A Conversation with Brett Prilik, CEO of Innovation Learning
District 112 Board of Education voted this Spring to end their 15-year partnership with Family Focus’s ASAP program and hire Innovation Learning as the district’s new before and after school care provider.
The service includes child care from 6:30–8:15 a.m. and 3:00–6:00 p.m. every day. The shift from a local non-profit provider to a national for-profit provider made some parents in the district uneasy. So, I decided to get to know its CEO Brett Prilik a little bit and see what he has to say about before and after school care. We got on a call, me at my desk in Highwood and Brett from his in Colorado.
“This was totally an accident for me,” Prilik said when I asked him what inspired him to start a before and after school program. At the time, he was a principal in his early thirties with a toddler and another baby on the way.
He walked into the gym of his school one day and the after school kids were running wild. Some were climbing on and under the bleachers. It seemed all the staff could do to provide a safe environment for the able-bodied children running around that gym — let alone the special needs children he knew were being excluded.
“And really, what inspired me was that kids with special needs were barred from the program,” Prilik said.
So he took himself off of the superintendent career path in 2007 and proposed a new before and after school program to the district — which he offered to run. Prilik worked in the program he helped develop that year before expanding it to four other schools and turning more to an area director role.
“I’m an educator. I didn’t grow up in the business world,” Prilik said. So when he met an MIT grad in Boston who also ran early childhood programs, but on a bigger scale, they partnered together to roll out a national program.
Together, they grew Springboard after school programs from nine schools in Colorado, to more than a hundred schools in sixteen states. When his partner got sick and decided to sell his majority share of the company to the British social impact firm, Bridges, Prilik tried to keep going for a little while. “But it didn’t have the same vibe,” Prilik said. “It became too much about bottom line”
“And for me, our mantra is we do the right thing and we hope to make a difference and the rest takes care of itself.”
So, Prilik quit the company he had founded. That was almost four years ago.
And that’s when he started Innovation Learning.
“I get to look at all the mistakes we made with Springboard and say, okay, this is how we’re going to do it better this time,” Prilik said. “I listened to over 100 principals and parents in 16 states. One thing that kept coming up with the principals was STEM.”
So, Prilik hired a STEM curriculum expert. And he started figuring out how to put together a program that is customizable for every school. There are multiple curriculums, schedule altercations, and enrichments each school can choose from.
It took a huge weight off his shoulders when Prilik realized, “We don’t have to be the ones to dictate what good program looks like in a community. The community should dictate what that program should look like.”
Some districts might assign a lot of homework and an hour of homework time makes sense after school. In other places, play may be the most important value at the end of a long school day.
But the question remains: what does innovation learning do better than a local organization or a park district?
Prilik claims Innovation Learning brings a lot of expertise. “The people that we have on our leadership are STEM people. We have a former licensing specialist who is also an early childhood specialist. And we also have a school psychologist. We also have the special ed part of it and we also have a person on our leadership team who also has a physical education background.”
It’s the expertise and the conversation. “How can we support the mission and the vision of the school district?” is an important questions Prilik says he brings to each district.
Prilik was at the board meeting last Spring when parents voiced their concerns about the switch to Innovation Learning.
One parent said he hoped the school district would hold Innovation Learning accountable.
“I feel a sincere obligation to live up to our promises. The only difference with District 112 is they took all of our promises and put them in a legal document,” Prilik said. “Usually, people just say, we expect you to provide this in your proposal and just do it. But district 112 took our proposal and added it to the contract .”
Other Faces behind Innovation Learning
STEM curriculum developer, former STEM coordinator for a school district in CO
operations director, former licensing specialist
curriculum developer, camp background
primary donor, CEO for American Standard and board chair for national center for learning disabilities