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EP 41 – Kim Kross: Flexible Virtual Teaching with Elevate K-12

Join me in this episode as I interview Kim Kross. Kim has a distinguished career leading the implementation of major programs and initiatives at global educational institutions. In this episode, I interview her in regards to her role as Chief Operating Officer for Elevate K-12. This interview is great for anyone listening who has an immediate need to find flexible part time work because we’re talking all about virtual teaching. Make sure you listen until the very end to learn about curriculum writing opportunities with Elevate K-12 as well. 

Recap and BIG Ideas:

✨ Elevate K-12 is working to help fix the teacher shortage crisis across the country. They hire high-quality educators to teach their subject matter to make sure students get what they need and deserve.

✨Jobs are often full semester or full year positions, but Elevate K-12 will work with schools they’ve partnered with to fill maternity or healthcare leave.

✨ Educators can turn up and teach since Elevate K-12 is built for online modality and has a set curriculum. As a teacher, you would set your own hours and availability.

✨There are other job opportunities. ~90% of Elevate K-12’s academic coaches are former Elevate teachers. They are often looking for curriculum writers, too!

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Elevate K-12 Gets Teachers into Classrooms Across the Country 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Hello, Kim. Thank you so much for joining me here today.  

KIM KROSS: Well, it’s great to be here, Daphne, thank you. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Kim, I did some lurking on you and you have quite an impressive background working in education and education companies, and I’d love if you started off and just give us a little brief introduction to who you are.  

KIM KROSS: Sure. So, Kim Kross. Right now, I’m the Chief Operating Officer for Elevate K-12. We are the leading live stream synchronous provider for instruction and teaching in public schools across the country. Prior to that, I actually am not an educator by trade. I actually have a business degree and a tech degree, but somewhere about 20 years ago, I stumbled onto an opportunity as one of the leaders in the product development group at Sylvan Learning Centers and absolutely found my passion. I fell in love with education and being able to help students with their unique needs and have worked in all facets.

I’ve worked in international education at Wall Street English, with adult learners teaching English in 26 countries around the world. I worked for Meritus Family of Schools where we owned and operated 10 private schools in countries across the globe. I worked for Amerigo Education, where we worked with schools across the country and built international student campuses and recruited international students who wanted to come to the US for their high school education. About three years ago, I found my way to Elevate K-12 and just absolutely love the mission, the vision, what we’re doing for schools, for students, for teachers across the country right now to really help to fix some of the problems that we’ve got in our educational systems. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: That’s a great segue to what is Elevate K-12. What is the mission behind the company that you’re working with right now? 

KIM KROSS: Yeah, Elevate K-12. We started as an intervention company years back and we started doing intervention work with students in schools. Our CEO, was here from India working on her master’s program and was in Michigan and saw some of what was going on in Detroit in the schools there and saw the need to really provide some additional tutoring for students.

That evolved three or four years ago into the programs that we’re offering now for tier one general education and really working to help fix the teacher shortage crisis across the country. So, we’ve all seen the school or heard the story. You’ve got school in rural Iowa, where physics is getting taught by the gym teacher because that’s who has the free period. We actually get a high quality certified teacher who knows physics inside and out and beam them into the classroom with state and nationally aligned curriculum and get those students the teacher that they need and deserve.

We work with a lot of rural districts. Down south, we have a huge presence in Georgia, Louisiana, we’re starting to break through in Alabama and Mississippi, but schools that could be missing 10 math teachers at a time. We work to find teachers that want to teach but want to do that on their own schedule flexibly and from home and we match those schools and teachers up and have a great experience for those students who are getting better than asynchronous learning or a substitute teacher who may or may not be qualified to teach those classes for the kids the full year. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: So it sounds like a lot of them are shortages, maybe in rural areas. Is it for short term periods of time, like one day two day periods or is it for longer, you know, if I teacher leaves on maternity leave?  

