Christine Willig, a 25-year K-12 industry veteran, became CEO of Illuminate Education following a five-way merger in July 2018. The merger combined assessment and data platforms (Illuminate Education, IO Education, SchoolCity and Alpine Achievement) with an item bank provider (Key Data Systems). Christine’s vision for the new combined entity is one of industry collaboration, a commitment to interoperability, and a singular focus on learning. “I was CEO of one of the five businesses, and the board of the new Illuminate Education asked me to be CEO of the new combined entity. I am a girl,” jokes Willig. “I have to joke because you know how it is.”
Willig held various positions of leadership including CEO of Key Data Systems, and president of the K-12 division at McGraw-Hill Education before joining Illuminate Education. She also built and served as president of the company that launched CODIE-award-winning netTrekker. Association of American Publishers awarded her the Lamplighter Visionary Award in recognition of her outstanding work in the education industry. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.
Willig wants to inspire an environment of continuous improvement so her company can continue to enhance the lives of children. “Illuminate Education is helping education by supporting teachers, informing instruction, engaging students and parents, and enhancing individualized student achievement. Our platform provides data to efficiently and effectively inform instruction,” explains Willig. “Through this, teachers have a useful tool to evaluate student progress, students have access to an individualized learning experience, and parents have new insight on their child’s achievement.”
Willig knows technology improves student outcome because she has seen the possibilities of how valuable data insights contribute to success. “Fundamentally it’s about the kids, and that’s where the passion lies. Technology is just a means to an end. And the best way we can help kids is by supporting teachers. We make their jobs easier by giving them a clearer picture of each of their students. I wake up every morning excited about this."
“Ultimately, the goal of education is to create productive citizens. That is the correct definition because you can get into really crazy arguments about why do we educate. We want children to be literate. We want them to be able to be mathematically literate, to be able to read and be able to compute. Teachers are the main conduit for learning and engaging students from disparate systems while bringing the students together into a structure that teachers can easily manage.”
“We then visualize this for the educator, so they have a complete view of the student, class, school or district,” explains Willig. “This complete view includes the ability to identify struggling students and what resources can support them. With this information placed in front of them, we are confident that educators will be able to make the decisions and take the actions that support each student on a personalized level.”
From the teacher, administrator, parent, and vendor, Willig acknowledges each person plays a role in learning. They are equally responsible for ensuring the success of every student. “At Illuminate, we deliver data and analytics that inform instruction and alert educators when a student may be at risk. Our communication tools keep parents in the loop to ensure their support. Our reports help teachers engage students in their own learning. By bringing the student into the conversation about their strengths and opportunities to improve, the teacher and student can map out a path for improvement together.”
Her primary focus as CEO is listening and learning. “Our first step is always to listen and learn from our customers, and build on that feedback so that we’re delivering what educators need. I consider it my responsibility and privilege to set up each team member to succeed by listening, understanding their skills and abilities, and exploring their talents. As a process and as a people person, I believe the variable in Illuminate’s success is our team members.”
Listening and learning are particularly important when a teacher is Introducing any new tool to the classroom. It comes with a learning curve, especially when data is involved. “We spend a significant amount time during the implementation process and throughout our partnership with a district. We ensure educators become fully trained and supported,” explains Willig. “We offer ongoing professional development programs and an excellent customer service team.”
Illuminate Education works with the districts to determine an implementation plan that includes face-to-face workshops. “We have a fairly robust series of webinars all year long that our partner districts participate in, and we include a lot of thought leadership work. We offer white papers where they come to Illuminate Education to find out how some of these tools are being used to improve learning for children.”
One of the company’s most recent success stories is from the North Kansas City School District. “NKC Schools has a history of providing unmatched support to teachers by investing in effective educational tools, making this partnership a huge win for Illuminate. We’re always excited to announce new relationships, and I’m happy to report that our support team has been blown away by the enthusiasm of NKC Schools’ administrators and teachers,” explains Willig. “This was a proud moment for the team, as we now have the opportunity to serve the district and advance their mission.”
Willig knows ed-tech removes barriers in education by gaining crucial insights on the learning journey of each student, providing a holistic view of each child and their individual needs, driving positive outcomes while working toward equity for every child. “My prediction is that artificial intelligence will revolutionize education,” says Willig.
She is quick to add, “But NOT by replacing teachers – quite the contrary. When you can take all the vast data we have and then synthesize it with machine learning, the insights and recommendations we can deliver are extraordinary. But it is the teachers that will be the most critical part in bringing those recommendations to life with each student.”