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A Utah CEO’s passion for education turns into big business

School Improvement Networks’ online best-practice videos are a hit in schools.

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"For example, if I feel my questioning is not what I want it be to help students extend their thinking, I can go in and target that area," Johnson said. "If there is a new focus area for the district or the school that I want to brush up on or learn more about, I can go in and target."

Lynette Eichers, a Title 1 supervisor at the school, said it’s that ability to narrow topics to small, manageable chunks that can help teachers instruct children who have individual differences that need addressing.

At a glance

School Improvement Network

1991 » Company founded by the Lintons to offer videotapes of good teachers at work

1999 » An early online presence takes shape

2006 » Company adopts aggressive growth strategy, launching PD 360, as an entirely online, on-demand service

2010 » Owners bring in equity capital and founders John and Blanch Linton retire

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Questions asked of the teacher after the video ends and then more asked a day or so later help teachers focus on implementing the new techniques, she said.

The company also created a social network for educators in which they interact with each other in specific areas or on more general topics.

Robin Farnsworth, who teaches a tech-saavy class of third-graders who use iPads at Woodrow Wilson, said the social networking side has benefitted her. "It’s really opened my eyes to the power of communicating and collaborating with other professionals."

Last year, the Linton brothers brought in some private capital in order to buy out their retiring parents and continue to expand.

Symmetric Capital of Waltham, Mass., saw the growth potential when it invested in School Improvement Network in 2011.

"The company is still in the early days of providing comprehensive teacher-effectiveness systems to schools throughout the U.S.," Gene Nogi, a principal at Symmetric Capital, said in an email.

He declined to say how much Symmetric had invested but said it typically puts in up to $25 million where it sees growth potential.

With the introduction of the online materials, the company’s revenues have grown rapidly.

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"We’ve seen exponential growth every single year," said Chet Linton.

Still, the market is potentially much bigger. Linton cited studies that show that the average expenditure in the U.S. on professional development is $4,500 per year per teacher. The goal of School Improvement Network is to provide its services for less than $200 per teacher, with the average now from $125 to $150, he said.

The company has three full-time crews that go around the country filming experts and teachers at work inside their classrooms. Overall, it has 202 employees, almost all in Utah. Since January 2011, the company has been hiring about 10 employees a month.

School Improvement Network executives believe it has the bigger market share among companies that offer somewhat similar professional development programs, Linton said. Nationally, 13,617 schools use its products.

The company recently initiated a "soft launch" of a new product, an interactive electronic book in which various media can be embedded but also around which there can be a number of conversations occurring among readers.

Without being specific, Linton said the company has plans for more products.

"We want to get to every school," he said.


Twitter: TomHarveySltrib

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