Turn lemons into lemonade. In 2008 when the economy crashed, private schools were struggling. One of my business partners, who was a Wharton grad, challenged me to come up with three new ideas that would enable us to pivot and get through the tough times even stronger.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Brent Goldman.
Dr. Brent Goldman has been a leader in private school education since 1996. A former public school teacher, Brent is the co-founder and CEO of Xceed Preparatory Academy (XPA), a private school with four locations in Florida and Xceed Anywhere (XA), a private virtual school. Both schools serve students in 6th through 12th grades, focusing on flexible, personalized learning approaches and a supportive, innovative environment
Brent co-founded and served as Head of School at The Sagemont School in Weston for 21 years, and also co-founded Smart Horizons Career Online Education. He earned both a Doctor of Education and Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in Government from William & Mary.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Both of my parents are life-long educators. I told them, when I was about to leave home for college, that I would never do what they do for a living.
As it turns out, not only have I also been a life-long educator, all of our education ventures have been with them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be on time.” — Bill Parcells Hall of Fame football coach.
Punctuality is one of my biggest pet peeves. I strongly believe being late is disrespectful to other people. If I schedule a meeting for 10am I want everyone to be ready to go at least 5 min before.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Michael Lewis’s books and podcast series because he gives you a broad understanding of how things work and why things happen; he helps readers and listeners understand trends.
For example, “Moneyball” changed sports and “The Big Short” explained the financial crash. One of the things he has focused on in the pandemic is why we’ve done so poorly compared to other countries; it’s really interesting to hear his perspective.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I started my career as a public school teacher and then, for the next 25 years, my partners and I started both brick and mortar and virtual schools. In 2017, we launched Xceed Preparatory Academy. The genesis was to blend both of those models into one school.
I have a real passion for teaching and learning, but I also recognize that there is a lot of room for innovation. With Xceed Preparatory Academy and now, Xceed Anywhere, we are able to bring that model to students looking for a flexible and personalized education that meets their needs, passions, goals and schedules.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
We knew something was happening about two weeks before the shutdown. The upside was that we already had online curriculum which would allow our kids to work from home — the hardest part was the easiest for us.
The more difficult aspect was bringing the synchronous, on-campus experiences to students at home. We chose Microsoft Teams because we were already using it school-wide, so we spent two weeks preparing our teachers and students, allowing teachers to set up small and large group training sessions, answering questions and troubleshooting before we were all off-campus. Parents received letters with thorough information and instructions, teachers were given Google Voice numbers and students were fully prepped to learn at home.
Because we spent those two weeks mobilizing, it was very seamless for us as soon as we had to shut down. By the Monday after shutdown, we were rolling. We increased our communication with families, we started tracking student engagement much more because we weren’t seeing the kids face-to-face, we were in constant communication with parents and we were really watching educational trends to ensure we were on the right path.
We then did a parent survey three weeks in and received extremely positive feedback. Many of the comments were, “Compared to my friends’ kids at different schools, this was amazing. It was seamless!”
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
That first or second week of shut down, I had to drive four hours, roundtrip, to pack up my son from college, so I had a lot of time to think. That’s when the idea for Xceed Anywhere came to me.
I thought, “We have corporate accreditation through Cognia. We’re doing a virtual school right now. We have this.” The next steps in the process were fairly easy: we had to ensure that our accrediting body would approve a virtual school, we had to hire the right, experienced and engaging teachers and then we simply had to set up our website and begin marketing the new school. This is the third virtual school my business partners and I have opened, so we’ve been there, done that and know how to do it.
What’s interesting is that our corporate strategy changed; we pivoted because a virtual school was not in our business plan. However, we saw the need and demand for top-notch, private, virtual education, so we worked very hard between the end of March and the end of June to get Xceed Anywhere launched.
How are things going with this new initiative?
We launched Xceed Anywhere on July 1, 2020 and, within four months, we’ve enrolled 50 students from all over the U.S., as well as a few international students. The school has its own teaching staff, a head of school and admissions director, and we just became the first virtual school to partner with the University of Pittsburgh and Outlier.org for a remote, dual enrollment partnership.
From a long-term perspective, we understand that people are going to change. Not all students want to rush back to a 5,000-person, on campus high school. I feel that we are well-positioned to serve students worldwide.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
For 25 years, I’ve worked with my parents, with is an anomaly in this field. Both of my parents are lifelong educators: dad was the Dean of Education at Nova Southeastern University and my mom owned several daycare centers.
In 1995, my parents were approached by the city of Weston to open a private school. I was 27 and a teacher in public schools and my parents asked me to help launch and run the new school. How could I say no?
My mom retired in 2007, so I started Xceed Prepartory Academy and Xceed Anywhere with my father and a family friend, Steve Margolis. Steve has an MBA from the University of Chicago and was one of the top builders in Florida, so he brings an outstanding depth of business knowledge to our schools.
In addition to my parents and Steve, my business partners at The Sagemont School were Wharton grads, not educators. I learned business from them; I hadn’t taken one business course in my life. I’ve been fortunate to not only learn from educators, but also successful business mentors. For example, I’ve had to learn sales, marketing, PNL statements, etc., and I learned that, well, I must constantly learn! When we first started our schools, marketing was in the local paper and the Yellow Pages. Things have changed, and it’s imperative that I keep on top of trends.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
There are very few calms. The biggest challenge we’ve had is evangelizing the concept that school doesn’t have to look like a student sitting in a seat from 8–4. It can be flexible and personalized. This is not how I went to school or how my parents went to school. My wife didn’t understand the concept at first, but when I told my kids about it, they got it; that’s how they wanted to go to school.
For example, we have many elite athletes that travel the world, but still need to study and graduate. They also want the social aspect of working together with classmates and forming close bonds and we can provide that for them; it just looks different in our model. But different isn’t bad: it’s innovative while meeting the needs of our students.
The way we teach and engage students not only works for elite athletes — it works for performers, high achievers, teens with social anxiety and/or families who travel frequently. Xceed Anywhere also makes a lot of sense to families because students have been doing some form of virtual or remote learning since March, but what we offer is not what some parents have told us is, “Zoom High.” We’ve learned what students, parents and teachers want and have adapted our model to meet the needs while still staying true to the mission and vision of Xceed.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I started my first private school at 28 years old. I thought I knew everything and could get everything done on my own, but I quickly learned that was not possible or in the best interest of our organization.
- Don’t get too high or too low. I learned this lesson from my college football coach. Staying even keeled has been a huge part of my leadership style.
- Turn lemons into lemonade. In 2008 when the economy crashed, private schools were struggling. One of my business partners, who was a Wharton grad, challenged me to come up with three new ideas that would enable us to pivot and get through the tough times even stronger.
- Always follow your gut with tough calls. I learned at an early age that sometimes it is better for the organization to cut your losses early.
- No, the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes you need to part ways with the customer because you’re not a right fit for each other.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Exercise. I’ve always loved exercise, but I’ve been doing it more. I also started back up with golf after a six year-hiatus; it’s a great, socially distant activity
Before the pandemic, I would often clock 100 miles a day driving between all four of our campuses. During that time, I would listen to podcasts and audio books. So now, I’m motivated to go for a walk twice a day to get my listening and learning in. It has been a great change of pace for me and the walks have definitely relieved some stress.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I believe one of the largest problems that we have today in K12 education is the inequality in access to high speed internet. This problem is being exasperated during the pandemic.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Probably Barack Obama. I find his story so interesting and would love to get his thoughts about current and future events.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!