also their experiences as we partner with organizations providing teacher pipeline programs, professional development, and advocacy.

What are the trends that you’re watching in K12 this year?

I (along with everyone in the EdTech world!) am very interested in the application of AI to educational technology. There are transformational possibilities in this area and we’ve only scraped the surface. As a former educator, however, I’m especially interested in making sure we tread carefully and apply a “do no harm” standard when developing AI technology to interact directly with young learners.

Another important trend this year is that EdTech companies are increasingly shifting their focus from individual consumers to contractual/enterprise partnerships with institutions and education agencies. During the pandemic, many users engaged with the K12 EdTech for the first time, largely as individuals from their homes seeking resources to meet needs on their own. We’ve probably never seen such a rapid increase in EdTech individual use, adoption, and mindset shift. With growing user familiarity and expectations, institutions are now spending more effort and dollars on establishing partnerships and contracts with EdTech companies. Specifically, within K12 education, The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund allocated 190 billion dollars to schools, the largest single federal investment in K12 education ever. Most of that money hadn’t yet been spent by the end of 2022, as schools and education agencies have been wary of the economic downturn and have been reserving their funds in case of slashed budgets. The ESSER money has an obligation deadline of September 2024, however, so I believe that in the upcoming year, K12 education agencies will be looking to partner with EdTech companies on a scale they’ve never done before.

2022: Coachella, Cursing, and Collaborations

2022: Coachella, Cursing, and Collaborations

2022: Coachella, Cursing, and Collaborations

You’re reading a recent edition of The Playbook, a BenchK12 newsletter. Subscribe to receive updates and stay in touch with our team at benchk12.com/subscribe.

As anyone undertaking a new venture will tell you, planning is critical, but so is flexibility. We started off the year with our first-ever, all-team retreat in the beautiful Coachella Valley – now fondly known as “Benchella” – to set a course for the year ahead and get closer to making the ambitious goal of ending teacher shortages a reality. While there were pivots along the way, I am immensely grateful and proud of how we grew and navigated this year.

BenchK12 has been focused on building our team and our product, but that didn’t stop us from taking home some pitch competition wins, including the P2B Pitch Competition, (where *every* effing word in your vocabulary is welcomed) and being awarded the top women-founded company at the MN Cup. We also locked down some key partnerships in just the last few months which you can read more about below.

Despite the occasional curveballs and fbombs, we are closer than ever to realizing our goal of supporting educators and solving teacher shortages! On behalf of the entire BenchK12 team, we wanted to thank you for all of your support in 2022.

As we head into a momentous 2023, we will be communicating with you *a lot* more in the first quarter since we are officially going public with our equity crowdfunding campaign.

Momentum & Progress

  • 🏆 Winner of the P2B Pitch CompetitionWe are honored and excited to share that BenchK12 won the sixth annual FBomb Breakfast Club pitch competition known fully as “Pitches2Bitches.” The FBomb Breakfast Club is a peer support community for women who are company founders and business owners where we “talk like truckers and build badass businesses.” Beyond getting amazing feedback from the Fbomb community and validation from an amazing group of women business leaders, this year is also the first year that the winner is being considered for angel investment from the FBomb Angels. Stay tuned for an exciting update next month.
  • ⭐ Welcome to our BenchK12 Graduate Fellows. Please join me in welcoming our first cohort of BenchK12 graduate fellows. We designed the fellowship with a few things in mind; (1) how can we provide access to graduate students who are interested in entrepreneurship and tech startups; (2) how can we potentially provide an opportunity for those with an education background to make a jump into technology while bringing along their experience in schools? I am hopeful that with our first two fellows we are able to do both! Please meet:
  • AAEE: We have finalized our partnership with the American Association for Employment in Education and are the exclusive sponsor of their Pipeline Mini-Grant Program that was just launched. Thanks to our Director, Engagement, Yanique Taylor for all of her support in nurturing this relationship and joining me in Baltimore for the AAEE Conference where we presented a session on the pipeline clog related to credentialing. (More on that soon!)
  • Checkr: We finalized our partnership agreement last month and are now starting to build our integrations with their platform to provide in-app background checks, degree verifications, work experience, references, and other relevant professional credentials. Thank you to our VP, Tech, Daniel Glucksman for making this connection possible and to Daniel Barsky, our persuasive and thoughtful legal counsel, for all of their work to get this partnership finalized!

Expertise & Asks

  • 🚀 Commit to investing $100. in BenchK12’s Community Round. We are taking commitments from our network of supporters now, with early incentives just for you. There’s a lot more coming your way in January about why this is the right investment and solution for our nation’s teacher shortage and we want you in on the ground floor.
  • 📣 Spread the Word. If you can’t invest right now, help get the word out about BenchK12. You can start by forwarding this message to anyone in your network who might be eager to help solve the teacher shortage in K12 education. Sharing this with just three folks and your endorsement would be a tremendous start!
  • ✈️ Pilot Partners. Join our waitlist and bring BenchK12 to your state. We have some special incentives to share with the first five states that we work with.
  • 👋 Get Social with Us Virtually: Twitter // Instagram // TikTok

 

John Cole comic strip

Perspectives

Gratitude

About BenchK12 and The Playbook

BenchK12 is the future of work for K12 educators, starting with substitute teachers. We remove the friction from the educator credentialing process to solve the teacher shortage and we support teachers once they are in the classroom with modern technology to help them advance their careers and ensure student success.

