Episode 8- Online Learning Expert Lea Ann Lockard

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In this episode Lea Ann discusses her background in building online school models and supporting current school districts as they innovate and grow. Lea Ann created Elevate-e-Learning.com after an entire career in public school leadership, where she was so fortunate to be in positions that allowed creativity and to lead teams to systemically think outside the box. It has been a fascinating journey for me that spans thirty-three years of building programs to meet student needs based on new (and sometimes old) legislation.  She retired from school leadership in June 2021 with a passion for establishing this consulting company to help principals and school districts navigate successful school choices and innovative instructional methodologies. While her focus over the last fifteen years has been online learning (from credit recovery labs to a statewide public virtual school under the Texas Virtual Schools Network), she has experience in program building across all special programs in public education. You can reach out to Lea Ann on LinkedIn or by visiting her website at elevate-e-learning.com

Transcript

Erin:
[inaudible 00:00:00] Hi, LeAnne. Thanks for joining me this afternoon. How are you doing?
LeAnne:
I’m great, Erin. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Erin:
Of course. Yeah. I’m honored to have you on the podcast. And you and I have had kind of a very similar background, so it was really fun to kind of get to know you over the last six months or so. I think we actually technically met on LinkedIn, but we had a lot of crossovers. So it’s really great to find someone else.
Erin:
It’s kind of rare to run across someone else that’s doing some of the same similar things that I am. So its been fun to get to know you. And that’s where I wanted to start today is just have you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into education and entrepreneurship and what you’re up to now?
LeAnne:
Well, thank you Erin. And I totally agree, it’s wonderful to meet people that share your passion and has a similar background. So I am a career educator. I have had about 35 years. Many of which have been in academic alternative type settings. The last 12 years has been with Texas Connections Academy.
LeAnne:
So I am the founding principal for that school and retired in June as the executive director. So I had the wonderful opportunity of starting that school with 60 students in grades three through eight. And then whenever I left in June, we were preparing for that school to reach 10,000. And I’ve heard from my successor that they have reached 12,000 with a waiting list.
Erin:
Wow.
LeAnne:
So it has been an incredible journey.
Erin:
Yeah. At what year did you start? Because I know you were also pretty early in the online education game as well. What year did you start that?
LeAnne:
Oh yes. I started in 2009. And a lot of my friends thought it was an internet scam. So, “How could you possibly do public school online?”
Erin:
Yep. Mines too. We started the same year. So yeah, that was definitely the thought process there and people were concerned about me leaving my tenured position with the traditional public school district.
Erin:
And so it was definitely a little bit of a leap of faith, but I feel like in retrospect, we knew some things early on that were going to get big. Of course, we couldn’t have done all about the pandemic and everything that was to come. But so before that, were you… Tell me about your background before you switched to the online schools?
LeAnne:
I worked in a school district where we had tried to open a virtual school for about five years before I left. The year before I left, we’d gotten very serious about opening an online school. So we purchased a product and I spent the entire year working on the product. And I didn’t make the kind of headway that I wanted, but that’s is what started my journey in checking out more tools that was available to do this. And through that process, I found Connections Academy.
LeAnne:
So talking about being an early starter in this area, I remember in our computer lab, I worked in Spring Branch ISD at an academic alternative school. We were using a very, very good product at the time. And when the representative from the company came by, she said, “you know, there are models that actually have the teacher engaged with the student behind the system.”
LeAnne:
And I just, I thought, wow, wonder what that looks like, how. Because that was during a time where in your computer labs you wanted to make sure that all the screens were facing inwards so that you could see what the students were doing. And there was a lot of on your feet to try to check out what was happening in the computer lab. So low and behold, just a few years, two or three years after that, I was hired by Connections Academy. And I had the opportunity to work in this model where the students engage with the teacher through the platform.
Erin:
Yeah. So interesting. Did you always know that you wanted to be in education when you were younger or how did you decide to get started on that path?
LeAnne:
Actually, I did not know that I wanted to be an educator. And when I hear stories about people who say, “I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher because when I was little, I would line my dolls and bears up and teach them.” I never did that. So I actually have a bachelor of business administration. And I had a number of careers before I started in education. I had a… I knew someone who was on the school board of the district in which we lived in.
