Reflections from Retiring NWEA CEO Matt Chapman

K-12 Education is a lot better off for the 11 years of service Matt Chapman gave to us through his work as CEO of NWEA. Here is his final blog post–hope you enjoy it!

One for the Road

Thursday, January 25, 2018
Posted on behalf of Matt Chapman

I’ve had a lot of exciting opportunities over the years, but leading NWEA for the past 11 years has been an amazing honor and the pinnacle of my career. We’ve accomplished a lot together, growing to serve over 20% of America’s school children, adding new products so we can serve them even better, expanding into international markets, being at the forefront of truly transformational school improvement, and playing an ever-increasing role in advocating for those things that evidence shows us are best for kids. We’ve done this while living our values and pursuing our mission and vision.

I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, and frankly a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of recognition and the expressions of friendship I’ve received over the past months. I’m especially touched by the kindness expressed at our holiday party in December and in the messages from so many colleagues in the “Big Book of Matt” assembled personally by Beth Tarasawa. I’ll admit it’s a little creepy entering a conference room with my name on it, but it’s also kind of cool. Being speechless is not a frequent occurrence for me, but all of this did the trick and I find myself at a loss for words on how to express my appreciation. I’ll just offer a simple “thank you” and an assurance that the feelings of friendship and caring are quite mutual. The best part of being at NWEA is the extraordinary people with whom we all get to work.

And I stress that it’s “we.” What we have accomplished we have accomplished together, as teams of collaborating colleagues. Each of you has been and remains an essential contributor, and our success is the culmination of all our efforts. It’s in that context I express my appreciation for the chance to be a part of NWEA – as we all are. And in that spirit I’ll share a few things I’ve learned and observed:

  • Being a self-sustaining not-for-profit enables us to take the long view. That’s a real change from my days running a publicly-traded company with a 90-day investor report card. This means we can sacrifice short-term profitability for long-term results.
  • Change takes time. I have a theory that we’re all wired to at least 7-year cycles. Our bodies replace all our cells within that time, we tend to own homes for 7 years, our ancestors divided weeks into 7 days, and in ancient Aramaic the phrase for infinity was 7 times 7. So don’t expect meaningful change to be sustained unless we nurture it for a long time.
  • Speaking directly is not the natural tendency in the world of education (among other places). We can’t resolve tough issues if we don’t confront them head on, and openly. This is still a work in progress at NWEA, and my biggest single struggle has been dealing with passive-aggressive conduct. Maybe that takes 14 years.
  • Processes matter, but in the end it’s about people, and processes should be in place consistent with organizational values and to support people.

    So what’s next? NWEA is already moving fast to create its next iteration. We are hugely successful with MAP Growth and with professional learning tied to using evidence to inform instruction. We have added an expanded set of solutions, including MAP Skills, the OECD Test for Schools, and our first of many comprehensive state solutions. We have launched MAP Fluency and also now offer even greater depth of professional learning for best classroom practices, school transformation, and coaching. We are in over 140 countries today, not only with more countries to add but with greater depth of solutions we will be able to offer. With our market presence, research expertise, reputation, and clarity of mission and vision we are the best positioned organization to meet the needs of the tens of millions of students around the world, and with our values NWEA will accomplish that with true partnership. And that’s just the start. I don’t know where NWEA 4.0 will take the organization, as NWEA explores not just assessment of learning and for learning, but also assessment as learning. While it’s exciting to reach out to the world, it’s also ever more essential that

we reach deeper into the classroom. As we complete the massive investments we have made in the final phases of NWEA 3.0, and return to profitability, NWEA will have the resources, stability, and sustainability to expand our vision and deepen our positive impact on student learning. This is a uniquely exciting and positive time for everyone at NWEA. I can only imagine the exceptional future that lies ahead, confident in Chris’s commitment to our mission and values, and his particular focus on educational equity.

As for me? I don’t have a clue. But as someone who thrives on change (as some of you may have noticed) I find that positive and exciting. My personal belief is that we were all created to make a positive difference in the world and help each other along the way, but there’s no roadmap on how we do it. We don’t know where our journeys will take us, nor the obstacles, opportunities, and fellow travelers we’ll encounter along the way. I have no intention of “checking out,” although perhaps the arrival of grandson PJ may make things a little more mellow. After all, I want his world to be one with deeper learning, greater equity, and stronger social justice – and a whole lot of joy. So, stay tuned for upcoming episodes. And thanks for making this one so fulfilling.



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