Curriculum Associates CEO Rob Waldron: Reinforcing Quality Work
Rob Waldron joined Curriculum Associates in 2008, bringing leadership experience from both for-profit and nonprofit education worlds. He runs the company with a long-term focus, upholding the founding mission to improve classrooms everywhere. Under his leadership revenues have increased more than seven-fold. Curriculum Associates now employs more than 1,200 staff and earned “Top Place to Work” status from both the Boston Business Journal and The Boston Globe.
Before joining, Waldron served as CEO of Jumpstart, a national nonprofit preparing preschoolers from low-income backgrounds for success, and as CEO of the K12 tutoring division of Kaplan Education.
Winner of the Northeastern U.S. Regional YPO Social Impact Award, EdTech Digest CEO of the Year and named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year in New England, Waldron's mission-driven passion earned him recognition as a Fast Company Top 25 Social Entrepreneur and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. He received his B.A. from Northwestern and M.B.A. from Harvard.
Waldron works to engage his team and reinforce their strong company values and culture. “I always try to make myself available, positively reinforce the quality work that we seek, and celebrate all of their successes.”
He includes semi-annual anonymous satisfaction surveys, so has a good pulse on their work environment and how employees are feeling about their company. The survey asks them to rate his performance as a CEO, and then he shares those results whether they are good or bad with everyone in the company. His idea is transparency and having the company grow and improve as a unit. “What’s rewarding about this process—and indicative that we are doing something right when it comes to culture — is that 96% of team members said they would recommend working here to their best friend,” affirms Waldron.
Having satisfied employees begins by hiring the best talent. “I interview all prospective final candidates for full-time roles to ensure they will be a great fit to our mission—this meant nearly 400 interviews for me in the last year alone,” exclaims Waldron. “I really believe that what makes us a great company is our outstanding team members.”
Curriculum Associates operates on knowing teachers are the key to learning, and the goal is to make assessment and instruction as easy as possible for them to implement. “Adapting instructional content to the unique needs of students is time-consuming, but we are continually working at fine-tuning our programs to save teachers valuable time and give them the information they need to drive real results for students,” explains Waldron. “We have enormous compassion for educators—administrators and teachers have such complex jobs with incredibly high expectations and stakes. They are charged with educating the nation’s children, keeping them safe, supporting their mental health, and so much more—all on top of managing factors like finances and educational politics.”
The company grounds itself on recognizing the critical and unique relationships with students, parents, and educators. “Each relies on our programs for different purposes, and we work hard to ensure our solutions are tailored to serving their needs,” explains Waldron.
The biggest challenge to implementation is helping their users understand and utilize the many features and functionality of the company’s programs such as i-Ready. As a solution, 41% of their team is dedicated directly to service so the users can receive the training and professional development they need. Rather than randomly call an 800 number, each customer has direct access to a dedicated service partner to help and guide them. Regular communications ensure the service team members are in-touch with how educators are using the programs and with challenges that arise. In the end, this knowledge guides Curriculum Associates’ product roadmap. “These team members are the key component to our success, and the high-quality support they provide helps set us apart as a company,” says Waldron.
A recent success story comes from a former principal who is now an administrator at La Mirada Unified School District. “He told me about a young student who is an English learner and was four levels behind when she started using i-Ready five years ago. This student became engaged and started to feel successful because of the program’s adaptive nature,” explains Waldron.
In one year alone, she moved up two and a half levels. Because of her success with i-Ready, she started believing in herself. The school created an awards program, and she received the highest growth award. “When the young girl was on stage being recognized and feeling accomplished for the first time in her life, the administrator said he was brought to tears. Today, she’s in 9th grade and getting all A’s (with the exception of just one pesky B). For a student to go from four levels behind to that level of achievement in just five years is stunning,” exclaims Waldron.
Considering the aspect of working in educational technology, “I am very interested in things that need to be replicated. In education, we often have great insight into what works, but for a myriad of reasons, from politics to technology, can’t seem to reach a virtuous cycle. My team and I are fascinated by breaking through these challenges. We help our teachers and the seven million students we serve each week experience success every time they use our programs,” explains Waldron. “As we see impressive gains in districts and hear stories like the one, I just shared, we feel ourselves getting closer to this goal. It's an important accomplishment, and I love being surrounded by such smart people who are helping to make it a reality.”
Waldron sees how EdTech gives teachers loads of information to support the needs of students. Instruction tailors to each student’s needs. “It is hard to figure out where a student is, academically, just by talking to them. It is also hard to teach dozens of students in the same classroom who are at different levels. EdTech is also adaptable and revised as needed to make sure the content is resonating and engaging students.”
Curriculum Associates makes 60 updates to i-Ready each year, all to improve the learning experience and at no added cost. Looking ahead, from a general education standpoint, Waldron is curious about the impact voice technologies and Artificial Intelligence are sure to have on the teaching and learning processes. “In three years, 50% of the U.S. will have a tool like Google Assistant, and the costs of these AI devices are getting lower and lower. With these types of voice technologies more readily available and affordable, it’ll be interesting to see how they affect the classroom and at-home learning.” concludes Waldron.