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Greg Schermbeck, Founder of SchermCo

Greg Schermbeck, Founder of SchermCo

Meet Greg Schermbeck
Let’s Do This is excited for you to learn more about Greg Schermbeck. Greg is an education guru with years of experience working as an administrator and teacher with all kinds of students and professionals in the education industry. His story is an interesting one.

Greg is originally from Toledo, Ohio and he was the first person in his family that went to college. He found his way to higher education through a successful football career. His experiences enabled him to recognize a deficiency in education consulting and he is now focusing his energies on improving the urban opportunity gap that exists in education.

Get to Know SchermCo
SchermCo is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. With a focus on underserved communities, they recognize the passion and skillset that is required to drive dramatic change in education.

SchermCo helps organizations create new initiatives in K-12 education. They work directly with organizations to explore new initiatives that solve key challenges in K-12 education, unique to their respective needs. In addition to working with leaders and staff to ensure their organization is best positioned for the highest levels of performance while helping increase capacity to best serve stakeholders and the organizational mission. To fulfill their mission as a socially conscious organization, SchermCo reinvests 1% of funds/time from each project back into the communities they serve.

Read more to learn how Greg found his way to Charlotte and why he decided to start SchermCo.

LDT: What path brought you to Charlotte?
GS: I grew up in a trailer park until 4th grade. Education was always important to my family and my parents so I went to school. My parents sacrificed so much for my brothers and I to have the option to attend college. I played football in high school and was fortunate to continue playing in college.

Education changed my life. When I heard about Teach for America in college, it seemed to resonate… I thought a lot about how so many in my family served in the military. The more I learned about educational issues in our country, the more I wanted to get involved.

During my junior year in college, I did an off-campus program. I went to Philadelphia and visited Strawberry Mansion High School. It was a tough part of town with high school kids who couldn’t read. Kids were sharing textbooks – the school couldn’t afford resources for their students. I applied and was accepted into Teach For America (TFA) that following year. TFA placed me in Charlotte, NC.

LDT: What made you decide to start your own company?
GS: I spent six years in education in different roles: teacher, administrator of a school… The last two years were in a graduate program at Vanderbilt. I was always interested in leadership and urban education and always wanted to explore or create a role that incorporated both.

For some reason, I was always interested in the concept of consulting but not the negative connotation that comes with it. We actually hired consultants in a few schools and I felt it was very transactional. They seemed like outsiders, but we were paying a lot of money for them to help us. I felt like there were a lot of ways to support our school. I was interested in supporting initiatives with education but outside of school. I felt like there was a market to serve schools with people that have previously been in their shoes.

It got to the point where I finished graduate school and I went through a tough professional experience. I had a few ideas and wrote a lot of business plans, none of which were good until the last one.

I credit my graduate school program and the peers in my cohort. Our capstone was writing a business plan and my friends would give me shit because I was always the one with an idea. It was the perfect testing ground.

All of these things in my professional life came together and I felt like it was the time to test it out and I took the jump to open the business.

LDT: What is a typical day in your life?
GS: We’re able to meet with a lot of decision makers in education and a lot of good people who want to drive change in education and really support low income under-resourced neighborhoods. We’re part of a lot of conversations with people who are in education and want to drive change. We’re fortunate to be a part of that conversation.

An actual day… I get up at 5:00 am and go to the gym. I work out until 7:00 am, then I have my breakfast. Then I usually do work. No email or checking my phone from 8:00 to 11:00 am. I’m doing work for our partners (what people traditionally call clients, we call our partners) and creating what we need to create for our partners. I break at 10:30 or 11:00 am and have lunch. Then in the afternoons, we have meetings with prospective partners and colleagues.

We work specifically with school districts and charter schools, foundation and corporate social responsibility departments of Fortune 500 companies who want to fund projects in education and nonprofit organizations that focus on education.

So those are the folks that we partner with.

Pictured: Greg & Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts.  Greg & SchermCo recently wrapped a project with Mayor Roberts to help build an intermediary organization to support after-school programs in Charlotte.

LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?
GS: I think the thorn is two parts. I think there are so many moving pieces in urban education. And there are no silver bullets.

When we’re working with a new partner, there are multiple levels to it. Whether it’s systemic oppression of minorities or other groups in our country, it’s challenging to drive change in the right way and solve complex issues. But that’s why we love this work.

We understand how tough it is and we want to be there to support. Sometimes it feels like we’re coming in as an outsider. We want to come in and support and do it the right way. We feel strongly we can support and bring the right change to help our partners.

I think the flip side… when all these things come together. When we’re able to help open a school to serve kids at a high level. When you create a program to enroll kids in a quality after school program – we’re seeing more kids receiving access to quality education.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch so many community partners and organizations coming together to support these things. To support kids in getting a quality education. It’s something I want to change. It makes me excited to get up every day to do this work.

LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role?
GS: So I think at the macro level, that we have the right belief – all kids can learn. We only partner with organizations that have the same beliefs as us. It’s non-negotiable. In order to create great programs and serve students, every person within an initiative must believe that all kids can and will achieve at an extraordinary level.