KIM KROSS: We don’t do one or two days substitute teaching because that’s not the niche we’re filling. We’re filling the niche for those schools that are having a hard time in their zip codes finding the right teachers for the students. So we teach full year, semester, we will teach nine week increments for the school. For our partner schools that we’ve already worked with, we can fill that maternity or healthcare leave that they need filled, but that’s not really our biggest sweet spot. We are the ones that teach a full semester or full school year of curriculum to those students and that’s the plan were really part of the human capital strategy of a school district to have another avenue to get high quality teachers to those students. 

What is an Elevate K-12 Teacher Actually Responsible for?

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: There are probably a ton of listeners right now who are maybe in between career paths. Maybe they did not sign with their usual district for the school year, for whatever reason, and they’re probably on the edge of their seat thinking about this a little bit.

Why would they potentially start doing virtual teaching if it was exactly the same as their experience as a virtual teacher, let’s say six months prior, that burned them out so much that they are no longer wanting to be in the classroom? What is an Elevate K-12 teacher actually responsible for? 

KIM KROSS: I think we all need to turn back the clock and look at 2020 and March and April of 2020. I feel bad for every educator in the field that was out there from the teachers to the superintendent, I empathize with all of them. There were so many things going on and it wasn’t that Miss Suzy, who has been teaching for 20 years, can’t teach online. It’s that all of the things and the tools in her toolkit weren’t built for the online modality in the first place.

I have a good friend of mine, who’s also an academics at another academic company and who’s the head of the academics team. She has two kids, 10 and 11 and she pulled them out and homeschooled them because she realized that her son’s math class was turning more into a class about PowerPoints than math itself. So, that’s what our teachers were dealing with. They were trying to figure out how to get their material served up in a way that isn’t a ditto sheet that. They’re not touching it, they’re not with their kids, so how do they do that?

The difference with Elevate K-12— and we’ve been doing this well pre-pandemic— all of our materials are built for the online modality. So, all of our assessments, our formative or summative, all of our lesson plans, basically all of that is built for our teachers. So, we work with our school districts to make sure that the curriculum is delivered to their students in the order that they want it. Once we have that aligned our teachers log in every day, they get a little bit of prep time, they get a little bit of admin time, in addition to the hours that they work, and they teach the lessons.

So, all of those lesson plannings are done ahead of time for them and they get to turn up and use their craft of teaching. They get to do the magical things that they really enjoy, which is watch those kids’ lightbulbs go off. They use an interactive whiteboard collaborating together to plot on an XY graph and just see that magic of learning happen with these students from afar. So, we give all the tools, whether it be from our platform or our curriculum, that allow the teachers to not have to deal with creating or adjusting or reworking things that put them in a way. They literally get to turn up and teach. That’s what is the beauty of our program. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Do, let’s just say potentially, parents at the school districts have access to the Elevate K-12 teacher to start sending their grievances that way? 

KIM KROSS: They don’t. They don’t because the parent is our school’s customer and the school is our customer. So, the Elevate K-12 teacher has a bevy of resources at Elevate K-12 here to support them. They each get an academic coach assigned to them that works with them on, you know, introducing new tools into the classroom and things like that, and really partners with them on how to engage their students better. There’s regional operations managers that are the people that interface with the school personnel so that the teacher doesn’t have to, and then it’s the school’s responsibility to interface with parents. So, that whole responsibility of parent interface comes off the Elevate K-12 teacher.

The most they may be asked to do a sit in on parent teacher night and they would be accompanied by school personnel in those meetings. Once in a while we get asked to do office hours or parent conferences and again a school person is with our teacher during those so the direct access to our teacher at all hours in the night with the parents and hovering in and swooping in just isn’t as prevalent. 

The Ability to be Flexible with Your Life and Your Schedule

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: For me, I know it probably if someone’s listening right now, they might be thinking that I am… lost my mind. For me, I walked away from teaching and I knew that I could not take a full time job as a teacher. But when I left the classroom, I started working as an educational consultant and I found that I had all this free time back. I did substitute teach from time to time that first year out just for extra income and because I realized I missed working with students, but without the extra responsibilities and the toxic environment that I had personally left.

