k12itc, Inc. – Kansas City
One student has a tablet in her backpack with access to hundreds of constantly updated texts, supplemental coursework, relevant videos, notes from teachers and her grades. Another lugs around a 50-pound backpack with dog-eared, outdated textbooks, crumpled notes he’s genuinely forgotten about and grade cards he conveniently forgot about.
One school has free Wi-Fi so students, teachers, parents and administrators can access all the school information they need. Another doesn’t even have internet.
One school district sends automatic updates about snow days, school closings and emergencies. Another relies on a phone tree, state of the art circa 1920.
These are not hypothetical situations but dilemmas being played out daily as school districts wrestle with dwindling budgets, overburdened teachers, soaring textbook and IT costs. Meanwhile, busy students, parents and teachers demand the speed, accuracy and relevance of digital content they employ in all other parts of their lives.
While too many school districts fall further and further behind.
Brad Sandt, president and CEO of k12itc, a Kansas City company that focuses on kindergarten through 12th grade schools’ IT, is a former school IT specialist who rose to become director of technology for the Park Hill School District. While there, he realized the IT problems he was hearing about were the same in a district across town or on the other side of the state. Size and location weren’t great factors; the problems were as dire in a small, rural district as in a large, urban one.
Lack of information makes it worse. School superintendents worry that technology outsourcing is too expensive. But these superintendents are not innovation, technology or IT experts, they’re educators, and they don’t know what they really need, what it costs or even how to get it. They only know what their own IT experts, sometimes promoted teachers with a knack for IT but no real deep experience, tell them. These gatekeepers, in turn, worry that their jobs will be outsourced. Teachers are frustrated that the technology they use in their daily lives isn’t available in their classroom.
In short — no one’s happy.
“And school districts, superintendents, principals, teachers, students, all get distracted by the day to day,” says Sandt. “They can’t focus on incorporating technology into the classroom. The school district is strapped and money is always a problem. There are just so many different factors pulling at the budget.
“And I thought, There’s got to be a better way to do this!” he says. “Something more efficient. These districts may all be different culturally, but they are all trying to achieve the same goals.”
This desire to build a better mousetrap was the genesis of k12itc, which focuses on enhancing K-12 technological capabilities within current IT departments. This preserves schools’ IT personnel jobs and keeps administrators and faculty focused on their true priority — educating students. (“K-12” is educational shorthand for kindergarten through 12th grades.)
And it’s directly contributed to k12itc’s expanding portfolio of new school district clients and significant revenue growth. Internally financed, the company grew from an idea to a 24-employee, multi-million dollar firm that increased revenue by an astronomical 400 percent in three years and increased its client base 300 percent to more than 30 school districts.
K12itc started locally, expanded to all corners of Missouri then neighboring states. The firm even fulfilled its obligation to create good jobs through the Missouri Quality Jobs Program three years early, investing nearly $1 million in a new, Silicon Valley-style office in north Kansas City complete with game rooms, creative spaces, an innovation lab, free gym memberships and a full kitchen.
k12itc’s products include CloudRack, a cloud IT hosting service; Blackboard Learn for K-12, which provides entire curriculums, grades and almost any learning tool you’d find in a classroom short of chalk; and NBC Learn, which delivers 80 years and more than 14,000 NBC News archival videos, tuned to a district’s curriculum, state standards and the Common Core and updated daily.
Word about k12itc got around quickly. In 2012, the director of professional and program development for the Johnson County, Kan., Unified School District chose the firm over a global vendor for customized cloud computing technologies, virtualization and other education platforms. K12itc was also a 2013 Cornerstone Award finalist in the small business category and was named to the Thinking Bigger Business Media’s 25 Under 25 Class of 2014.
The MO SBTDC Business Growth Service team, which provides Fortune 500-level market information and strategies to high growth clients like k12itc for a fraction of the cost of commercial vendors, and Denise Fields, MO SBTDC senior university industry relations officer, UMKC Innovation Center, have been instrumental in the firm’s growth. Fields and her team produced highly detailed GIS maps of potential school district clients nationwide, potential competitors, online trends in higher education, website development and SEO.
“I’d say Denise helped us in two ways,” says Sandt. “First, the process helped confirm or correct assumptions we had about education and the public sector with a lot of good data, demographics and financial information.
“Secondly, coming from education, we have less experience in business than in IT. We’ve got a lot of people with a lot of industry experience, and you think you know what you know, but you don’t. GIS mapping, finding concentrations of customers and how to use this data has been a valuable learning experience. It’s really shored up the business side of things.”
Sandt says a medium term strategy of instructing teachers, coaches and tech trainers would be a good company fit. In the longer term, developing educational software might be fruitful, he says. Focused tech products and processes have been available to most businesses, the government and public for many years, but this specificity has yet to catch on in the often politically rancorous K-12 arena.
“Some companies go after anything and everything,” he says. “But I’m not sure we’ve exhausted the business we’re in — in fact I’m positive we haven’t. We’re staying with it!”
Sandt is even more optimistic about the years ahead.
“The economy is going to swing around soon for education. We’re looking forward to that.”
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