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30 Best Leaders to Watch 2022

Where Every Child is Known: Edkey® Inc.

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“Because we have identified that each community has its own set of unique wants and needs, we don’t push a single model of education.”

Mark Plitzuweit, President and CEO of Edkey® Inc., has been a model leader in education for nearly three decades. He has been the recipient of multiple awards in both K-12 and higher education environments. In his current role at Edkey® Inc., Mark has empowered his teams by providing professional autonomy, paired with personal accountability, across all levels of the organization. Increased student outcomes, fiscal stability, and student population growth are all examples of the fantastic progress Edkey® Inc. has made under his leadership.

Edkey® Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides educational and operational support for 26 public charter schools and programs. It has grown from around 5,000 students in 2016 to approximately 11,000 students in 2021. Student outcomes, across multiple metrics, have increased significantly in that same time. This is due explicitly to the commitment of the company’s staff, in following through on their belief that the best education is “Where Every Child is Known”, which refers to each student’s specific needs in the classroom.

Edkey® Inc. exclusively operates in the state of Arizona.

The Silicon Review contacted Mark Plitzuweit about how distinctively Edkey® Inc. provides high-quality educational services to institutions and makes a difference. Below is an excerpt.

Head to Head with Mark Plitzuweit, President and CEO of Edkey® Inc.

Q. What’s your story? And tell us what motivated you to establish Edkey® Inc.

Edkey® Inc. was established long before I joined the organization. I am the 3rd CEO since 1994 and have been here since the spring of 2016. I have over 27 years of experience in education and have held multiple positions, from classroom teacher to college president, to my current role as President and CEO of Edkey® Inc. We are a support organization for 26 unique K-12 schools and programs that operate exclusively in Arizona, each school and program with its exclusive mission and vision. At the core of what Edkey® Inc. is, we strive to be what the communities we serve want. Therefore, we build programs that cater to the specific needs of each community.

Q. Who do you look up to and why?

There are several individuals that I look up to, for various reasons. When it comes to leadership, Simon Sinek and Angela Duckworth are two that resonate with me, specifically regarding their views on human capital and perseverance. As leaders, we are only as strong as those that we entrust to operate the intricacies of our organizational model. Getting the right people, in the right places, doing the right things, for the right reasons is what is most beneficial and efficient for all stakeholders in an organization. Even when things may not always go as planned, it is imperative that we persevere, keeping eyes on the missions and goals, especially when it comes to doing what is best for students. Along the same lines, several individuals inspire me. The employees of Edkey® Inc., that show up day in and day out, always doing what is best for students and working within our schools are a true inspiration. They are unsung heroes, every…single…one of them!

Q. Where does Edkey stand at the moment relative to other participants in the industry?

At this moment, education is both transformative and fickle. Edkey® Inc. has been on the receiving end of both. With everything that has happened over the past few years, we have been very fortunate to see academic growth, student population growth, and financial viability all increase dramatically since 2019. These are not the typical results that are being experienced in the educational space, countrywide. One significant initiative that has come forward is the increased parent involvement in education. Edkey® Inc. welcomes the conversations to always do what is best for students. While many are working on silencing those parent voices, we continue to ask “what can we do to help?”

Q. How do you fulfill the missions of institutions that your company offers educational services to? And how do your services promote the improved quality of individual and family life?

These two questions/statements are interrelated. Edkey® Inc. is a support organization, not a management organization. We pride ourselves in meeting the communities we serve, where they want us to be. Because we have identified that each community has its own set of unique wants and needs, we don’t push a single model of education. The educational services we support are in finance, marketing, instructional support, professional development, transportation, and information technology to name a few. By providing these resources (and many more), families can be assured that we are providing the best possible environments and support for their students.

Q. That’s not all Edkey does. What are its other focus areas?

Focusing on special populations is also a key to what Edkey® Inc. is. We are the only Charter School Group that we know of that has a charter specifically for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. The students within this school typically start school lagging their hearing peers in language by about three years. The amazing staff at our Sequoia Deaf School support each of the students based on their individualized needs to help them reach their maximum potential. We also have a program for students with Emotional Disabilities. These students struggle with managing their behaviors in a traditional classroom setting. The KELLY staff take pride in helping students understand their behaviors, react appropriately, and return the focus to academic improvement. Another school with a very distinct population is our Children First Leadership Academy. This school is more of a traditional setting; however, the student population is approximately 80 percent homeless. This population requires as much consistency as possible and our staff takes extra strides to help those students experience as much success as possible. Also, our transportation department works tirelessly to adjust bus routes as needed when these students become displaced. This campus also has a donation room which is supported by The Children First Foundation that provides food, clothing, and daily essentials for our families. I would consider Edkey® Inc. to be the one-stop-shop, encompassing all things educational for students and families in Arizona.

Q. How do you plan to counter challenges that you think Edkey might face in the next five years?

The shift in educational services is already upon us. From microschools like prendalearn.com and adamoeducation.org to high-end athletic prep programs like Hillcrest Prep and Ascending Life Preparatory Academy, the landscape of educational opportunities has become extremely specialized. STEAM and STEM-focused programs are growing, while students and families have increased the demand for smaller class sizes and individualized instruction. The key to the future of education is to have the flexibility to meet the demands of the communities while keeping the academic rigor focused on student academic growth. Edkey® Inc. staff have risen to the occasion, time and time again, and have been the best in the industry to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the communities we serve.

“With everything that has happened over the past few years, we have been very fortunate to see academic growth, student population growth, and financial viability all increase dramatically since 2019.”