San Diego — The ASU+GSV summit, being staged here this week, is a place where education companies flock to tout new products, boast of new fundraising rounds, and hunt for mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships they believe will separate them in the crowded K-12 market.
It’s also become a venue where companies announce leadership changes and introduce new executives to the throngs of industry peers, competitors, and investors in attendance — all the better for their dealmaking and networking ambitions. And a number of major organizations officially named new CEOs either during the event, or in the run-up to it.
One of those companies was AVID, a nonprofit that provides professional development and other services to schools, which named Thuan Nguyen as its next chief executive officer.
He joined AVID as executive vice president six years ago and since last year has served as president and chief operating officer. He’s also a former assistant superintendent for the Kent School District in Washington state.
Nguyen, who entered the school system as a refugee and an English-language learner, told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview at the event that being named to the new position was “surreal,” given his background and earlier career plans.
“This is not a role that I had aspired to be in,” he said.
“I had made a decision a long time ago not to go after a position like CEO or the executive or a superintendent-type position because I always felt that my value to the organization was more behind the scenes.”
The ASU+GSV event held a smaller-scale event last summer before COVID conditions worsened again, health restrictions were reimposed, and much of society went into retreat. The summit appears to have returned in force this week, with conference organizers announcing in the run-up to the event that it was sold out.
Conference rooms and hallways were packed, and attendees ensconced for planned or impromptu meetings throughout the conference hotel, and in the California sun.
Others organizations naming new top executives at the event, or in the lead-up to it, were Cambium Learning, which announced the appointment of Ashley Andersen Zantop, who has been the company’s chief operating officer, as the CEO and chairman. She will succeed John Campbell, who’s retiring after 18 years with the company and nine years in the top position.
In addition, the board of the research and assessment organization ETS named Amit Sevak as its new CEO the week before ASU+GSV.
Before coming to ETS, Sevak served in a number of top roles in universities, including at the University of Europe in Madrid, and INTI International University and Colleges in Kuala Lumpur. He also provided coaching and capital to ed-tech startups at Mindset Global. (ETS launched an investment arm of its own, ETS Strategic Capital, in 2020.)
Sevak will succeed Walt MacDonald, who has been president and CEO since 2014.
At AVID, Nguyen says his company’s challenge is finding new ways to help educators at a moment when schools and students are still struggling to emerge from the turmoil created by the pandemic.
He also alluded to political efforts in several states and communities to restrict lessons that address racism and sexism.
Other education company officials at the event voiced frustration and confusion over those same policies, which would appear to represent a retreat from years of efforts by districts, and companies, to create lessons that connect with K-12 systems’ diverse, and often economically challenged, student populations.
“We’re in this special critical moment in time where I feel like the need is just astronomical in terms of what is potentially getting lost for our kids, getting lost for teachers,” said Nguyen. “And yet it’s more polarizing today than anything. The word ‘equity’ is somehow a bad word now.”
He wants AVID to help schools “get to a place where we can say every student, no matter of background, has at least one caring adult in their life outside of their parents.”