More than 40 million people worldwide regularly log into PowerSchool accounts to check on the attendance and academic progress of students in kindergarten to 12th grade.
The company serves 500 clients in California alone, from Cristo Rey and Christian Brothers high schools in Sacramento to districts such as Folsom Cordova Unified and Roseville’s Dry Creek Joint Elementary.
So when the company’s new chief executive, Hardeep Gulati, moved to the region eight months ago, he thought local residents would know the company was based right here. Boy, did he get a surprise.
“PowerSchool has been a very innovative company from the time it was founded, and it actually was founded in Folsom back in the late ’90s,” Gulati told me. “Not a whole lot of people know that we’re the No. 1 K-12 technology player. ... Everyone thinks of the Bay Area when you mention technology. We’re one of Sacramento’s best-kept secrets.”
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PowerSchool founder Greg Porter incubated his company in the Sacramento region because his initial angel investor was based here and wanted to be near his investment. The company attracted $31.5 million in venture capital before it was sold to Apple Computer in 2001 for $62 million in stock. The company has since changed hands twice, selling to Pearson Education for an undisclosed sum in 2006 and then in June to Vista Private Equity for $350 million.
The private equity firm asked Gulati, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s highly regarded Wharton School of Business, to lead its Folsom-based acquisition. Gulati had been running another of Vista’s companies, SumTotal Systems based in Gainesville, Fla., where in three years, he rose from executive vice president to CEO. That business offers software and services that help manage workforce education, talent management, HR, planning, analytics, payroll and benefits.
Upon appointing Gulati to the position, Vista CEO and Chairman Robert F. Smith said, “Hardeep has proven experience leading companies through periods of growth, and we are confident that he and his talented leadership team will successfully execute the next phase of PowerSchool’s growth plan and have an even greater impact on education.”
Since arriving in Folsom, the energetic Gulati has presided over the acquisition of two complementary companies and PowerSchool’s move into a new headquarters right along the picturesque Lake Natoma bike trail. His team has added 75 new employees in the last seven months to its team of roughly 300 at the Folsom office, he said. Overall, PowerSchool employs 670 people in California, Virginia, Texas, Maryland and Ontario.
“We’re growing,” he said. “We have about 60 openings on our website as we speak. ... We have people who are joining us from other companies in the region but also from the big universities – Davis and Cal State. They’ve got great talent pools.”
Gulati said he’s looking for people who are passionate about education and who see technology as a tool that parents, administrators, students and teachers all can use to ensure children are getting a solid foundation in all education concepts.
“We manage all the student data – grades, attendance, absences, health information, their clubs. Students can log on. Parents can log on as well,” Gulati said. “Imagine a parent and student getting real-time information that their assignment was not turned in that day. The kids who forgot to turn in an assignment, now they know they won’t get credit for all the work they did. They can make sure their work actually gets recorded in the system.”
Cristo Rey High School Principal Andreas Agos told me that he uses PowerSchool as both an administrator and as a parent. His son Thomas Agos is a sophomore at Jesuit High School, which also uses PowerSchool, and Cristo Rey started using it this year.
“The big thing for us was being able to look at our historical data,” Agos said. “Like all schools, we want to be as data-driven as possible. I wanted to be able to go back and look at each semester, each grading period and look, for example, at how many of our students were on honor roll and how many of our students were below a 2.0 and really track that data. And, are there any trends within those trends? The previous product wouldn’t allow us to do that. It was just a much simpler system.”
Agos said he’s also been happy to see that software programs from other vendors are compatible with PowerSchool’s platform, something that didn’t always work with the past student information system.
“For example,” he said, “our emergency messaging system is done by a separate company, but it just links right into PowerSchool so that our data from PowerSchool flows over to that program. If I need to send an emergency message out or an update about an upcoming event, I know that the information is correct because the two programs are linked.”
In fact, roughly 140 different companies have integrated their software with PowerSchool’s platform, Gulati said, and the company is constantly looking to strengthen those bonds.
“We want a seamless experience for our customers,” Gulati said. “The last thing we want is for teachers to have to access multiple systems – one to take grades and attendance, one to hand out assignments, one for collaboration. It becomes very difficult. Fifty percent of the teachers’ time gets wasted in managing different systems.”
Gulati said that PowerSchool’s system also allows teachers and administrators to track which concepts pose stumbling blocks for students. They can track this historically for a broad-based group, he said, or they can drill down into where an individual student stumbled. That way, he said, a teacher can offer worksheets to help the students grasp an idea.
“The teacher knows the grades and the performance of the student over time,” he said. “Through assessment, they also know the competencies they have, what is resonating with them. The teacher is able to provide an individualized plan, so the kids know, ‘OK, this is the area you’re struggling on and the help you need.’ But broadly, it helps teachers know whether how they taught something is resonating.”
PowerSchool acquired Interactive Achievement, based in Roanoke, Va., to add its award-winning assessment and analytics, Gulati said. The company purchased InfoSnap in Austin, Texas, to bolster the capabilities of its student registration program.
“I recently moved from Florida, and I had to go fill out paper-based forms to register my kids for school,” Gulati said. “Sometimes, you have to fill out forms twice because emergency cards get lost. … We provide digital enrollment so schools can actually track all the information. Parents, right from their computer or mobile phone, can enroll their kids.”