You’re receiving The Playbook because at some point you made an impression on one of the members of our founding team or our advisors.

You are a great partner, colleague, friend, co-conspirator, inspiration, champion, or future collaborator and in order to build the best company—that truly empowers and serves the K12 educators and leaders who help our students realize their genius—we need a deep bench, with you on our team. Wanna be an official Day One supporter? Consider making a commitment to invest: www.wefunder.com/benchk12 and you can own your piece of solving the teacher shortage!

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

White 3-D lettering and purple sunburst logo spelling out ASU+GSV 13.0 SummitASU+GSV 13.0 Summit Entrance.

I’m writing this on the Thursday post-ASU+GSV SummitJustice Jackson has been confirmed, my feet are sore from being in heels after a two-year hiatus (one pair didn’t survive the three days…), and my heart is full from reconnecting *in person* with friends near and far, and exhilarated exhaustion was had by all.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Summit, it “started in 2010 with a collaboration between Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) [and it] connects leading minds focused on transforming society and business around learning and work.” Its “north star is that ALL people have equal access to the future” and a special note was made about how this is particularly relevant given the ongoing conflict and invasion of Ukraine. Kudos to the GSV Team for generously matching and raising funds for Ukraine families (join them!).

Navy and blue banner for the ASU+GSV Summit with a message that says “all people deserve equal access” with a Ukranian flag emoji on either end.ASU + GSV Summit website and banner with a message of solidarity for Ukraine.

I wasn’t planning on attending in person this year, but as the requests started filing in for meetings and I looked through the attendee list on the ASU+GSV app, I realized it was time to emerge from my pandemic cocoon.

Picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer looking extremely disheveled.
Live shot of me emerging from my house, pre-conference.
[Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E05]

As an admitted ambivert (borderline introvert) being thrust back into jam-packed restaurants, bars, and conference halls felt a bit jarring at first. Thankfully, our lead angel investor and advisory board member, Mike Baur, was back at his *fifth* ASU+GSV representing AWS. He helped me navigate the throngs of attendees who, like us, seemed to be equally composed of veterans and newbies.

Picture of Yoda with text overlay “Much to learn you still have young padawan.”
A much less flattering and much more green picture of Mike, as he led me through the first few hours of the conference. [Credit: Yoda.]

For those who haven’t yet attended an ASU+GSV, here are my first-timer tips to help you navigate next year (or any major education conference):

1.Build-in breaks. This is tough to do because you know you have limited time and you want to connect with a ton of folks, but to be at your best, you need some breathing room. Sometimes a meeting runs long, you need time to coordinate via emails and texts, and your brain needs to digest all the great conversations and ideas coming your way.

2.Figure out your meeting space in advance. I was wise enough to set up a few reservation slots in advance at Sally’s Fish House and make friends with a lovely server named Emily. If you go with a restaurant table, make sure you “buy” your time there by tipping generously and ordering snacks for the table as your guests rotate through. When I didn’t have enough time at Sally’s, I, like many others, was hunting for any place to sit and have a meeting that was conducive to a good conversation. Thank you, again, to AWS who let us use their room from time to time, and my other secret spot shall remain just that for future years…until next year when we announce our new and improved meeting space.

3.Bring an extra pair of shoes. RIP to a pair of my favorite nude heels and thank you to my new runners & the Hyatt gift shop for stocking socks!

Tan wedge heels with a broken strap.
RIP shoes. …until I get you fixed…

4.Put an OOO notice on your email with a backup contact, your mobile number, and an ETA for response times. You will not be answering many emails.

>5.Make a virtual card. If you are still riding the LinkedIn train, you can create a quick and easy QR code for your profile here. We signed up with HiHello which has a free card option that you can use as a signature in your emails or screenshot the code on your phone and use it as your background for easy scanning. I liked HiHello because it also prompts anyone who scans your code to share their contact information back with you and instantly stores it for you. It also includes a business card scanning tool for those still obsessed with keeping up with Paul Allen.

Picture of the Paul Allen business card from American Psycho.
The Paul Allen card. [Credit: American Psycho]

6.Find a friend. Or two. As part of building in breaks, make sure you have a few friends who you can relax with, in between meetings. This aligns with number one, while also giving you time to unpack ideas with trusted eyes and ears. I’m happy to say I got to catch up with some old friends (and even talk Premier League soccer!) and make some new ones.