It reinvigorated by love a little bit for the profession knowing that I’m going in between this time and this time, but that’s where my responsibilities end and I’m just earning income from it. It almost feels like, you know, riding a bike. You don’t think about it if you’re just doing something that you have experience doing. 

KIM KROSS: That’s the beauty of teaching with Elevate K-12. Each teacher is their own boss. They set their own hours, we offer them programs. If those hours work with what they have available, they accept that program and we tell them how long the program is. Is it nine weeks, is it a semester, is it a full year? The teachers can then choose and then they have the flexibility to work from nine to 11, take their yoga class at noon, come back on and teach from two to four and do all of those things.

Because they can teach across all the time zones, from wherever they are, they have that ability to be flexible with their lives and their schedules as well as teaching anywhere. We all know how important in today’s world that flexibility of being able to teach anywhere is. Maybe they’ve got a spouse or partner that isn’t working in the office right now and they want to go to Arizona for the month of February so they don’t have to deal with one more Chicago winter. They’ll have the flexibility to do that. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: What other types of teachers have you found that virtual teaching is a great fit for? So, I know that you mentioned a little bit for traveling spouses and I think we talked a little bit prior to this interview about military wives. 

KIM KROSS: Yeah, so we have a partnership with the Department of Defense through their Military Spouse Employment Program. And so we are a proud member and partner with the DOD on that program. Military spouses, believe it or not, they deal with a lot. Every two years they’re moving to a new location and they just don’t have the ability to really take a physically located job. 

So in partnering with them, we’re able to provide opportunities to military spouses and right now we have teachers, academic coaches, curriculum writers all through our military spouse program that work with us, either regularly or ad hoc on projects. It gives them the ability to keep their career and keep their sense of self in place while their spouse is off keeping the main position 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: That is one of the small chunks of my community that constantly are reaching out because they’re looking for virtual solutions. Many of the teachers who are military spouses are constantly put in that position where they’re changing state to state and having to go back and take different types of, you know, getting their teacher certification at different states.  

KIM KROSS: Yeah. 

Requirements to Become an Elevate K-12 Teacher 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: What is the requirement for a Elevate K-12 teacher? I know that you are prioritizing teachers with experience and for those military spouses, or for teachers who, you know, their certification may have expired or may expire next year. What should they know prior to applying? 

KIM KROSS: We do we have positions for teachers with certifications and we have positions for teachers without certifications. So for our intervention programs, we will run teachers without certifications to help with that tutoring. So if you have an expired certificate or you’re working on it, etc, etc. For our Gen Ed programs, we do require certification in a state in the US. If the school that you get assigned to as requiring reciprocity, we guide you through that process and reimburse you to do it.

Let’s say you’re a teacher in Illinois and we place you with a South Carolina program and that school has as part of their charter that they want teachers to have reciprocity. We guide you through the South Carolina Department of Education process, reimburse for those expenses, and we actually run some bonuses where upon successful completion of the semester once you’ve gotten your reciprocity, we have some bonuses for staying through the end of the semester for those teachers and to appreciate the effort that they’re doing. We all know that working with the Department of Education isn’t always the easiest thing to figure out where to go get your fingerprints and all of your transcripts and all of those things. So, we want to compensate and reward our teachers for being great partners with us in the schools that we work with. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Since we’re on the topic of compensation, I am sure everybody already like pulled up their phone and is lurking all over the internet to find specific numbers. Would you mind sharing what the average salary is for an Elevate K-12 teacher? 

KIM KROSS: Yep, our average teacher— our teachers are all 1099 contractors which allows them the flexibility to choose their own hours— our average teacher makes $20 an hour, but there are opportunities for additional pay. So, on top of the $20 an hour, whatever hours worked in the classroom, our teachers would make 20% for their administration time— reviewing the lessons ahead, putting in participation notes after class. So, if you work five hours in the classroom, you get paid for six right off the bat. If there’s additional stipend at work, like parent-teacher conferences or some grading papers, we have some stipends for those things.

