EdTech: Bethlam Forsa of Savvas Learning Company On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On Education

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readJun 12, 2024

Apply an innovative mindset. Savvas has always been known for our innovation, which played a pivotal role during the pandemic. We made it our mission to give educators and families the digital solutions they needed so that their students could get the most out of their remote learning. For example, to ensure that our solutions were keeping pace with the quickly evolving needs of our customers, our product teams created the Distance Learning Toggle, which enabled teachers, with the click of a button, to seamlessly switch between curated content best suited for either in-class or remote-learning settings.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. In this particular installment, we are talking to leaders of Education Technology companies, who share how their tech is helping to improve our educational system. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bethlam Forsa.

Bethlam Forsa is the chief executive officer of Savvas Learning Company, a global next-generation learning company that combines the power of advanced technology with proven pedagogy to deliver personalized, evidence-based K-12 solutions that enable all students to achieve their full potential. A dynamic and visionary leader whose career in education and publishing spans over two decades, Bethlam is committed to the idea that a quality education has the power to shape lives, inspire new ways of thinking, and build better communities. With an innovation mindset and a focus on technology’s potential to personalize teaching and learning experiences, she is a recognized trailblazer and changemaker. Under Bethlam’s leadership, Savvas has taken a market-leading position with its innovative and award-winning product lines, highest-quality curriculum, and best-in-class professional services.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I was born in Ethiopia. My mother worked for the United Nations, and we lived in many different places, including Kenya and Europe. I am the oldest of four siblings, with a brother and two younger sisters. When I was growing up, my mother emphasized the value of education, having a global perspective, and giving back to our community. We were raised to have a strong work ethic, a love for current events, and an awareness of the difference education can make in an individual’s life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I look back throughout my career, one of the things that stands out the most was the impact of the pandemic on us, as a learning solutions provider, and our customers. Schools nationwide shut down virtually overnight and suddenly pivoted to remote learning. Fortunately for us and the educators and students we serve, we were trailblazers in developing the technology for digital learning well before the pandemic accelerated the need for it.

I remember a quote from one of our customers, the superintendent of Queen Bee School District 16 in Illinois, who talked about how our digital resources helped his district quickly pivot to remote learning when the schools went dark. “So the day that we hoped would never come, we were one district that wasn’t photocopying anything,” he said, referring to the Savvas blended learning solutions, including enVision Math and SuccessMaker Math, to keep students on track with their learning during the pandemic.

I am really proud that as an organization we had the vision — long before the pandemic — to make the necessary investments that helped us lead the way in the digital transformation of K-12 learning solutions.

While challenging, the Savvas team met the moment by supporting educators with training on how to teach remotely with their digital learning solutions. We worked quickly to develop targeted online training resources and live virtual support for teachers and administrators to maximize digital learning and help them get the most out of their high-quality Savvas digital learning solutions accessible on our award-winning learning management system, Savvas Realize.

While we needed to pivot quickly, we were able to support our customers through a very challenging period in education. And, since then, we have grown tremendously. Today, Savvas is a leading provider of next-generation K-12 learning solutions, used by millions of students and educators in more than 90 percent of the 13,000+ public school districts across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as globally in more than 125 countries.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful for my mother. My mother raised my siblings and I while simultaneously pursuing a career with the UN. She instilled in me a profound sense of duty and a deep appreciation for education. Her influence and support played a pivotal role in shaping not only my values but also my chosen career path.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Wes Moore, author of “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” said it perfectly: “We are not products of our environments, we are products of our expectations.” My mother held high expectations for her children, expecting us to pursue higher education and graduate studies, and to work hard to build careers. Her influence has helped shape who I am and my belief that the best way to increase student achievement is to set high expectations for all students to learn and strive to be the best they can be.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three character traits that have been instrumental to my success are resilience, adaptability, and authenticity:

Resilience has helped me overcome business challenges associated with growing Savvas, following our divestiture from a larger company, into the leading learning solutions provider that it is today. Surrounding yourself with people who share a passion for your company’s mission is also key.

Adaptability is a life skill that I learned at a young age. Learning to thrive in diverse environments while growing up in different countries has helped me navigate life’s challenges. This adaptability was crucial in steering Savvas through the uncertainties of the pandemic.

Authenticity drives my people-first leadership approach at Savvas. I prioritize open communication and transparency with the goal of making every employee feel informed, valued, heard, and supported.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our educational systems. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve

The most pressing challenge in education today is the learning loss resulting from the pandemic. As students recover, it is crucial that they gain mastery of the foundational skills necessary for academic achievement and lifelong success. We also need to equip teachers with the high-quality curriculum, data-driven insights, and assessment tools they need to provide targeted instruction that helps with students’ academic recovery.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Savvas Learning Company’s technology addresses the challenges of learning loss in three key ways:

Screeners and diagnostic assessments: It is crucial that educators know where their students are when they enter their classrooms. Assessment tools help teachers to easily measure student growth and skills progress.

Data-driven insights: High-quality diagnostic assessments, combined with adaptive technology, provide teachers with actionable, data-driven insights into their students’ knowledge, helping to inform core instruction as well as identify students requiring intervention or enrichment.

Personalized learning with targeted intervention: By combining cutting-edge assessments, high-quality core curriculum, and adaptive supplemental and intervention programs, Savvas is delivering a complete solution for educators and a pathway to success for each student. Our integrated math and literacy solutions are designed to provide data-driven instruction and personalized learning with seamless access to engaging content tailored for every student.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about education?