Beyond these general conference guidelines to help you get back into the swing of things, here are a few first timer observations I had about ASU+GSV, specifically:

1.It’s intense. It feels a bit like SXSWedu in the earlier days– a lot of vendors, entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders. I was lucky enough to have a free lunch on my second day and sat down with some awesome educators from Michigan, but that was the extent to which I felt any presence of educators at the conference. I do feel like there is an effort to bring more educators in and SXSWedu made this intentional shift as well, so I hope that it continues to balance out in future years. I also know –because it is [ahem] what we do– that it is incredibly hard for educators to take time away from the classroom for events like these, period, but especially during a pandemic. But we need more educators there and we need their day-to-day reality.

2.Web 3.0 was the focus, but most folks still don’t really know what that means for them. While we were excited to see the theme of the conference focused on Web 3.0 and verifiable credentials, a lot of folks we talked to said that they felt like we were one of the few companies that legitimately had a Web 3.0 strategy that made sense and had viable use cases. In fact, we often talk about how we really need Web 2.5 strategies right now to get us to a real Web 3.0 world. This isn’t something that you want to fake or work into your roadmap unless it applies to you, truly. Focus on solving your problem and if a decentralized solution makes sense use it. If not, don’t force it.

3.Are you a feature or a product? A lot of folks we talked to were also more focused on features versus products. While we’ve heard time and time again that there are riches in the niches, a lot of the early-stage companies we talked to felt *too* narrow– more like things that existing products should be able to do (i.e. features) vs. fully realized products. And many didn’t seem to have strategies to get them to more than that one thing. Education is saturated with that right now and our schools don’t have the capacity to just be testing grounds for nice-to-have features. I’d love to see investors serve as better arbiters of this. With a lot of the M & A happening in private equity, there’s a great opportunity to pull together a lot of features to make a great product, but that’s not happening yet. If paired with a future vision of Web 3.0, and cohesive technology to support it–rather than a lot of the “Frankenstein-ed” efforts we’re currently seeing, a lot of great solutions could exist.

4.Interoperability is still a massive challenge. See two and three above. Folks are *still* talking about “why can’t we decide on one standard?” and I don’t know if that is the right question. We’re close enough among standards that I don’t think that is what matters. A shift in how vendors do business, one that moves away from locking data into a crappy product, which is what the promise of decentralization could bring, will also get us closer to an interoperable future that better serves students, families, and educators–and can still be profitable. If you’re interested in that future, you’re in the right place with BenchK12.

5.It was worth it. This was the lucky number 13th year of the Summit and, as I shared previously, the first I’ve attended. I’ve always known about the Summit, but as an educator and then consultant to K12 orgs it never felt like the right place for me to spend time. I can affirmatively say that if you are an education entrepreneur or investor, this conference is well worth your time and effort to attend, even if you’re just hanging out at Sally’s, in the lobby, or hitting the many off-site events being hosted during the conference.

See you next year!

Forward in 2021: The promises of K12 education, tech, and America

Forward in 2021: The promises of K12 education, tech, and America

Forward in 2021: The promises of K12 education, tech, and America

2022: Coachella, Cursing, and Collaborations

Welcome to BenchK12’s The Playbook

Welcome to BenchK12’s The Playbook

  • 🏆 We finished in the top 10% of companies at YC’s Startup School!
  • 🎓 We are an HMC Inq. company! In October, we graduated from our very first incubator, started pitching to investment partners, and built our MVP.
  • 🐣 Yup. We have an MVP! Inspired by our mentors and peers at HMC Inq and YCs StartUp School, we built something. It’s our rough start to help you get an idea of the vision we are working towards. Ask us for an invite or demo on Android or iOS.
  • ✈️ Pilot partners. We’re seeking up to five pilot partners (SEAs, Regional Collaboratives, and LEAs are welcome!). We have two pathways they can choose from: equity (paid model) and non-equity (free model). Interested in learning more? Let’s talk!
  • 🤝🏼 Investment partners. We have a number of wonderful partners who are interested investors who aren’t usually first money in. So if you are an angel investor or pre-seed investor, want to become one, know one, and are interested in enterprise SaaS, Future of Work, Edtech, Women-Founders, or Blockchain Beyond Crypto, let’s talk!
  • 📢 Feedback. Whatever you have to give, we’ll take it. Brooke is a former educator and has been working in the classroom & c-suite with a variety of SEA & LEA school partners for her entire career, but we know that things are constantly changing for our school partners. What are we missing? How can we better serve you? Let us know.
  • 👋 Get Social with Us (virtually, for now) Twitter // Instagram // TikTok
  • 🙏🏻 More thanks than there are words to our amazing advisors who said “yes” to jumping on this ride with us in the middle of a pandemic. We’ll be sure to share more about them in future comms.
  • 💌 All the founder love to Amanda DoAmaral (@AmandaDoAmanda), CEO @thinkfiveable. This first edition of The Playbook was inspired by her advice (& awesome updates) to reach out to everyone we know about what we’re doing at BenchK12. If you’re not yet familiar with Fiveable, check it out.
  • 🦸🏻 A special word of thanks to my co-founder, Shawn Tamaribuchi. As any founders will tell you, this is a manic journey and I couldn’t be more grateful that Shawn said “yes” to doing this together.