LeAnne:
And she actually contacted me and she said, “LeAnne, there’s this job at the school that I really think you would be good, and I think you should check it out.” Well, it was business. And business many times it’s hard to find a business teacher and my degree was in business. So I checked into it. I decided that this sounded really, really like something I would enjoy. So I went to… Actually went to Corpus Christi state university in Corpus Christi and got my certification too, for career and technology education.
LeAnne:
So I did that for two years, in career and technology education. And then my husband and I moved to the Houston area where I was very fortunate to land a teaching position in a new program in Spring Branch ISD. It was a corporate partnership between Burger King and the school district. And it was an incredible opportunity because there wasn’t, and still, you don’t hear very many corporate partnerships like that.
LeAnne:
But of course, we were the Burger King academy, which many times could be, it was kind of a… The name could be kind of a joke because they would say Burger King high and things of that nature. But there was a lot of innovation that happened there. And we had a lot of other corporate partners as well. Burger King, the corporation was incredible to work with. And then we had a bank that was one of our partnerships too. And so we got to do a lot. When businesses partner with schools, good things happen. So.
Erin:
Yeah.
LeAnne:
The bank partner allowed us to accompany them on some United Way activities where the students got to help build a house.
Erin:
Wow.
LeAnne:
And the students were treated just like the volunteers from the bank, the professional banking officials that were there volunteering. So and yes, again, very, very fortunate to have been in some places of which as you and I have talked before about entrepreneurship in education. I feel like in every, I’ve had so many opportunities to experience that what that can do for a school system firsthand.
Erin:
Yeah. Absolutely. And that makes a lot of sense now, hearing more about your background, about how you kind of transitioned from education to more entrepreneurial things, which we’ll get into here in a second. But I am curious what you did before education. What fields did you work in before?
LeAnne:
Well, I was in retail.
Erin:
Okay.
LeAnne:
I also worked in aircraft maintenance.
Erin:
Interesting.
LeAnne:
My very first job was with the Navy Exchange.
Erin:
Okay.
LeAnne:
So I’m a Navy brat. My dad was a senior chief in the Navy, which also probably tells a lot about me too. When you’re the senior chief’s daughter and also the senior chief’s oldest daughter, you’ve lived a certain kind of life. So, and then I also was a children’s protective services worker. That was the position I had just before I started teaching. And I just want to send a shout out to social workers.
Erin:
Yeah, for sure.
LeAnne:
Teaching is a tough job, but there’s not a job tougher than being a social worker.
Erin:
Oh yeah. I would totally agree. Yeah.
LeAnne:
So I was able to come into a teaching position from children’s protective services where I had worked in schools and with the community to support students who needed something more. And I feel like that that really helped me. I feel like anything that you can do prior to, or along the same time that you’re also teaching is such a benefit to the system, a benefit.
Erin:
Absolutely. Yeah. Well, that’s great. Yeah. And I was just curious, because I know that our backgrounds really do shape who we are and kind of our experiences that we’ve had and our world view. And so that obviously gave you a lot of different kinds of experiences coming into education, which can be really helpful to share that background and knowledge with students as you kind of move through the education world. And so obviously, then you kind of transitioned out of the traditional education arena and moved into entrepreneurship. So tell me about that? How did you get started and what are you doing now?
LeAnne:
I’m sorry, Erin. Can you repeat that?
Erin:
Sure. I was just asking you how you got started with entrepreneurship and education? How you transitioned to that?And what you’re doing now?
LeAnne:
Well, I think for me, it was just, it was a natural progression. So I have the background in business and I’ve had a passion for students and for young people and finding ways to support. And so that has led me into some places that are very innovative.
LeAnne:
I have passion about the entrepreneurship because I feel like at this time our families are looking for more school choice than what exists out there. And in order for them to have their school choice options, more people are going to have to be creative in the types of offerings that they’re pulling together so that the students needs are met.
Erin:
Yeah. That’s great. So what, yeah, tell me a little bit about what you’re doing now and how did you transition to working in… I mean, obviously some of your business background would’ve helped with that, but how did you get started? What are some of the first kind of experiences that you had, maybe the hurdles that you had to overcome when kind of starting your own business after being in education for so long?
LeAnne:
Well, thank you for asking about that because I have had an incredible experience of transitioning from being an educator, a school leader, to being a business owner. So I first thought that as people were contacting me, that I would just make myself available to answer questions and to tell my story of being one of the first adopters of an online school. And that’s led to creating a website and establishing some services that I would extend to those that are going down this pathway of opening schools.
