EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CESO Leadership Talks NAPT ACTS!

This month, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) co-launched an educational streaming service with the Center for Effective School Operations’ (CESO) RethinkEDU platform – NAPT ACTS!

School BUSRide spoke with Lance Libengood, president, and Luke Frederick , director of innovation,
of CESO about the new service, its aim to put NAPT members back in the driver’s seat, and the how the pandemic has affected virtual education.


Lance Libengood

Please define and explain the background of CESO. How did CESO connect with NAPT?

Lance Libengood: CESO was originally founded as a transportation consulting company over 12 years ago. We have now transitioned into providing several additional services to school districts. We work in facilities, finance, technology, communications and, of course, transportation. Support with re-envisioning, routing, customer service, and overall consulting are a few of the transportation services we are currently offering to many schools. For more information checkout our website at www.TheCESO.com.

It is fun working with NAPT, particularly on the RethinkEDU project. We have been able to bring several of our innovation teams together, including communication, technology, and transportation.

Luke Frederick

Luke Frederick: We helped the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation with their online conference and Michael Martin was a keynote speaker. Afterwards, I called him, and we instantly connected. We were kindred minds with CESO and NAPT and that is how everything kicked off.

Libengood: The timing was interesting. We work in several different K-12 market spaces, but really what we have become is more of an innovation organization that comes alongside school districts and supports them. When COVID hit, we were uniquely positioned to team with NAPT to try and help with communication and education.

You are inviting NAPT members to join NAPT ACTS! on RethinkEDU, a brand-new online network for K12 professionals.  Please explain what NAPT ACTS! and RethinkEDU is.  What makes it different from other educational services being offered during the pandemic?

Frederick: At CESO, we challenge ourselves with re-imagining and rethinking the K-12 professional development side of things. RethinkEDU was created when the pandemic hit. We set out to connect K-12 professionals and provide resources around that connection, creating collaboration.

The theory behind the website is to have social networking serve as the framework or foundation. When you log on, it feels like Facebook, with that similar user experience. Then we put the learning K-12 professional side of it on top of that.

The site features workshops, webinars, and articles. It is an online learning management system baked on top of a network of professional profiles. Then we put people into professional groups – which we call “channels” – so that they can connect with each other. As an example, the NAPT ACTS! community has about 1500 people and they now are connected via that channel. Everyone who is connected and subscribed to the NAPT ACTS channel can now communicate, collaborate, and learn from each other professionally in one place.

Our approach is different because it seeks to take the concept of collaborative learning and make it “on demand,” so it can be accessed whenever convenient to users.  We have also integrated online Zoom calls and other scheduling options as well.

The bottom line is that we work with the people who are creating content to develop discussion questions that can loop into that conversation, so people can go deeper into the subject matter.

How has the pandemic affected the idea of rethinking what is possible in virtual education?

Frederick: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online networking meetings. I’ve used GoToMeeting for years, but it wasn’t a tool used for connecting and collaborating.

That is where CESO got excited. We wanted to enhance
that experience.

For us, the pandemic created an opportunity to expand the professional development in K-12 and not confine the educational experience to conferences. While that was the traditional path and it works, there is this new opportunity to enhance the professional development online and go into an in-depth learning pattern and then have an in-person activation of that, shifting the focus from creating seminars and workshops into a more intensive collaboration where we can trade ideas.

Libengood: We used to wait for conferences once or twice a year to connect and share ideas. Now it is happening monthly or weekly and there are hundreds of us coming together at once sharing ideas quickly and on the spot. With new challenges every week, we can stay on top of things quickly. It has been an acceleration of moving the industry forward.

We were excited for the opportunity to address this need that we have been talking about and dreaming about for so long. So, in 2020, we moved quickly putting it together to make sure we were in the right spot to support schools.

Frederick: On top of that, the big opportunity we saw is taking down the silos of many associations and creating equal access to learning.

Prior to the development of RethinkEDU, there was no ability to have cross collaboration among transportation directors, superintendents, and principals nationwide. It happened locally, but not nationally.  With the RethinkEDU platform, what we are trying to do is remove silos that separate groups of people trying to accomplish the same things and create community space for associations that represent each group so that there’s equal access to content across disciplines. Each can then more easily access and learn about other education issues and associations.

We really believe that it will open a lot of conversations and innovation because the silos are no longer there hindering access to that diversity of information. We believe this is a significant advance for NAPT members and pupil transportation.

Libengood: One great components of the partnership, and one of the main purposes of NAPT, is to be a national voice for the transportation component of schools. Partnering in this way with RethinkEDU, we are helping enhance what is the original and probably most important mission of NAPT, which is to represent our transportation service providers.

Your partners at NAPT are developing content for ACTS! based on research from member focus groups to ensure the delivery of relevant subject matter to the pupil transportation industry.  Why do you believe RethinkEDU is the best way for NAPT members and supporters receive this content?

