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.
After graduating from Texas A&M University, Greg McIntyre began his career in public education as a certified mathematics and psychology teacher. He then obtained his master’s degree from TAMU in Educational Administration. Over the past 33 years, he has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as a teacher, assistant principal, associate principal and principal. Greg has also served in central office positions as Human Resources Director, Director of Student Services, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Executive Director for Head Start, and Chief Administrative Officer.
About 4 years ago, Greg attended a presentation from Syfr Learning’s founder Dick Erdmann on a reexamination of the 3R’s: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. For Greg, it shed an entirely new light on the science of learning and for both it began a conversation. That conversation continues to this day, as Greg is now an important part of Syfr’s team.
Instructionally, Greg’s latest work addresses principles of learning so that rich educational experiences are designed for student performance, a perfect fit for Syfr!
Greg and his wife, Kelly, have three daughters and a grandchild. His hobbies tend to center around water; saltwater fishing and water skiing are two of his favorites! Their daughters’ interests are varied as they have embarked on careers in food science, construction science, fashion and interior design/marketing. Kelly graduated from Texas A&M University with a Wildlife Science degree and spends much of her time with their granddaughter (who loves bugs, boating, and puzzles)! Their home town is College Station, Texas.
Before working with Syfr Learning, Michelle LaFontain was employed by the San Antonio Independent School District for thirty years. All of her thirty years were spent at Thomas Edison High School, an inner-city school whose student population is 96% Hispanic and 82% economically disadvantaged. During her career, she taught Advanced Placement, Dual Credit and regular United States History, World Geography and Latin. Michelle also served as the Social Studies Department Chair from 2001 until her retirement in 2017.
Michelle’s two greatest strengths as a teacher were her belief that every student can learn and her passion for history. The idea that “every student can learn” is easily said but can be difficult to live by. During her career, Michelle routinely had 100% of her students pass the end-of-course exam and led the district in her Advanced Placement scores. Numerous times she had as many students pass the AP United States History Exam as the other seven high schools combined. As department chair, she led the Social Studies department to a passing rate of 100% in the second year of the Social Studies TAKS. Edison High School received the Distinction Designation for Social Studies every year from the implementation of the new accountability system until her retirement.
During her career, Michelle received many accolades, including being named SAISD Teacher of the Year in 2008 and SAISD High School Teacher of the Year in 2014, a finalist for the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2008, the KENS 5 Excel Award in 2014, and a Walmart Teacher of the Year in 2004. Her proudest achievement, however, is the impact she made on the lives of the students she was privileged to teach. She still hears from many of them today, and is deeply appreciative of their belief that her encouragement and faith in their abilities helped them reach their educational and life goals.
Today, Michelle’s focus is on coaching teachers as they work to improve their classroom strategies based on brain-based research. She believes teachers will be more effective if they adapt their teaching to the way the brain naturally learns rather than expecting the brain to adapt to the way they like to teach. She also enjoys writing curriculum that engages students’ curiosity and allows them to develop as independent learners.
Digital Marketing Consultant.
Karen has over a decade of marketing experience in business and entertainment industries, providing digital services to a variety of brands and bands. She has a proven track record developing and executing results-driven campaigns across all mediums, including various digital platforms. Karen enjoys heading up content creation, advertising campaigns and keeping up with the ever-changing digital landscape.
Karen has been involved with all things marketing for Syfr Learning since 2017. She heads up all digital media efforts and especially enjoyed helping Syfr launch their new website and blog.
Karen currently resides in Huntsville, AL. She loves being at home with her family, a small backyard garden and two backyard beehives. She also loves to travel, attend concerts, hike and try new cuisine anywhere she goes.
Before joining Syfr Learning, Matthew Shafer worked in B2B sales marketing Human Capital Management Solutions tailored for medium to large businesses. His career has taken him from working for established Fortune 500 companies to smaller start-ups opening new territories in previously unestablished markets. Matthew left the business world to join Syfr Learning in 2017.
Matthew’s current work includes opening new markets for Syfr Learning and its catalog of products as well as working with our speaker partners.
Matthew lives with his wife, Holly, in Pinson, Alabama where they are the proud parents of two very active elementary school aged boys, four dogs and a fool of a cat named Pippin (yes, it’s a lot!). Their interests include fitness, travel and exploring the burgeoning food scene in Birmingham.