Greg McBeth, Vice President of Business Development at BloomBoard, took a few moments to share his experiences and views on education. What influenced him growing up? What frustrates him the most about education today? Read on to learn more:
What did you do in your previous life? Did it influence you to get into education as your corea area of work?
I’ve always had a strong interest in education (particularly STEM) and have been inspired by some amazing teachers, but I knew I didn’t have the patience with kids to be anywhere near as good as they were. I studied mechanical engineering and physics in college, and tried a number of random jobs after graduation: professional poker player, SAT instructor, bartender, aerospace engineer, and network sales architect. I enjoyed certain aspects of each position, but the one thing that was missing was the “it” factor - the drive to get out of the bed in the morning with an excitement and passion about a career that I cared deeply about. By what I can only characterize as bit of initiative and a lot of luck, I found an opportunity at BloomBoard that allows me to put to use my experiences and skills at a company whose mission and goals I truly believe will make a positive impact on the most important equalizer in our society – education.What were your thoughts about the K-12 education landscape while in school or when you just started BloomBoard? How is it different now?
Before joining BloomBoard, I was aware of, but hadn’t developed an appreciation for and understanding of the complexity and enormity of the challenges facing K-12 education. Those challenges quickly became clear upon joining BloomBoard and speaking with hundreds of educators, spending time in the classroom with teachers, and following the conversations between educators, businesspeople, academics, and policymakers in K-12. I think the biggest realization was that there is no silver bullet: the education challenges in the United States are broad and entrenched, and it’s going to take a lot of concerted effort from multiple fronts to address those challenges effectively.
Are there teachers, professors, or mentors that have shaped your focus on education as your lifelong work? Who were they? Do you recall what they said to you or what they did that influenced you?
Absolutely. Two in particular stand out for me: Mr. Gary Lamb, my ninth grade math teacher, and Ms. Carol Sobek, my high school guidance counselor. What affected me most were their tireless efforts to support my dreams in spite of whatever obstacles stood in their path. I have no doubt that my path to success would’ve been much more difficult had they not taken the initiative to go above and beyond to do things that I have no doubt, caused conflicts in other areas of their lives.
What strengths do you have that have helped you in your work today?
Without a doubt, my passion for education and desire to make the world a better place. That sounds cliché, but I quickly realized during my meandering through previous professions that I stagnated quickly due to a lack of personal connection to my work. Working at BloomBoard has been the most challenging period of my career, and there’s no way I would’ve been able to navigate the particularly trying times without being deeply connected to the work that I was doing.
What frustrates you the most about education in America today?
The polarization in rhetoric and policy that seems to mirror American politics at large. A particularly instructive example is the increasingly outspoken discourse about charter schools. Challenges in modern education are complex: charter schools are not going to solve all problems, but they’re also not always ploying to destroy traditional public schools. It’s important to have opportunities to innovate in education (as in any vertical), and charter schools, used judiciously, can be great vehicles for innovation that public schools may be able to learn from. However, to simply create charters and decry traditional public schools without significant thought and analysis about the successes and failures of each, and without an appreciation and understanding for powerful outside factors that affect education outcomes (e.g. poverty) - is doing a disservice to our educators and our students.
If you have an opportunity to build a partnership or alliance with any individual or organization to help further BloomBoard’s vision – who would they be? Why?
There isn’t a single person to which I’d want to hitch our star. That’s not meant to be a cop-out, it’s simply a recognition that it’s important to assess a variety of perspectives to achieve greater success. We unquestionably do better when we have multiple qualified people from different sides of the proverbial aisle who can provide their expertise to help solve big problems.
What’s your definition of success that BloomBoard would achieve?
I’d be incredibly satisfied if in 10-15 years (a lifetime in the edtech space), I was able to sit down with a group of teachers and have them tell me “We still use BloomBoard because it works”.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs and other change-makers if they want to make a difference in K-12 education?
THINK BIG! Teachers and administrators are already busy enough without having to muddle through whether Software A, which supports testing followed by student feedback, is better than Software B, which supports student feedback followed by testing. Incremental changes and small variations work ok in the consumer space because an individual can download or delete an app with ease. For K-12, it takes a lot of coordinated effort and support to roll out a new system. Every year, educators are subjected to the new “flavor of the month” that leads to an understandable fatigue around new technology as a means to solve core challenges. I’d love to see entrepreneurs tackle the big problems that may have a higher probability of failure, but which would be game-changing if they succeeded.