LeAnne:
Something I’ve discovered is that there are not very many resources for educators that want to go into a business field. And I know this is where, what you do is so incredible because you’re supporting educators in being business minded about opening innovative schools. So an area that I feel is lacking is support for people who want to enter the business world as an educator.
LeAnne:
There is a lack of resources for the RFP process, how you find, how you make the right connection with the system in which need your support. So I think after a few years just helping schools and school districts with opening online schools, that I may look towards providing some type of opportunity to support people who want to be education consultants or just get into the business of education.
Erin:
That’s great. I know you and I have had some conversations about kind of my big picture thought process. And I know you kind of share this with me is that we would, traditionally we’ve prepared teachers and teacher preparation programs for kind of one siloed purpose, and that’s just to be a regular teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school. And your pathway kind of would lead you to assistant principal, principal, superintendent, if that’s the pathway that you wanted to take to move up.
Erin:
But now there’s so many other opportunities that are connected to education, to support students and to still be connected with schools. And so I think at the kind of heart of what I do, I’d love to change that mindset to where, as we’re preparing students, young students for thinking about their futures in education, that we provide them with other ideas and just the creativity to think, maybe I could start my own school.
Erin:
Maybe I could do this differently. Maybe I want to be in education and I want to have an impact on students, but what could that look like? Could it be different than what we’re currently sort of just siloing teachers into? And so I’d really like to eventually get into kind of those undergrad programs. I know you and I have kind of looked at some of those masters and EDD programs that are starting to pop up around the country that are helping educational entrepreneurship. And I know we shared that. So I appreciate that you’re thinking about that too.
LeAnne:
Yes. And I’m looking forward to seeing how those opportunities grow.
Erin:
Yeah.
LeAnne:
Because there are so few opportunities to actually get into that professionally.
Erin:
Absolutely. So as you’re thinking about, as you were starting your business, what kind of challenges did you face in the beginning and how did you work to overcome those challenges?
LeAnne:
So first was actually finding an attorney and an accountant. So I had a friend who made a suggestion and I reached out to that person and she’s been helping me throughout the process. So I think the transition, what I would recommend for anyone who may be looking to make this transition is that you need to understand there’s going to be a gap between the point in which you leave your full-time job and you actually start working.
LeAnne:
And you need to just take a deep breath because whenever it catches on, you’re going to be really busy. So, and that’s where I’m seeing right now. I’m just a few months out of leaving my full-time school leadership position. And at this point I have got… And I’m loving having people contact me to talk about what their vision is about the mission, how they’re looking at the instructional needs of students, how they’re thinking about flexibility, how they’re thinking about asynchronous learning.
LeAnne:
The role that personalization plays, how personalization is different from individualization. So it’s wonderful to be… I find it wonderful to be in the place I am right now to able to provide more help and assistance to those that need to have bring a vision to fruition for a highly effective school choice.
Erin:
Yeah, that’s fantastic. And I definitely can relate. And I’ve heard lots of stories about that train addition from having a full-time regular day job to switching over to your own business and that everybody has their own pathway with that. And so it’s great to hear that that’s working well for you now. But I know behind the scenes of that, took a lot of work and probably a couple of full-time jobs with you spending time networking and figuring out things you didn’t know how to do like websites and lawyers and accountants and those things. Just take time to build that knowledge base that you probably didn’t have before.
Erin:
And sometimes it’s making phone calls and just asking questions, even if they seem pretty obvious to maybe to the people that you’re asking, but it’s just important to be able to have the courage to do that because that’s how we learn to move forward. And especially, in areas that we’re not sure of. So it’s fantastic that you’re supporting entrepreneurs. And that just kind of leads into the next question, which is asking you about what advice you would give to entrepreneurs that are thinking about getting started and they’re early in the process. What would you say would be kind of the top few things for them to fill on as they begin their process?
LeAnne:
I think the number one plan or the number one thing that I would say is to have a multi-year plan. So it’s going to change and it’s going to be messy, but I think that you do need to be able to think in terms of your structure where you want to be in a year, three years, and then again in five years.