Then in addition, we also have some different bonuses for things like reciprocity and other things along the way. Our average teacher, if they were to take 20 hours a week and work a full year of school, not counting summer school hours, our average teacher for working 20 hours a week and make $25,000 with us. That’s kind of a ballpark number, but then we do have opportunities for them to pick up tutoring hours, we have opportunities for them to pick up summer classes. A lot of teachers like taking the summer classes. We have teachers that don’t teach with us year round that pick up summer hours with us because it’s an easy way for them to make a few thousand dollars over the summer.  

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: For those teachers who haven’t taken a contract or still in between maybe what they’re doing right now and working towards a forever career four months down the road, this is a flexible way to kind of bridge that gap and build some stability in their income in the meantime doing something that they know how to do? 

KIM KROSS: Absolutely. At the same time, we still offer professional development opportunities for our teachers. Those are growing every year. We’ve been doing that for two years now and we continue to grow and expand. Down the road, I’m hoping that our professional development will start to count as CEUs and PDUs for our teachers so that they have those opportunities at no cost to keep those things valid for them as they continue in their careers. 

There’s other opportunities. All of our academic coaches— I shouldn’t say all— 90% of our academic coaches move from being teachers to becoming academic coaches. Our academic coaches are the ones that observe, rate, coach, work with our teachers, do that professional development at a 15 teacher to one ratio, give or take approximately 15 teachers each. Then on top of the academic coaches, we actually have academic coach coordinators now because we’ve grown so large. So, we’ve kind of got managers of those academic coaches in play which also is a great growth path for people that want to get out of the day-to-day teaching, but they still like certain parts and certain aspects of teaching and they still want that flexibility. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Do you mind even sharing some of the salaries for those higher positions? 

KIM KROSS: Sure, those vary a little bit because those are more on statement of work, but some of those can get $2,000-$3,000 a month depending again on the project work that the individuals picking up and if they’re doing some extra things. So, those vary a little bit more based on the duties that that individual is picking up and how many teachers they’re managing, but those positions can range between $2,500-$3,000 a month. 

Not Every Job is for Every Person

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: With all of these things that we’ve talked about before we haven’t really dove in to what would be some good indicators that a teacher would not enjoy working for Elevate K-12. I know that that always feels a little weird to say, but you know, not every job is for every person and it’s great to know that ahead of time. 

KIM KROSS: Totally, and you know what, there are teachers that it’s not the right place. The primary market that we work with our underserved schools. So, if somebody— and we have some people that early on— were like, “I am a gifted and talented teacher,” that is awesome for them, but 90% of the classes we get are not gifted and talented classes. We actually tell our districts when we go in, our program isn’t for the top top of your bell curve, and it’s not for the bottom bottom. It’s for those kids squarely in the middle. So for starters, anybody who’s looking who has their passion with the G&T kids, we’re not the place.

I think somebody who’s not comfortable with technology, which I think we’ve all had to be forced into it and some people don’t realize that either like it or they don’t. Obviously, our whole platform is online. So, if you’re not a technology person, this probably isn’t the platform for you.

The other bit, if you like writing your own content, this isn’t the right platform because we do all of that ahead so that our schools are getting a consistent experience, so that our students are getting a consistent experience, and so that we’re able to give professional development consistently to our teachers as we roll out our courses. If you’re the type of teacher that wants autonomy to teach Charlotte’s Web because that’s your passion book and you’ve taught it every year and you’re going to do it whether it’s in our curriculum or not, this probably isn’t the right fit either.

So, I would say those are the ones but anybody who’s looking for the flexibility, anybody who’s looking to really focus on seeing that spark in their kids and putting their energy towards using all the tools. Listen, whoever teaches algebra. We’re teaching variables, we’re teaching linear equations, you know. Great. We all have our favorite ways of teaching them, but our materials provide the foundation and allow teachers to then open up a whiteboard and share with their kids how they teach it and how they engage kids. It’s magical to watch our classes and watch these students just get it with the right teacher in place.