I started my career at Accenture, where later I worked as a global managing partner responsible for advising media clients on growth strategy, digital transformation, and mergers and acquisitions integration. Inspired by my work in publishing, I then worked as an executive in the K-12 education publishing and technology industry.

How do you think your technology might change the world?

At Savvas, we’ve been a trailblazer in incorporating the power of technology to personalize teaching and learning experiences to improve student outcomes. Our technology is changing the world by equipping educators with high-quality curriculum that can be personalized to their students’ learning needs.

We offer the most complete solution for educators. For example, Savvas Realize, our state-of-the-art learning management solution (LMS), is the platform for our content-rich online curriculum, and offers powerful integrations that make access to third-party digital applications seamless, safe, and effective. No other LMS in the industry provides educators with such a comprehensive, feature-packed solution.

Additionally, Savvas recently acquired Outlier.org, an edtech startup that has created a portfolio of high-quality, turnkey, online college-level courses that enable high school students to earn dual credit while never having to leave their school building. Through the addition of Outlier to our portfolio, we can now create exciting opportunities for millions of high school students to earn dual credit in online courses from the convenience of their high school classrooms. This solves logistical issues that many rural and underserved districts face, like transportation or staffing shortages. We’re thrilled to bring dual enrollment to more students.

Keeping the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

While technology is helping revolutionize how we approach student learning, technology will never replace a teacher in the classroom. We believe strongly that teachers and their expertise are irreplaceable, and their personal connections with their students cannot be duplicated by a machine. In the same way it enhances our everyday lives, technology is a powerful tool that can support teaching and learning but it’s still the teacher who makes the magic happen in the classroom.

How do you envision the landscape of education evolving over the next decade, and how does your technology fit into that future?

Over the next decade, I believe the conversation in education will be focused on addressing issues such as: the teacher shortage and the need for teacher training and professional learning; academic recovery and preparing students for the future workforce; and new technological innovations, such as generative AI, and their place in the K-12 classroom.

Amid these conversations, we will continue at Savvas to leverage our innovation mindset to develop technology-forward solutions that best support educators and students. We believe the future of technology in education must offer a seamless and complete solution for students and educators that is built on the foundation of research-based, high-quality instructional materials combined with data-driven insights for more personalized teaching and learning.

Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?

Apply an innovative mindset. Savvas has always been known for our innovation, which played a pivotal role during the pandemic. We made it our mission to give educators and families the digital solutions they needed so that their students could get the most out of their remote learning. For example, to ensure that our solutions were keeping pace with the quickly evolving needs of our customers, our product teams created the Distance Learning Toggle, which enabled teachers, with the click of a button, to seamlessly switch between curated content best suited for either in-class or remote-learning settings.

Embrace a people-first company culture. We’ve made it a priority at Savvas to create a supportive, collaborative work environment where employees feel valued, empowered, and motivated to contribute their best towards our shared mission of helping all learners succeed. Our efforts to build a people-first culture have led to a truly engaged and inspired team that has helped us earn recognition as an employer of choice. Through genuine anonymous feedback our employees offer in an annual engagement survey, Savvas, for three years in a row, has been named a Top Workplaces USA.

Live your mission and values. Our mission and values guide our decision-making every day at Savvas. For example, when we are speaking with prospective job candidates, we always ask about their passion for education to ensure they will be a good cultural fit.

Focus on efficacy. To positively impact student achievement, you have to ensure your solution is effective for both educators and students you serve. At Savvas, we provide the most innovative, highest-quality instructional materials to support educators and improve student outcomes. Our extensive research informs every step of our rigorous product development process — from pedagogy and instructional design to usability and efficacy in the classroom — to provide learning solutions that demonstrate efficacy and help all students learn and achieve.

Avoid a “one-size-fits-all mentality”: Technology has the power to enable hyper-personalized experiences. In education, technology can be used to create individualized learning experiences and pathways for students. This is one of the reasons Savvas acquired Outlier. We want to ensure students have access to multiple pathways to help prepare them for success in college or career.

In the realm of EdTech, there’s often data collection involved. How do you ensure the ethical handling of user data, especially when it concerns students?

Ensuring the ethical handling of user data, especially when concerning students, is paramount. We take protecting our customer information extremely seriously, and prioritize security and privacy in everything we do. Savvas is committed to advancing the privacy and security of student data and works hard to meet or exceed legal compliance requirements. We adhere to worldwide industry-recognized best practices and standards for data privacy and security to ensure student data remains safe.

If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, what would you tell them?

When I speak to our school district partners, I am always struck and inspired by the passion of their students to want to make the world a better place. The one thing I tell young people to make a positive impact on society is: stay curious. Look for opportunities to explore, ask questions, and think deeply about some of the challenges we face as a global, interconnected society.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I would be interested in having breakfast or lunch with Mira Murati, the chief technology officer of OpenAI who has led work on ChatGPT, Dall-E, Codex and Sora. As another female leader who’s similarly passionate about technological innovation, Murati and I could discuss the transformative power and impact that generative AI can have on generations to come. Specifically, I could see us engaging in a dialogue around the ethical use of AI in the K-12 classroom, including the guardrails we must put in place to minimize biases, safeguard student privacy and personal data, and ensure teachers remain at the center of their students’ learning.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can reach me on LinkedIn here and follow the latest updates from Savvas on LinkedIn here.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.