Stuart Udell, Former K12 Inc. CEO, to Take Helm of Achieve3000

Associate Editor

The long-time CEO of Achieve3000 has stepped down and veteran ed-tech company leader Stuart Udell has accepted that role effective April 30, the company announced.

Saki Dodelson, who has led digital learning company Achieve3000 as CEO since 2000, will continue to be involved as a major shareholder in the Lakewood, N.J.-based company that she co-founded. Achieve3000 provides a literacy platform that delivers adaptive, differentiated instruction. Its cloud-based solutions serve nearly 3 million students worldwide, according to the company.

Stuart Udell, ceo of K12, Inc.
Stuart Udell

Adam Berger, who chairs the Achieve3000 board and is managing director of Insight Venture Partners, a majority investor in Achieve3000, said in a release that Udell was chosen “with Saki’s support,” and touted Udell’s operational experience. Udell most recently ran K12 Inc. for two years, until resigning in February after the virtual charter school provider, a public company, redefined his responsibilities.

Asked in a phone interview about his plans for Achieve3000, Udell said: “There’s no question that literacy will be the foundation of what we do.” The initial focus will be on “advancing the product to other schools [and] accelerating growth again, making sure we’re continuing to serve kids well.” It will also be important to build in product “functionality and features, and make sure we don’t miss a beat with a charismatic leader like Saki stepping out.”

At the same time, “I think the organization is open to expanding into other areas,” Udell said. “We’ll follow our customers’ lead on that.” If the company’s partner schools—of which there are thousands—indicate that “they are interested in interdisciplinary products, we’ll follow that lead.”

Achieve3000 is “blessed with investors who are interested in deploying capital if it makes sense, and they’re also interested in the double bottom line: helping kids and as a result building a good business,” said Udell. That could translate into merger-and-acquisition activity as an avenue to accelerating growth, he said. A venture capital and private equity firm, Insight Venture Partners invests in high-growth technology and software companies. It has raised more than $18 billion and invested in more than 300 companies.

“Stuart is passionate about the mission of educational equity and comes with broad experience using technology to bring education solutions to diverse learners,” said Berger, in the release. “He has an impressive track record of managing big teams to meet lofty goals, around both student outcomes and business success.”

Udell brings more than 25 years of experience in K-12 businesses to Achieve3000. Before being CEO of K12, Inc., he served as chairman and CEO of Catapult Learning; CEO of Penn Foster, a provider of high school, college and career-oriented online learning, which he sold to the Princeton Review; division president at Renaissance Learning; and president of Kaplan K12 Learning Services. Udell also serves on the boards of the National Dropout Prevention Center, the Successful Practices Network, and the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning.

While he was CEO of K12, Inc., the largest commercial operator of online schools in the United States came under scrutiny for the lackluster academic record of its schools in many states. (See Education Week’s reporting on issues with K12-operated online schools in Indiana, and the company’s political influence, in our in-depth series on shortcomings in the cyber charter world, for example.) The company argued that measures of its performance fail to account for many students’ longstanding academic problems. Its programs appeal to parents of children who have struggled in traditional schools, the company said.

As for Achieve3000, Udell said he has “long admired” the company, going back to “the early 2000s” when Dodelson asked him to be a reference when she raised her Series A funding. “She had this great little tool that I had a chance to see and was impressed with,” he said. At the time, Udell was president of Kaplan K12 Learning, and he thought the early research results on efficacy were promising.

From his history in the K-12 industry, Udell said the two positions that most closely translate to what leading Achieve3000 will mean are his appointment as CEO of Catapult Learning, when he took over for the founder who had run the company for 38 years, and his two stints with Renaissance from 1997 to 2001 as division president, then again when he joined the board when Permira, a European private equity firm, purchased that company in 2011 and sold it in 2014.

Stepping in for the founder, Udell said “what you really want to do is, on the one hand, put your own personality and thumbprint on the organization,” while on the other hand leveraging the founder’s knowledge and experience as “a trusted advisor.”

Renaissance is also a “literacy platform,” built with different sources of content, but trying to do the same thing: “get kids to read in their zone of proximal development to accelerate [academic] gains,” he said.

Asked about international growth plans, Udell said Achieve3000 has made “some decent inroads” into the international market already, but he sees it as an expansion opportunity. “Particularly the way the product is built, where you’re taking topical content and adding adaptivity on top of that,” he said. The platform can take top stories from around the globe and make them pertinent to learning readers. “The challenge with international is not to build a big, heavy footprint, but to find a nimble way to do it with the right partners in specific geographical domains.”

In the prepared announcement, Berger praised Dodelson for her unparalleled success “as an entrepreneur who set out to change the world and actually did so.” He continued, “Saki led Achieve3000 from an idea to a global business, helping millions of kids and adults to read and improve their lives forever. Saki is in rare air. She now joins an even more elite club of entrepreneurs who step aside confident that their hand-picked, next generation of leaders can grow from the foundation they have built.”

Achieve3000 offers patented differentiated instruction for grades PreK-12 and adult education designed to reach students at their individual reading levels, with 12 levels in English and eight in Spanish.

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