It’s super exciting, what we’re doing. To me, I’m most excited about the equity that we provide to the students that we provide it. We are getting into schools that just don’t have teachers in their zip codes and the fact is we’re getting the best and the brightest teachers as part of our programs to really work with those kids. To me, that’s what equity in education is all about is getting the best and brightest teachers to the kids that need it most. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: I could not agree more, but there is one thing that I will push back on is a teacher that is creative and wants to do their own thing still might be a 100% good fit for you because they’re going to have more bandwidth after the fact to tutor other students and do those creative lessons. They’re going to potentially be able to create their own curriculum for their own business. Maybe they’re doing educational consulting, maybe they’re working as a Teachers Pay Teacher’s author. There are so many ways that you can….  

KIM KROSS: Or they can write curriculum with us.  

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Yeah. 

Other Opportunities at Elevate K-12

KIM KROSS: That’s the other thing. So, we have other jobs for them that actually are great. That’s because we do, being that we write our own content, we often go to our teacher pool for those teachers that have a passion for it, but you don’t need to do it every day. Right? But we do it inverse.

Right now, we’re actually building out programs for art, music, PE in our suite of classes, as well as some other things that we’ve been working on and we’re going right to our teacher pool and saying “who wants to pick up some extra project work in addition to teaching,” and going to them first because they’re an awesome resource for all of us. We have those opportunities as well. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: I want to go in a little bit about those who are writing curriculum for you. I know that you said that it is people who are working for you as teachers, but what specifically are you looking for when it comes to excellent curriculum? What types of parts of curriculum are you looking for and what really makes it stand out as someone who would be a great candidate for a curriculum writing position? 

KIM KROSS: Yeah, and I didn’t mean to make it sound that all of our curriculum writers are teachers. We very much hire curriculum writers from the outside as well. Particularly over the summer because there’s a lot of great teachers out there that have full time district jobs, but over the summer did a lot of summer curriculum work with us. Someone that is a great curriculum writer is somebody that has experience in it, somebody who’s done some curriculum work with their district, or for side companies, Teachers Pay Teachers— you mentioned them earlier. That’s a great demonstratable. There’s a lot of people that write for Pearson and McGraw Hill and the other greats on the side. So we look for people like that.

Usually with our own internal teachers that kind of know their work already, so it makes it an easy sell to understand what they can and can’t do. After we hire, we have a pretty extensive onboarding where we go through with our curriculum writers, you know, our style, our whole gradual release mass method that we bake into our lessons, all of those things, the templates that we use. Then they, too, have somebody on our team that’s with them, reviewing lessons, making sure that they fit, giving them feedback early on before they get too far in the project to make sure that all of that aligns with the standards that we’re trying to live up to with our kids in our schools that Elevate K-12

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: For curriculum writing positions, are you requiring teachers to have portfolios of work that they’ve made that original content or does it happen kind of through the interview process? 

KIM KROSS: It happens through the interview process. If somebody’s got lessons, we’ll take those, but we’re not requiring that portfolio upfront. We usually have a project as part of our interview process and we actually have them write one short, very, very short lesson as part of that process so that we can gauge their content writing skills as part of that. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Do you have specific subject matter that you are really in need of specific curriculum writing for? 

KIM KROSS: You know, I don’t have an answer for that. My Vice President of Academics is going to kill me because I don’t know that off the top of my head. We are always looking for math writers, we are always looking for science writers, in the foreign languages, I know, that’s always some of the areas that we’re looking for people.

I would say to your audience to go to www.elevatek12.com. All of our latest and greatest positions for content, academics, teaching are all there on the website. I would just have everybody go there and start to take a look and they’ll know what’s the latest and greatest that we have. That is changing all the time, because we have been growing exponentially. What we need today isn’t always what we need tomorrow. 

