Industry News

CA's Top Superintendent Leaves for Ed Tech Startup AltSchool

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Devin Vodicka, who has been named California’s top superintendent for two years running (according to the American Association of School Administrators), is moving on to work for AltSchool, a four-year-old ed tech startup that’s well funded but currently works with only a dozen schools. Vodicka — the head of the 25,000-student Vista Unified School District in San Diego County — revealed his future plans to Education Week in a Q & A interview last week.

Founded by a former top executive and engineer at Google, the San Francisco-based company takes an unorthodox approach, managing a small network of independent private schools, which it also uses as labs for developing personalized learning software, according to Education Week.

The company announced five new executive hires Thursday, including Sam Franklin (who previously worked as the executive director of the Office of Teacher Effectiveness in the Pittsburgh Public Schools) and Laura Hughes Modi, who spent the past six years heading operations and customer service support at the online rental marketplace Airbnb.

But the most prominent new hire is Vodicka, a decorated district leader whose efforts around personalized learning earned Vista Unified recognition as a member of the League of Innovative Schools and millions of dollars as an “XQ Super School Project” prize recipient. A former teacher and principal, Vodicka will serve as AltSchool’s chief impact officer, responsible for guiding the design and strategy of the company’s emerging software platform min advance of efforts to market it to traditional public schools beginning around 2019, Ed Week said.

“Everything I learned about the company made me feel like this was the best chance I’ll have to achieve the moonshot of transforming the student learning experience at scale,” he told Ed Week.

Unlike some other personalized learning efforts, AltSchool isn’t pushing a specific curricular model.

“We are trying to build software that enables a number of different pedagogical approaches and personalization models to take,” Coddy Johnson, AltSchool’s chief operating officer, told Ed Week.

“I don’t think there’s a more credible voice out there on what transformation requires” than Vodicka said.

While it’s unusual for a high profile district superintendent to leave his job and become an ed tech executive, Vodicka’s move isn’t unprecedented. For example, last June, 2013 national superintendent of the year Mark Edwards left his Mooresville, NC district for a position at Discovery Education.

But AltSchool is smaller, newer and more tucked away in Silicon Valley’s current personalized learning obsession. The company has also attracted money from some of the biggest names in tech philanthropy, including Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder and president of the Emerson Collective and the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

To read Vodicka’s Q & A interview, visit Education Week’s website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at rchang@1105media.com.

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