Don Scheeler, executive vice president of specialized services at Learn It Systems, has more than 25 years of experience in the education industry. He has leveraged that to broaden the range of services Learn It provides, tapped large markets such as autism and made strategic acquisitions in a quest for rapid growth.
“Autism is multibillion dollar opportunity,” he told citybizlist’s Edwin Warfield in an interview. “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to do roll-ups but also expand our services from an organic standpoint as well.”
Before joining Learn It, Scheeler spent 15 years with the Sylvan/Educate family of companies, and served as the president and CEO of Progressus Therapy, a national provider of school-based therapy, and the general manager for the higher education startup 2U (formerly 2tor).
Scheeler earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Business Management from the Johns Hopkins University.
EDWIN WARFIELD: The focus is still on the students and the learning.
DON SCHEELER: In 2007, Michael Maloney the CEO started the business. He and I have worked together at Sylvan for many years and it was kind of a spinoff of what some of the things that we were doing at Sylvan. He was very involved with that and understood the intricate details and then he had a clean slate to start Learn It Systems and from the ground up and put in great systems, which we still use today in different ways, making sure that each student that they were working with after school was making progress. He can wake up or the principal could wake up the next day and see how those students were doing in aggregate. We could measure the progress that a particular teacher with a 4:1 or 6:1 ratio was having with those students.
We really monitored the progress of those students. We could get a sixth grade student who was reading at the first grade level get 40 hours and in some cases get them up, you know, a grade or two grades in that time frame from a reading prospective. It is harder to go from a third grade reading level to a sixth grade if it is a sixth grader but we moved the dial from that first grade level dramatically over 40 to 50 hours. He built those systems to monitor and really grow dramatically. His partner then wanted out and Milestone came in a minority standpoint in 2010 and that is when I joined the board and I just ended working with Chip at 2U.
We then looked at where the funding was going to go with the Obama administration and Arnie Duncan. They were giving waivers to states so they didn’t have to provide these afterschool tutoring for students and we started to look in different avenues of where we could utilize our expertise. I had also done the four years of Progressus, had a lot of special education background, had a lot of networking and so I came on board. We worked in a couple of strategy sessions in 2010 and 2011 to put a new strategic approach to it and our first acquisition was in 2012 with Desert Choice Schools into that special education arena.
At that point, I was consultant and then in 2013 moved into a full-time role to really hit the accelerator, look at other organic opportunities but also some acquisition opportunities to round out the services that we offer. We doubled it from where it had gone from the No Child Left Behind even though they had gone down a little bit. We are up dramatically from its highest point and we said, hey, look there is a huge, huge need for the services that we are providing, we are going to need additional funds, we are going to need a partner that also understands the space as well as we do and can help us think about this, help us network to the right people, because we are now going to get more into healthcare and education, and that was a little bit outside of our expertise, Mike and mine and others.
We have great leadership in Justin Fitch and some other folks in the organization. We then looked for that partner. One of the LOR partners was on my board at Progressus. So he and I had been speaking on and off for years just letting him know what I was doing but also more importantly what Learn It was doing and that was of real interest to him and LOR because they were looking in the space that we were headed in for three or four years before they pulled the trigger so we have been talking to those guys for a couple of years.
We put a book out in August of last year, got 100 MBAs, which really shows that a lot of people are looking at the behavioral management and autism space and they kind of worked with us through the process and then we closed in May. We are not quite a year into it. It has been a great relationship, great partnership, they have brought a lot of information and expertise to the table as have we from an operational standpoint. So the mirroring of those together has gone very, very well for us. There are a lot of opportunities for us over the next couple of years.
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