Worcester T&G: Program creates a virtual school: Local educators jump on board

Sunday, July 15, 2012bilde (2)

 

A Worcester entrepreneur has launched a free program that provides an online place for students, teachers, alumni and parents to create their own version of a virtual school.K12 Kit, created by Steven Rothschild in a factory building at 40 Jackson St., allows people connected to an individual school to interact with each other online, create student profile pages, buy prom tickets, set up team meetings and flip through the yearbook in a totally virtual world.The communications and publishing network launched on June 27. Instead of schools storing and maintaining the network on their own computers, the information and virtual school is stored on offsite computers, known in the industry as “the cloud.”

K12 Kit can be customized to fit any school’s preferences or requirements. It’s free to start up and earns its revenue from the advertising that is included as part of the program. If a school chooses to get rid of the advertising, students will be charged $1 a month.

“K12 Kit provides schools with the means for students to communicate, collaborate and publish in an environment that is secure, monitored and non-anonymous,” said Mr. Rothschild, the company’s 53-year-old chief executive officer.

A graduate of Norwich University, Mr. Rothschild previously founded furniture.com, bulbs.com, Access Fixtures and Applied Interactive.

Aside from being an entrepreneur, Mr. Rothschild teaches at Clark University as a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship.

He founded the company based upon communications with Stephen Jacoby, now the chief technology officer of K12 Kit. Mr. Jacoby originally created Project Yearbook, a platform for publishing yearbooks. The two of them then collaborated with Mr. Rothschild’s son, 26-year-old Josh Rothschild, the chief operating officer of K12 Kit, to develop what eventually became K12 Kit.

“It’s one of those things that just happened. … We were not looking for another business at all. We were just bulled over by the potential this program has,” said Mr. Rothschild.

At his office on Jackson Street, the board room is decorated with two Vizio flat screen TVs, an abstract coat hanger and painting, and two friendly pugs named Louie and Abbie.

The dogs themselves seem to have inhabited the Rothschild entrepreneur nature; they have their own Facebook pages, and videos on YouTube with more than 10,000 views. Mr. Rothschild jokes that they are K12 Kit’s mascots.

The new company has attracted international attention. Schools as far away as Africa have signed up to be one of the first pilots for the social network. eAchieve Academy of Wisconsin is also on board with K12 Kit. Locally, Shrewsbury High School has been using the platform since 2011.

Mark Fine, technology teacher and yearbook adviser at Shrewsbury High School, is an advocate for the program. With more than 50 functioning clubs and 400 seniors at the school, Mr. Fine said communication can become difficult for a yearbook adviser. He said he used components of K12 Kit to communicate with the students for such things as senior superlatives. Students logged into the program and cast their vote for Best Smile and Cutest Couple. K12 Kit cut out the usual controversy of unfairness, because it kept track of student votes.

“The small pilots we ran were successful. … There’s just endless opportunities. I could really see a tool kit like this being used to create a uniform interface,” he said.

While safety is a major concern for most social media outlets, Mr. Rothschild has worked with school administrators to eliminate threats from his system.

“There’s a very real problem out there, and this solves it. Today students have grown up with social media and the Internet, and there’s a disconnect,” Mr. Rothschild said. “Children may be inherently smart, but it doesn’t mean they always know right from wrong.”

With school administrators being held responsible for student actions online, K12 Kit provides administrators with the tools to monitor and teach students good habits. Parents can also obtain access to the program, although they cannot post new content.

Mr. Rothschild is working on an alumni program that would allow graduates to maintain relationships with friends and see event calendars for the school, but would restrict them from speaking with students.

The network also opens up new doors for fundraising. Schools can sell ad space on the site to local businesses.

K12 Kit’s biggest competitor is Edmodo, a social media site that also allows teachers and students to share content.

Mr. Rothschild said he anticipated a few schools would start using the program in the fall, but is receiving interest at 10 times the anticipated amount.

 

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