Frederick: It is an evolution, a natural progression of where we are going from a K-12 professional development side. We are excited about this because in our minds it was not technology first, but a methodology first. Because of that, the experience is more unified around the end-user and in creating access to content and putting it in their library.

Right now, we are positioned to help take that accelerated experience that everyone is having with Zoom calls and add the ‘now what?’ concept. That is what RethinkEDU does; we take content, put it in front of you as a user, create the opportunity for those who have continuing interest in the content to join a community of people that are like-minded, and then remain involved in dialogue that is long lasting.

Many associations held a “virtual” conference last year and most of them were simply a substitute for the “real” thing.  RethinkEDU is not just a one-time event. It is available 24/7/365 and it changes and grows regularly; eventually, it will change and grow every day. State affiliates of all the national associations in the K-12 space are jumping on the platform and they are creating their own channels.

Think of this. I am sitting here in Minnesota and potentially getting content from somebody in California that I did not have access to previously because I was not a member of their association, or their local chapter. But now from the platform, I can access it whenever I want.

RethinkEDU It is a platform, a website, that is always there to be accessed when convenient. It is like Facebook in that you open it up, log in, and there is the content and conversations. Except it is specifically and exclusively for people in the K-12 field.

Libengood: Importantly, because we are an innovation company, this will be an evolutionary process, designed and created specifically to meet NAPT member needs. The fun part is that it will change and grow in whatever ways the community wants it to grow and change.  Everyone in the community gets to be involved in creating and changing it as we move forward.  We are excited to see where we end up a few years from now.

When can we expect to see ACTS!, and what will we see to kick off the 40 weeks of professional content?

Frederick: Members of NAPT can log-in to the website right now at www.RethinkEDU.io/NAPT  The NAPT Community, the networking component, is growing every day.  NAPT ACTS! already has a library of archived content from NAPT and we are starting in January with new content. If you are a member of NAPT, you can go to the NAPT website, log in to the Members Only section and get immediate access to RethinkEDU. Or you can just go straight to the RethinkEDU website and create a profile there.

Vendors are also going to play an important role.  We are vendors at CESO, so we understand the frustration of sitting in an online “vendor hall”, participating in a “virtual” trade show, hoping to have a conversation with someone who is not a co-worker. One of our goals, one of NAPT’s primary goals, is to position vendors as experts, because we are.  We are experts in what we do because we have had experience with so many different school districts.

We understand the hesitancy of conference delegates to interact with sponsors and vendors.  Not everyone likes the traditional, typical sales experience.  So, for sponsors and the vendors, our goal is to position them as experts. Vendors that are participating in NAPT ACTS! are creating K-12 professional content, not as sales content, but as experts in their field, in their craft.

That content is going to start to show up in the ACTS! channel. As we get more vendors, NAPT ACTS content is not just 40 pieces of content. It is going to expand very quickly as all these vendors are getting on, they’re creating content. Again, not sales content, but educational content.

How will NAPT ACTS! help put NAPT members back in the driver’s seat, in terms of maintaining their professional network and sense of community?

Frederick: You get out of something what you put into it. We created RethinkEDU to connect people, to get content in front of them, and provide an opportunity to engage in that content. But it is what you put into it. If somebody really wants to connect, they are going to connect.

You are going to go across state boundaries. You are going to connect with individuals who, at a conference you may not have bumped into, but you are going to bump into them on the platform. They may be dealing with similar scenarios and have solved some of your pain points and you can take those ideas and adopt them and change them.

That is where we are going to see some cool growth where people are “getting back in the driver’s seat.” We are not trying to make things normal again. We want to grow and evolve as an industry.

How does the service work? How can NAPT members access the content?

Frederick: As an NAPT member, you would log into
www.RethinkEDU.io When you log in, it looks like Hulu a bit. There is a dashboard. You can see the workshops and the keynotes and click on them and then stream that content on demand. There is also a community part.

The forums have different discussions, and you can engage in those discussions that have high level topic categories of interest. Users will be able to see all the members within NAPT ACTS! and connect with them.

The platform also allows you to do in-app messaging, follow vendors, everything you would expect with Facebook. That is the experience you will have.

As the platform evolves, other channels will start to open, so you can start searching them and connecting to that content.

How do you see the platform evolving?

Frederick: NAPT is the first national association to see the potential of RethinkEDU but it will not be the only one.  We are already working with others to create their communities, too.  The vision is to have every national association in the K-12 market space and every state chapter of those associations involved in RethinkEDU.

We realize it is going to take time and small steps to get where we want to go but think about how amazing it will be when a school district can have its entire team collaborate with the entire team from another school system or two or three and create a professional development track tailored to their unique needs.  This synergy will be the ultimate value proposition for NAPT members, school systems and their various departments.

The next small step is to release the RethinkEDU app.  You will be able to download it in the Google or Apple app store.  That will be a powerful enhancement.

Also, in January, we are adding additional technology which learns what information you are seeking and then recommends additional content.  It is called “curating” the content.  As more content is added, the experience will become genuinely unique and personalized for every user.

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