The View from the Top:
SI&A’s Executive Team takes a breath to talk about the company and its passion
If you walk by Susan Cook’s office at School Innovations & Achievement on this particular day—or any workday, for that matter—your first impression may be that you took a wrong turn and are actually walking past the writer’s room of a hit comedy.
Laughter roars, mutes for a moment then roars again as Jeff Williams, SI&A’s founder, president and chief executive officer, meets with Cook, the firm’s chief operating officer, and Jerry Wooden, the company’s executive vice president. Wooden is the newest member of SI&A’s leadership triumvirate.
Setting the tone for their energetic staff, the team members take their work quite seriously. But themselves? Not so much.
“The biggest takeaway for me when I spent some time looking into this company,” Wooden says, “was how much genuine camaraderie there was. I mean, people will be walking down a hallway and then suddenly slide into one of the seating areas scattered throughout the building for an impromptu meeting—because one of them has an idea and has to talk it through right away.”
“The employees are a testament to what can happen when employees are in charge of their own goals, objectives and work,” he says. “This is truly the healthiest corporate culture I’ve ever been a part of.”
That’s high praise when you consider some of the businesses that Wooden’s been involved with in his more than 20-year career in sales, operations, product development and information technology: The Coca Cola Company, for example, where he was director of area sales, and within the educational publishing industry, where he has served as chief technology and information officer.
This particular afternoon, Wooden, Cook and Williams are discussing Attention2Attendance, or A2A, the signature product-and-service package of The Achievement Initiative, the company’s multiple award-winning platform of education software and solutions.
Cook is saying that when children learn the importance of good attendance in kindergarten, “It introduces them to an important concept: that showing up—for school, work and life itself—makes a difference.”
Studies have shown, she continues, that chronic absenteeism “even as early as kindergarten through third grade, is an accurate predictor that those kids will someday be school dropouts.”
“Well, I think A2A is pretty amazing,” Wooden says. “I was at first skeptical when SI&A said that A2A works 100 percent of the time—but now I’ve seen it in action, and I’ve seen the results. I’m a believer.”
The executive team talks about recent enhancements to A2A. “Most notable to me when I got here,” Wooden says, “was the process for continuous improvement. The company is not so arrogant that it presumes to know what it’s like to be the end user. The people here are quick to listen to customers, look at how to make modifications and keep making improvements that make a better product for everyone.”
“And,” Williams adds, “That’s possible because we have our own software developers, product managers, QA staff and client service teams right here in El Dorado Hills. We don’t outsource anything.”
“Exactly,” says Cook. “It saves time and money because the developers hear directly from the client service team what our clients need and want.”
“We’re also pretty proud of A2A’s SaveRate®,” Williams says. “We’ve coined that term as a real measurement of how effective we are. It means that after the first attendance intervention, a second intervention wasn’t required. We’ve developed an approach that shows some wonderfully positive outcomes. A2A gets kids off the path of excessive absenteeism.”
Cook adds that when we can track the same 700,000 students over three years and get the results we get, no one can call that a statistical anomaly. We can prove that A2A completely changes a district’s attendance makeup.”
Both Williams and Cook are quick to point out A2A and the company’s other products and services and partnerships are the link between studies and action. “We don’t conduct the studies,” Williams says. “We analyze the latest research. Our goal is to take the information, apply our principles and get results for our clients.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the curriculum side of things, as you know,” Wooden tells Williams and Cook. “To measure gains in student outcomes based on a particular curriculum is often impossible. I agree with you about the absolute necessity of showing up. If you’re not in class, you’re not going to learn, no matter how good the curriculum is.”
Cook says that her job with SI&A coincides with her professional background as a results-driven operations person and organizational consultant. “I’m basically a line manager,” she says. “That’s someone whose role in a company is to improve its performance year over year. When you think about it, it’s very similar to being a school principal, whose job is to improve the success rate and learning climate of his or her school every year.”
Williams tells Wooden, “One of my biggest points of pride is The Achievement Initiative itself. It’s the perfect partnership because it impacts everything school districts are trying to accomplish. It’s a process that’s tied to all student outcomes—and whose results always exceed client expectations.”
“What I like about this place,” says Wooden, “is that people quickly turn ideas into actions. Too often good ideas for products end up as something that will be addressed ‘someday’. Here, our ideas are quickly vetted and developed. We end up with products that meet today’s needs and can be improved and expanded in the future.”
“We never presume to know more about a school, students or community than its education professionals do,” Cook says. “What we do know is attendance. We have a product that works 100 percent of the time—one we’d like to get into every school in the United States.”
“We’d be very proud to be the entire country’s back office of education,” Williams says, “and we’re only just beginning.” With that, he jumps out of his chair and leaves Cook’s office, heading across the building to his own office to handle his own portion of SI&A’s creative, nonstop activity.
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