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As more and more applications, digital and online learning tools gained traction in K-12, the duo realized that the teachers and administrators at the Hamilton City School District were struggling to manage close to 12,000 Chromebooks and multiple software products being utilized in the district. It was also a daunting task to ensure that the right people had appropriate access to the right digital tools, on a regular basis. Teachers were spending a lot more time than necessary logging in different applications or resetting their passwords. Rose and Vander Veen created a single sign-on platform along with growing number of software solutions, replacing hard-to-use and expensive software that did not provide access to the underlying data required.
It was only a matter of time before the solution became popular in the district. With an aim to commercialize and drive value for the solution, they laid the foundation of Abre, bringing in a seasoned startup professional Damon Ragusa as the CEO. Ragusa draws on his rich technical and executive experience in the areas of data science and software development to drive innovation and growth at Abre. Twenty months in, Abre is experiencing rapid growth for its unique way of supporting the entire learning community.
In an interview with CIO Applications, Ragusa shares insights on the company’s solutions and the unique value proposition they bring to the table.
What are the main pain-points Abre is solving in the education landscape?
Abre was founded for three fundamental reasons— essential aspects that the existing edtech software missed to address. Firstly, school districts adopt many different software products—many are poorly designed using old web standards—whereby teachers and administrators have to learn a whole new product just to use a few of the features. Abre was born to build a better experience for the teachers and administrators, making them more efficient in what they do. The second reason is the complexity involved in data capture. A lot of vendors sign pledges pertaining to interoperability, yet fail to open their platforms and make data, features, and functionality available to the school districts. On the other hand, Abre is able to consolidate the data together, not just within our apps but also with other vendor software that we integrate. The last concern is focused on the savings. Instead of using multiple products, we recognized the efficiency gained through building various functionalities on a single platform; as a result saving a significant amount of investment. We want schools to spend less money on software they use more. We believe this is the best path to ensuring that software technology supports improving outcomes and unleashing the potential of everyone in the learning community.
Could you shed some light on the role of data analytics in your solution?
We do not view data analytics as a stand-alone capability, but rather as a means to an end—be it a teacher, student, or an administrator—to help them boost their performance. All our solutions are empowered with a layer of data analytics.
Tell us about the apps that you provide starting from learning management, school management, community management and data analytics and its purpose in the entire learning process.
Our platform supports multiple apps. These apps work in tandem to provide software solution for staff, students, parents and community partners. In contrast to the big education software companies in the marketplace today, we chose not to build a single, massive software system. That makes Abre nimble and flexible. As an example, Abre’s learning management capabilities isn’t a single software program but rather a solution comprised of five to six individual apps. Schools or districts can pick and choose from these apps to build their own complete learning management system or to augment their existing LMS. Or another example is our solution for professional development. It is a highly customizable solution that meets a school or districts specific requirements. It provides great flexibility for professional growth, making sure teachers’ education credits are captured, tracked, and recorded to their profile. While districts continue to seek better ways to manage students, our apps can be leveraged for managing school forms, student plans, behavior, and more. The personalized student plan management enables administrators and teachers to create and track individual student plans, where parents can also use these apps to see the history and the growth of a student against those plans. These are just a couple of examples of solutions Abre can provide for staff, students, parents and community partners.
How does the company help the teachers in their growth and tap the progress rate of the students?
At Abre, we believe in augmenting and customizing the professional development capability, instead of merely loading in digital courses and allowing teachers to take the courses and earn credits. We offer our calendar features to teachers, which allows them to earn credits for things that inspire them—be it attending a seminar, or reading a book related to their work or even meeting one of their mentors. It’s all about empowering the teachers to customize and personalize professional learning in a simple way. We also ensure the entire process can be managed and tracked seamlessly by teachers as they grow and feed that information back to administrators.
From the students’ perspective, our simple yet powerful student app is specifically designed to deliver value to teachers, administrators, and parents. In essence, it is an intersection of all the information across our applications and integrations with third parties. It provides a 360° view of the students in one place, where teachers can easily access any information in a mere two clicks. From the students’ contact information, schedule, attendance record, student plans and behavior issues to their grades, test scores, and student achievement both in the school and outside, the app presents all the information in one place. In lieu of maintaining five different spreadsheets and pulling data together, teachers can now access student data and progress in just two clicks and gather the intelligence to drive informed decisions. The same data is made available to parents, helping them track the progress of their kids.
What are the differentiating factors that give Abre a competitive edge?
Most edtech companies develop massive software with a plethora of functionalities and features. However, this comes at a price, as it is a time-consuming process for a teacher to learn how to use the software, let alone being an expert in it. At the end of the day, teachers choose to become teachers—not to juggle with multiple software but to help students grow. With Abre, we didn’t want to build a massive and bloated piece of software that somebody had to spend valuable PD hours to learn, in order to use 10-20 percent of it. Users can customize our product to leverage 100 percent and learn to use it with a five-minute video. This allows for a brilliant way to combine individual apps and to get the job done efficiently with the utmost flexibility. Put simply, we focus on building solutions that teachers want to use.
What does the future hold for Abre?
Moving forward, we are bringing a whole new role—the community member—into the Abre platform on behalf of our customers. As an example, we have developed a Partners app that enables learning partners to engage with schools to securely exchange information about their mutual students. This exchange benefits both the school, the learning partner, and parents as the app provide increased transparency on the effectiveness of a learning partner’s program. Along with our great tools for Parents and future capabilities for teachers and students to build shareable portfolios, we see tremendous value in creating greater engagement between schools and the communities they serve.