Changing the Way Kids Learn

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Yes and as we’re recording this, you know, it is September in 2021. Knowing that, if you are listening to this and it is a year later, things may have rapidly changed with this business. So still check out their careers page and make sure that you read the most up to date job postings in there. If this is one or two years even past the time that we recorded this. 

I want to talk a little bit more because I do know that teachers really struggle with the mindset change of leaving the classroom and I think that this specific industry is one that is a really great way for them to continue to go back in and serve their community to be able to serve education, and do so with more flexibility. But how do you see Elevate K-12 impacting education beyond the walls of the traditional classroom? 

KIM KROSS: It’s funny when I first met our CEO, three years ago, when we started talking, the first thing I told her was I wanted to see a class. Being an education for the last 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of products and things out there that aren’t always what’s best for the students, but they exist and they sell but they’re not always right. I was so impressed with what she was doing and what her vision was, and I thought to myself, “Man, I’m going to take this job, and we’re going to change education. We’re gonna change the way kids learn.”

Kids are changing, education hasn’t. I think the pandemic, for good or bad, is going to change a lot of things having to do with education and the norms and the way students learn particularly in our underserved districts. I feel like in the coming years, whether it’s additional courses, things like micro credentialing, things like the C-TAC and what we can do in that space to get these kids and underserved schools, better access and more access to career choices, is just going to make us all better as a whole as a country. So I see that ability for Elevate to really extend beyond the physical classroom.

Right now, our classes— and we had to pivot a lot over the last year just like everybody else— our typical models that the kids are all in school and the teacher is the only one that’s remote, but over the last year, we’ve pivoted. We have the ability for the students to be at home, we have the ability for the students to be half at home and half in school, and we can do that really well. Sometimes better than the school districts’ teachers themselves when those kids are split between two locations. I just feel like the ability to do that is going to allow schools, more choices, you know, maybe they want to start offering ASL, American Sign Language, in their schools, but how are they going to do that in their zip code, we have American sign language teachers and curriculum and we can get that to those kids that wouldn’t have the ability to have those classes otherwise.

So, I’m really excited to see what comes in the next couple years and really how we grow and change and continue to impact more and more students across the country. I look forward to the day where I see a kid and they’re like, “Oh, I was an Elevate K-12 alumni. I took Elevate K-12 classes when I was a kid.” That’s kind of my dream and vision is that 10 years from now those are the kids I’m talking to, 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: I do see when I was just in my teens and AOL came out— I don’t want to age myself too much on specifically how much that was, you know, when I was in my teens about seven years ago, eight years ago. But I remember the the change of the world, being at your fingertips. You could you could research anything. Being able to bring in experts from all over the country, being able to bring in those teachers with experience teaching one specific subject, but for all of these different students that may have not had exposure to that is just such a game changer.

I am truly just so grateful that you came on and share this opportunity because I know that there are so many teachers who have been looking for something that’s a little bit more flexible for them. This is filling that gap for many teachers who may have not signed their contract this year and are looking for something for the next few months or the next year for more flexibility. I just I really appreciate you coming on and talking to us about this. 

KIM KROSS: No, I appreciate you having me and I just… for all the teachers that are out there, there are options. There are a lot of options, whether it’s in the EdTech field itself, or options like this that, you know, we’re an emerging technology and emerging business and growing rapidly. There’s lots of opportunities. So, we welcome the opportunity to talk to each and every one of the teachers out there that may have interest and please come visit our website.

Daphne, thank you so much for being a gracious host. I really appreciate you having me on today. 

DAPHNE WILLIAMS: Thank you so much.  

I want to give a huge thank you to Kim and Elevate K-12 for coming on to speak to the Teacher Career Coach community. If this opportunity sounds like a great fit for you, we’ll link their careers page in this episode’s show notes. If you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I’d love if you continue to help spread the word that it exists. Even something as simple as leaving us a review on Apple podcasts helps us more than you can even imagine. We appreciate each and every one of you that’s taken the time to do so. I’ll see you on the very next episode of the Teacher Career Coach podcast. 

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