LeAnne:
And so it’s also interesting. It has been for me, because I started this business with a mission to help school districts. And I actually have more businesses that want to do business in Texas reaching out to me to see how I can help them better inform Texas educators about the tools that are out there.
Erin:
Huh. Yeah, that is interest. And so as you’re kind of thinking about helping the entrepreneurs that are getting started, would you say that there are any resources that maybe you found that were helpful for you in the beginning, books or people that you talked to or specific websites, or what kinds of things did you find that were helpful for you in the beginning?
LeAnne:
Hmm.
Erin:
You mentioned the thinking about your plans in the future. I wondered if you got that from a specific book or if that was just things you’d read and so you knew that was a good idea to have a one year, three year and five year plan?
LeAnne:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So actually, I love to listen to audible. And I do spend a good bit of time on the road. And so I happened to find this book called Consulting Success. And it’s really what took me from the idea of making myself available, just to talk with people, to actually having a business and pursuing it and realizing that the experiences I have that I have had is very valuable to others.
Erin:
Yeah.
LeAnne:
And that I should make myself more available for that. So the book is Consulting Success. The author is Michael Zipursky.
Erin:
Okay.
LeAnne:
And he’s from Canada.
Erin:
Oh cool.
LeAnne:
So, and I’m actually in a course with him, it’s called Momentum. And it is largely asynchronous. I’m very impressed with all of the resources he’s pulled together for this course. And then they also do what they call clarity coaching. I do think that we all need coaches.
Erin:
Sure.
LeAnne:
We all need mentors. You never are going to get to a place of where you don’t need that. That’s your lifeline. That’s what’s going to spark new ideas and give you confidence to move on, to move forward. And I was just looking at some survey data about what the world is expecting in it from educators and in education. And we are becoming a society of reinventing ourselves.
Erin:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
LeAnne:
And so, and do it yourself learning. These are all some of the new concepts that.
Erin:
Yeah.
LeAnne:
As entrepreneurs are pulling their programs together is to think, how can you empower people to reinvent themselves? I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than to be able to reinvent yourself.
Erin:
It is an exciting time, I think for not just for entrepreneurs, but obviously the internet and our technology capabilities have really pivoted in a way that allows us to really do some interesting and unique and innovative things.
Erin:
And so I think that is really exciting. You mentioned your one, three and five year plan. So I’m curious about what you’re thinking for the future. Where are you going to go next?
LeAnne:
Well, thank you for asking about that too. What I would love to do is to establish Elevate eLearning as a resource that’s bigger than myself for the future, where there’s an exchange of ideas and more collaboration. I really love the idea of being a service to others, providing information that is so critical to take the next step.
LeAnne:
When you think about schools, schools are throughout our country, but there is so much thought and innovation that goes into every single one of them. And many times we’re so busy doing the work that we don’t have enough time to collaborate with others about how to improve the work and how to make it more empowering for our students and more satisfying for our teachers and our administration.
Erin:
That’s a great, yeah, great goal. And it sounds like a lot to work on and to build on in the future. And just to kind of lead off of that, I would love for you to just share your information about how our listeners can get ahold of you. I know you have a website and you’re on LinkedIn. So you might say your website and if there’s any other way that you would like for people to reach out to you.
LeAnne:
Yes. So the website is Elevate-e-Learning.com.
Erin:
Okay.
LeAnne:
And that’s also, the company name is Elevate eLearning, LLC. And then I have it doing business as Elevate-e-learning.com. So I really, really like that idea. I’ve got grandkids and it seems like I’m always hearing that commercial about ABCmouse.com. And I just love that. And so Elevate-e-Learning.com.
Erin:
Perfect. And we’ll put it in the show notes too, so that.
LeAnne:
Okay.
Erin:
They can see it visually as well. I appreciate you sharing your time with us. Is there anything else that you can think of that you’d like to share with entrepreneurs, just as final thoughts?
LeAnne:
You’re welcome to reach out to me on LinkedIn or on my website, so. And I’m really looking forward to seeing the work that’s coming together, Erin. I know you’re doing an incredible job. And those that are fortunate enough to have the touch of your course and your program, they are going to be able to share incredible opportunities for their communities.
Erin:
Aw, thank you, LeAnne. I appreciate that. And you’re doing amazing work as well. It was great to get to chat with you for a little bit, and I appreciate your time today. Thanks for joining me.
LeAnne:
Absolutely. Thank you.

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