Meet the Syfr Learning Team
Syfr’s company principals Christine Drew and Richard Erdmann’s interdisciplinary approach to working with teachers must stem from early interests on both their parts. Both majored in interdisciplinary fields in college. Christine in International Studies at the University of Illinois and Richard in economics and history in the Latin American Institute at the University of Texas. Both were entrepreneurs early in their careers. Both have been involved in educational technology for over 30 years.
Both have been involved in educational assessment in different ways and both worked for many decades in districts with high concentrations of students from low income families.
Lead author of The Art of Learning and CEO and Co-Founder of Syfr.
Before writing the book, Dick’s career spanned forty years in public education as a consultant, a software entrepreneur, and in public policy discourse.
Dick consults with school districts and businesses on change leadership, learning from the individual to the organizational level, technology, globalization, and creativity.
If one believes that a person’s interests during their youth has anything to do with what they do for a living, then Richard Erdmann was destined to be an entrepreneur, using technology, an educator, and being somehow involved in music. In San Antonio, where he went to junior high and high school, he began his own gardening business while in junior high school, and by high school was teaching music lessons, tutoring students in reading, taking programming courses on Saturdays, and playing in his own band. He worked his way through college selling and teaching Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics, and did some gardening for faculty members on the side. Gardening remains his hobby.
When he left military service in 1969, Richard joined a friend from college who had just started a financial services software company. He began as a programmer and eventually became the president. Richard went into education sales in 1971, and within a year was became a regional manager of sales and operations for reading and math programs serving over 30,000 students. He worked in a short-lived federal experiment that paid vendors based on performance, so Richard had an early exposure to high stakes tests.
In the early 1980s he was running a small educational service company and in 1984 Richard started his first education company, which designed and created the first truly networked instructional software in K-12 education. It pioneered several firsts in the industry, ranging from integrating computer tools like word processors, databases, and spreadsheets directly into the courses (at that time the company had to create its own word processor, spreadsheet and database), to using interactive graphics in science field trips and experiments.
Syfr is Richard’s fifth startup, and the first started without investors. He has taken one company public, watched two of his companies be sold (including the company he started with his partner in Syfr, Christine Drew) and another be assimilated by its investors. Four of these five companies have been in the education market, so his work has been about education since 1971.
Education is still Richard’s passion. Syfr has allowed him to focus his experiences in economics, history, music and the arts, technology, education, and entrepreneurism on education, with the help of experts from all of these fields. And yes – music, art and science are a part of every Syfr seminar.
Co-author of The Art of Learning and the Chief Creative Officer at Syfr.
Before writing the book, Christine’s career spanned thirty-five years in public education as a teacher, assessment consultant, and education software developer. Christine consults with school districts and businesses on instructional leadership, reframing classroom instruction informed by data from assessments, creativity, and twenty-first century skills development.
Inspirational advice on improving performance while preparing children for the future is Christine’s specialty. One of her favorite topics is developing potential in students and adults.
After teaching middle and high school geography, history, language arts, and creative writing, and starting a family, Christine started a tutoring service from her home.
While tutoring, Christine learned that children who fall two or more years behind their grade level before entering high school have a nearly 100% chance of dropping out. Since two of her tutoring students were in that category, Christine asked their school systems to let them re-enter at grade level if they could prove that their achievement was at that level. At the end of seven months of assessment followed by targeted instruction, both students were back on grade level based on the administration of standardized tests. They went back to school as freshmen instead of 7th graders, and both graduated, on time, four years later.
Thinking about going back to the challenge of teaching middle and high school, Christine realized that instruction tended to move forward independent of any information about student performance. This began Christine’s passion to work on a student management system to tie objectives and formative assessment to instruction in a classroom. With her own children now in school, Christine started a consulting company to help schools integrate software with instruction.
Christine and Richard worked together to create a proposal for an instructional management system that teachers could use to manage instruction at the desktop. Richard and Christine co-founded the first company with a standards-based report card, data-driven lesson planning, and formative assessment tools. The company was sold in 2000. After selling this company, Christine worked as Chief Academic Officer for an online assessment company, including working with IBM’s EduQuest division to create the Curriculum Connections product line. Christine also developed products for Scholastic (The State and Local History Kit) and presented internationally for WorldClassroom, the first web-based, curriculum-based student discussion forum.
Christine joined Syfr in 2008 to build a product and service around the intersections concept—the idea of using ideas from outside education to intersect with educational expertise to frame new questions and find new answers. She became the president and COO in 2009 and CCO with the publication of the digital book.
Christine’s hobbies include a love of gardening organic vegetables, learned from her grandparents in Illinois, a love of children and watching them learn and grow (she has two godchildren and four grandchildren), and a love of cooking with herbs and fresh ingredients. As a result, she occasionally teaches cooking classes and caters dinners. Her home is Blackberry Pines Farm in Alabama, and she would love to serve you there anytime you are in town. She will entertain you with stories of the origin of herbs and spices, what we owe to Lewis and Clark, and the story of women’s suffrage while the dogs and cats mill around your feet at the family table.