Before becoming a teacher, Mark Gross had a successful publishing and Internet development career. He has held executive positions at Gralla Publications, Cowles Media Company, Business 2.0 magazine, and FutureNet. But Mark wanted more than just success in business. He left publishing and earned his teaching credential. In 2002, Mark started teaching social studies at Evergreen Valley High School in San Jose, California. He started School Loop as an award-winning classroom project, and founded the company in 2004. Mark is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College. In this interview, he shares his reasons for creating School Loop, his thoughts on education these days—and some good advice.
Victor: Why did you create School Loop?
Mark: To help people keep kids on track in school.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Mark: School Loop is a software service for K-12 schools that helps teachers and staff work together with parents to keep kids in school and on track. I created it and my co-founder, Tom Burns, wrote the software for it.
Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?
Mark: It makes it easy for people to publish and retrieve information about kids in school and to act together on that information. The main benefit is that everyone involved in a child’s education knows what’s going on and can act to intervene before it’s too late.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? Any companies in the same market?
Mark: There are many players in the communication/collaboration space. They range from website companies like School Wires to gradebook companies like Edline. The difference is that we were founded on an idea about how schools should work to help kids and not on an idea for a product like a website, a calendar, or a gradebook for schools.
Victor: When was it developed?
Mark: The first version came out in the fall of 2004. It came about because the school I was teaching in, a small learning community collapsed for lack of funding. I decided that the benefits of a learning community could be realized without much of the expense by using software to facilitate the learning community.
Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now?
Mark: In a San Jose, Calif., classroom. It’s an online service used in 2000 schools in 22 states. Our sales team can be reached at 866-929-5667. More information can be found on our website at schoolloop.com
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Mark: It ranges from free to $4.75 per student per year. There are two basic services, each with two options. Primarily, School Loop Standard is a website system and School Loop Plus is a school-to-home collaborative system.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Mark: A counselor can track a group of students in an intervention program and they can send a congratulatory email with one click to just the students who are trending up, their parents, and all their teachers.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Mark: K-12 secondary schools. Morticians, haberdashers.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Mark: Despite the (criminal) decline in funding, I’m very encouraged by the focus on effectiveness and trends in project-based learning.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating School Loop?
Mark: I became a teacher after 20 years in magazine publishing and managing the Internet side of media companies. I got to see schools, teaching, districts, and so on from a pretty unique perspective and brought to the classroom an idea that while schools are about content, the world is about collaboration. I set out to being a collaborative mindset to my classroom and my relationships with my peers.
Victor: How does School Loop address some of your concerns about education?
Mark: It reduces the cost of, and speeds up the process of, the implementation of reform models like learning communities, making it more likely that kids stay in school and on track.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Mark: Young people (man, that makes me sound old) remain optimistic and curious. It’s up to us to design systems that keep them that way.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of School Loop?
Mark: Software is really just a set of rules that codify an idea about how the world works. Remain open to new software, not just School Loop.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com