After years of iterating, improving and scaling, a CEO emerges prepared.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Harry Aurora heads up a team of educators, administrators, operators, national and international professionals, all unified around the relentless pursuit of advancing student achievement and providing equal educational opportunity to all. His company, iTutor, partners with school districts and college access programs across the U.S. to expand school walls with real-time, online learning using experienced state-certified teachers. “Our teachers are not supplemental support staff, [they] are true ambassadors of education, and are capable of making meaningful and relevant connections with each student under their tutelage,” he says. In this interview, Harry (pictured above with some members of his team) shares his original vision, how this played out, and how his company’s focus on what mattered prepared them for 2020 — and beyond.
What attracted you to education and what was your original vision?
Harry: Education is part of my DNA, stemming from three generations of educators in my family. I saw how much their work meant to them, and how much respect and admiration they drew from those around them.
They changed lives for the better, and I thought, “education is the way forward for me.” I, too, wanted to have a positive impact on others’ lives.
That was my thinking and my drive when I pivoted from the financial sector into edtech – what I call a portal of opportunity — and founded this company. How can we benefit everyone in our orbit – especially teachers and students? How can we have a major positive impact at scale while we build something sustainable for the long term?
‘How can we have a major positive impact at scale while we build something sustainable for the long term?’
My family members, of whom I was so proud, had a major positive impact on many – but only those whose lives they could touch in a brick-and-mortar setting. With this platform, I wanted to use the cloud to uplift the lives of teachers and students regardless of their location or ZIP code.
Since your founding, how have things developed over time – how did this unfold?
I had created some language learning software in 2011. That began our foray into the edtech space.
As we presented our technology and services to education administrators, we learned that schools were struggling with many challenges well beyond language learning. We dug a bit deeper and learned that many school districts faced a significant challenge in providing effective instruction to homebound students — vulnerable kids who couldn’t attend class in the school building because of illness, injury, suspension or other issues.
And that’s how it really got started – as a school district-outsourced provider of effective, live, synchronous instruction to homebound students.
What has been your core business?
From the start, we had both a business-to-business focus, with school districts as clients, and a consumer focus, with students and parents as clients. This was highly unusual for a tutoring company.
When we started, there were many traditional tutoring companies focused on consumers which were all competing on price. Clearly, they were compromising on their delivery model, and on quality, to win more business from consumers.
Theirs was a model I was unwilling to pursue. With my company, I left the price war behind to create a high-level, accountable, secure instructional platform to be used by certified teachers, and to serve that homebound student, the student who was left behind, and without the services they required.
For homebound students, it’s a highly volatile time for them, of course, but also for their families, their teachers and school leaders. The stakes are high and the solution has to be a highly personalized, empathetic approach. And that’s the core of what we provide – with our secure, interactive platform, and especially with our highly skilled certified educators.
‘For homebound students, it’s a highly volatile time for them, of course, but also for their families, their teachers and school leaders.’
Other than our financial targets and KPIs [key performance indicators], what matters most is having a major positive impact where and when it matters most. That’s why our tagline is, “We take student success personally.”
As we gained a foothold in serving homebound students, I kept reflecting on this question: “If we can impact one life today, how can we serve two, then twenty, then 2000?”
My answer came. “Let’s help the schools with technology that they don’t have time and resources to create for themselves. In the meantime, we’ll help them serve students they can’t reach.”
And that’s how we expanded our core business – on the business to business side – beyond serving homebound students to include live, online, one-on-one, small group, and classroom instruction; and credit recovery and academic intervention services via certified, iTutor Educators.
On the consumer side – we have focused on test prep and enrichment courses.
Along the way, it’s taken six years of iterating, improving, gaining accreditation and then scaling. It’s also taken patience, diligence, fine-tuning, and being prepared when the right challenge comes along to serve at scale.
How did your core business prepare you for the 2020 shift to remote and blended?
I think our early decision to focus on helping schools with technology and teacher staffing solutions – solutions they didn’t have the time or resources to create for themselves — uniquely qualified us to serve schools during the pandemic.
It’s as though the past six years have prepared us distinctly to serve schools and become essential front-line workers through this challenging time. And so we created Virtual School from the very same platform that our certified Educators had been using successfully since our inception.
‘It’s as though the past six years have prepared us distinctly to serve schools and become essential front-line workers through this challenging time.’
When the pandemic forced school systems nationwide to move to remote learning, they scrambled to cobble together a technology solution that would maintain student engagement and success. But other conferencing software out there was not created for K-12 learning, or to handle class scheduling, reporting, attendance, and other administrative functions. We know that everyone has been frustrated by the situation.
Our Virtual School value proposition is simple: provide school district clients – and their schools, programs and staff — with a white-label, customized solution to stand up a virtual school overnight. It’s their school – in the cloud. It mirrors perfectly their brick-and-mortar building and classrooms. And we train them and provides tech support for a smooth and fast transition with no complexity.
Virtual School brings together school and class/course management, online, synchronous instruction and learning in one platform. It’s a platform that provides a done-for-you solution for any school wanting its own content, teachers and brand – overnight. And it was designed with the student in mind — the hard-to-motivate, vulnerable student at that!
On the heels of Virtual School we launched Clerisy, which provides relevant, accessible Professional Development, by teachers for teachers. Much of the content, not surprisingly, is how to teach online with the most effective learning strategies to impact student success.
And we call our test prep and tutoring services business Triemity. It offers an array of options from purely asynchronous to blended learning. We help schools serve students with high-stakes test preparation — from state tests to college entrance exams.
Clerisy PD and Triemity test prep and tutoring solutions can also be integrated into, and are available through, Virtual School. And our certified teachers are ready to step in to provide live, synchronous, online instruction for schools struggling with staffing and coverage during the public health crisis.
What do you see for the future of education, and how will you continue to provide value for schools, teachers and students?
I’m optimistic about a permanent place in K-12 education for online teaching and learning – not just because of the pandemic, but because the technology allows students to thrive, regardless of physical location.
But online instruction must be done right – and I humbly believe we have done it right! We’re also constantly learning, refining and improving in real time with school districts as clients. We’re evolving to solve problems and to serve schools and their students, teachers, and families.
‘I’m optimistic about a permanent place in K-12 education for online teaching and learning – not just because of the pandemic, but because the technology allows students to thrive, regardless of physical location.’
With Virtual School as a foundation/platform, I see our presence and role as a trusted partner to schools and school systems nationwide continuing to expand.
Ultimately, our aim is to be a great global citizen serving schools not just during the current pandemic, but for the long term. And in so doing, I hope our company, working with those schools, can help students become the best versions of themselves.
Who particularly in education would you like to communicate to, and what is your message for them?
I would like to communicate with all of the key stakeholders in K12 education – our clients, those we serve.
To K-12 leaders and administrators, my message is this: Turn the tables on the pandemic and embrace online and hybrid instruction.
To teachers: Become the best online educator you can be, but more important, utilize online teaching to form an even closer relationship with your students and their parents.
To parents: Your home has become your childrens’ new classroom, so celebrate your new role as education partners to them and their teachers.
And to students: Take advantage of at-home learning to become even more connected with your classmates, your teachers and your schools, and learn even more with and from them. Pursue your own interests and topics in ways you might not otherwise be able to in the classroom.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org