Wherever kids come from, whatever socioeconomic background, we carry that belief with us. I think about a specific project… we worked with a group in DC who wanted to expand college access. We took them through the process of innovation to test a new service. We had good results, so we helped write the three-year pilot program. We did the strategic planning and business plan which they’re leveraging to launch this initiative program.

They just started in the middle of January and the goal is to increase the number of kids that have access to a college education. So our work directly resulted in the launch of that three-year pilot that will directly affect students across the country.

Recently we just wrapped up a project with the Mayor of Charlotte. We wanted to raise more money for afterschool programs. We raised $150,000 for a two-year period and tapped an intermediary organization to serve as the leader for this work. This new initiative is now set up for success to raise more money to expand quality afterschool programs in under-resourced neighborhoods throughout Charlotte.

We’re really excited about those project to increase the access to education for ALL students.

We call ourselves a social impact firm so we reinvest 1% of funds or time from every project back into the community. For example, our partners in DC work with a nonprofit that offers family services for teenage mothers who are going to college. So we wrote a check out of our account on their behalf to support their efforts. We give them the option to reinvest funds/time because they know their market better than we do. They know what their local community needs.

Some partners prefer to volunteer and some partners prefer an investment. For me, philanthropy was always really important in my life – coaches and teachers gave back to me and my family.

It’s really funny to see how surprised people are when you say it. I think some folks think it’s a marketing thing but when you actually do it, they’re like, “you really do that?” When you give them the opportunity to volunteer with you, they’re really excited about it. We hope that encourages a larger conversation of what philanthropy looks like for everybody.

LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you work with?
GS: Our target audience… we only do projects that we believe can be game-changing. We think that projects should be aimed to serve under resources community and students. If that’s true, we ask ourselves, “is this fun and innovative?” In education, has it been done before?

We’re always student-focused. We only take on a project where the end result affects students. We’re very clear about either working – making sure it’s aimed at connecting with students in underprivileged areas.

We’ve worked with executive directors of national nonprofits, principals, superintendents, nonprofits, presidents of foundations who want to offer a better program, service or an initiative.

We say we’re really good at people and process.

We think people like to work with us because we’re easy to work with. We bring levity, but we bring process and focus on results. Because of that, and the humor and humility that we bring to the work, hopefully people enjoy doing this work with us.

The more we work in ambiguity, the more comfortable we feel to be data driven and output driven. We help people build initiatives that better serve folks in the education system.

Some folks call it strategic planning or project management. We’re building better programs that are focused around education. We use rapid cycles of innovation to test ideas quickly, to see if things are working. If things aren’t working, we re-calibrate and then we scale.

We’re action oriented. With anything we’re building, we test as frequently as possible to make sure it’s serving kids the right way.

LDT: What is your outlet from work? What is your passion, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
GS: I don’t know if I have an outlet…I played college football so I like sports. I play pickup basketball. I’ve run two marathons. I play the guitar (1.5 songs). I like reading books.

I’m also a person that believes… I don’t want to be a jack of all trades. I want to be really good at two or three things.

My focus is on fitness and reading for self-development. I’m passionate about all of those things and I don’t often feel burnt out because everything I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years… I’m really excited about. I don’t need to check out with that. If anything, I need to go harder.

LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?
GS: I actually don’t believe in work-life balance. I think that comes, in the sense, if you’re balanced as a person.

As an entrepreneur, you’re certainly working ninety and a hundred hour weeks.

So I don’t believe in it. We have quarterly goals and monthly goals that we work from. We’re always focused on one or all seven of those goals. We’re fortunate when it allows us to not work on a Wednesday afternoon or work all night and then go run.

We’re balanced in making the decision to be healthy and sleep. But not balanced in a sense of having a set schedule.

I’ve never gotten to the point where I feel burned out. In previous positions, where I wasn’t pumped about it. I’ve done the thing where you go to bed at 8:00 pm and then wake up at 4:00 am for work.

I feel stressed and pressure, but not in a sense where I have to separate one from the other. I love work and life. I’ve been forced to blend them, it’s more of an opportunity.

LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?
GS: I want to help make sure every child in America has access to a great education. So I’m serious about the education point.

At a micro level, I’m really intrigued by… in urban education there is often a divide between district schools and charter schools. In my work, I’ve seen there are incredible leaders and teachers in both types of school. I’m excited about both of those parties collaborating, sharing data, insight, tools and resources. More and more cities are beginning to do this. Reaching across the island in a political sense.

I think charter schools could do really good things that district schools have figured out and vice versa. On a specific level, we are interested in helping cities figure out how to do that. I think the minute an organization or an individual swears by one concept or one way of doing things – they lose. I believe in contradictions – one must believe 100% in the ways in which they are serving kids but consistently question if they are doing it the right way. If we as people, or organizations serving kids, refuse analyzing data or exploring ways to get better, everyone loses.

LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need at this juncture?
GS: We always enjoy meeting people who are really passionate about education and social change. Specifically, teachers, parents, community members and folks that really want to be action oriented around providing better education opportunities for students.

We love meeting anybody. If you are a school leader who knows that things or a new program or initiative should be tested in your school and needs to be tested… If you run a foundation and want to make sure your funds are driving results that are practical and not theory-based… If you’re leading a nonprofit that supports education and wants a better way to drive education. We like working with believers and dreamers. Our most exciting projects are where we can join forces and collaborate, whether it’s formally or informally.

LDT: How do you think your industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
GS: So in a technology sense, I’m very interested in virtual reality. I do not think it will save education, but I think it can be one of many tools to help increase it.

I’m excited to see if virtual reality can be used for teacher training programs, or with students. I think it can be used in a way to better train teachers and school leaders, as well as students. From a technology sense, that’s really interesting to see.

I think also just what school looks like… Micro-schools are popping up more. Instead of serving one hundred students per grade level for five grade levels, there’s now fifty small schools that only serve ten kids at a time and are able to personalize their education at an individual level. I’m interested to see what the change at a K-12 school looks like.

A lot of the schools are built off of what schools looked like in the 20’s and 30’s, to prepare people to go to factories or work on the farm. A lot of the traditional school as we see it today was formed by Henry Ford.

It was started based on the agrarian calendar to keep students busy during the slow months and breaks were timed around having students available to help in the fields with farm work.

Then with Henry Ford and the changes he made in education, students were trained to be better factory workers.

There’s a quote, “if George Washington were alive, the only thing he would recognize in our society is schools.” It looks very much the same as it did in his time. Students in straight rows. A teacher delivering for ninety minutes. And we know that doesn’t project or map to success in real life.

In most K-12 schools, education is very much the exact same as it was a hundred years ago. I would argue that education is one of the only industries that hasn’t adapted with the times and because of that I believe the gap in high income and low-income earners is increasingly widened because the schools we’re going to aren’t preparing our students and future leaders to be successful and use skills in the real world.

A perfect example is… I worked with a student named Darius. And I remember Darius asking me why he had to learn the eight phases of the moon and he asked me if I ever had to use this in college and in my job. It was a hard conversation.

You will probably never need to know the eight phases of the moon to be successful, but the state of North Carolina assessed my effectiveness and your effectiveness (as a student) based on how you answer this question on standardized tests. Most of the standards that they use for tests are out of date regardless of state, not just in North Carolina.

LDT: Where would you like to be able to put more time and focus more energies?
GS: Where am I not putting time in right now is the question. I’d like to play the guitar more. I’d like to golf more. I’d like to spend more time with my family. I’d like to spend more time figuring out how to be a better business leader.

Question from the Previous Interview
Jessica Downs, Senior Festival Coordinator of the Hangout Music Festival: What’s the best concert or festival you’ve ever been to?
GS: Bruce Springsteen. We got tickets to see him the last night he played at the old Giants Stadium before they tore it down. The show was incredible for obvious reasons because he has such a longstanding history playing the venue and it was being bulldozed the next day.

We showed up early and we were like twelve rows from the pit. I was with four friends who lived together in Philadelphia during our off-campus program in college. We had a reunion then all went up to Jersey for the show. Two of us had tickets and the other three were going to hang out but we scalped the other three and they were able to go to the show with us. It was a great week, but the show itself was great. Seeing Springsteen in Jersey, the night before they literally tore down the stadium.

LDT: What’s your question for next interview?
GS: What are you thinking about doing that you’re scared of?

I never thought in my life I would be an entrepreneur. I was always planning how much money was to what from my check. I got over that hump. I felt ok to take that leap and I felt like what we were doing was right. And I felt comfort in knowing we were aligned and giving it a good shot.

Sometimes I take a morbid view on this, but I didn’t want to die without doing something I could have done and didn’t try. I didn’t want any regrets. If I die doing this, I will be really happy. Not about dying, I have a few years left in me. laughs.

I don’t always want to be thinking, “I wish I would have done something which is what would have happened.”

LDT: Who or what kind of people would you like to read interviews from?
GS: Folks who are creative. Entrepreneurs. People who want to make a dent in their world, people who are honest about what they’re doing. It’s hard, to be honest and vulnerable.

Our generation grew up with social media. I appreciate the authentic response. People who say when they made an error or fucked up and aren’t afraid to talk about that. Folks who are honest and genuine are people you should interview.

I don’t think entrepreneurship is for everyone, but I think folks in situations become angry or cranky because they’re not doing things they wish they were doing. That’s how people become disingenuous – when they’re not fully aligned.

Pictured: Ana Hilton of Collegiate Directions, Inc., Greg Schermbeck, and Rachel Pfeifer of Collegiate Directions, Inc. Greg and his team worked with Collegiate Directions, Inc. to help create a new college advising service for under-resourced youth.

Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen
If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Greg Schermbeck & SchermCo, you can connect and follow their journey using the links below.

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