March 23, 2016

Meet Matt Frankenbery: Champion of the unexpected

As the vice president of education at Pitsco Education, a Kansas-based company that designs innovative educational programs and solutions for schools, Matt Frankenbery works with clients all over the country to help implement curriculum designed to inspire and empower young people in their pursuit of knowledge.

Back in 2004, it was Frankenbery who provided guidance and assistance to Dr. Kathy Bihr, vice president of programs and education for the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the rest of the staff at the Tiger Woods Learning Center, as they went through the process of developing the curriculum that would ultimately make the impact it has on students over the past 10 years.

“Matt looked at ways that the Pitsco content could fit what we wanted to achieve, but was also helping us navigate other content to see if/how it could fit in the bigger picture, even if that meant going away from their product offerings,” Bihr said. 

“Matt was very involved in sitting with our program team as we determined the right content to have in the curriculum. He helped us think through how we could link pieces together into a usable format for us and the kids.”

As someone who has worked in education for his entire career, Frankenbery shares a unique bond with all his clients.

“You’re talking about people who have the same mindset, the same philosophical outlook on education,” Frankenbery said. “When you venture into those opportunities, it doesn’t feel like work; it’s just pure passion and belief that you can positively impact young lives with what you are doing.”

Frankenbery’s mother was a schoolteacher, so it’s not surprising that his passion for education was ignited at an early age.

As a middle-school student, Frankenbery said he would sit in the class and envision himself leading the class, thinking about how he would teach the class and what activities he would do. Just before his sophomore year of college Frankenbery realized his future needed to be in education.

While coaching his younger brother’s Little League baseball team, he experienced an incident with a parent of one of his players.

“This parent came up to the dugout after the game, and he was heavily intoxicated and was screaming at me through the dugout,” Frankenbery said. “All the boys were listening to the tirade. 

“I turned the other cheek and walked into the middle of the field to get away from him. At that moment, I realized kids need more positive role models, so I made up my mind that day that teaching was where I was headed. That incident tipped the scales for me to get into education.”

After college, Frankenbery taught middle school for four years. During that time he struck up a friendship with the school’s principal, and the two men would spend hours after school brainstorming ideas about education and things they would like to try and implement at the school.

After many such discussions, the two men decided they wanted to try and make an impact on as many young people as possible. They resigned from their positions and started their own business, Duct Tape Learning, where they developed educational curriculum and products for middle schools.

“We were big believers in hands-on learning,” Frankenbery said. “We felt like kids needed to build, design and explore with their hands to really understand.”

While their vision was stellar, Frankenbery admits their business acumen was less than spectacular. By chance, Frankenbery ran into representatives from Pitsco Education at a conference where they were both exhibiting. At a future meeting, they offered him a full-time job. His partner advised him to take it, telling him Pitsco would help him realize the vision they had with their own company.

That was in 1999, and just five years later, Bihr and others from the Learning Center began talking with Pitsco about their entire program model. Frankenbery was part of the original project team representing Pitsco and worked with the Learning Center team as they looked at Pitsco curriculum as well as others.

Frankenbery said his first objective with a new client is to go in and listen to the vision that somebody wants to cast and then help turn it into reality.

“That is exactly what we did with Kathy and the Learning Center,” Frankenbery said. “They wanted to be on the forefront of the STEM education movement. At that point, STEM was a fledgling term and hardly anyone was doing it.”

“So we were able to partner with Kathy and the Learning Center to turn that vision of STEM education, the integration of those four disciplines together into hands-on, tangible experiences. We were able to turn that into reality and see the students succeed right out of the gate in the after-school program.”

The key to accomplishing that goal for Frankenbery was understanding the vision that Bihr and her team had about how they wanted to deploy curriculum in an after-school program. 

“We wanted to create a thematic approach to teaching various career exploration modules,” Bihr said. “Matt provided several options for us to consider that were well-aligned to our program model.”

A popular class taught at the Learning Center is rocketry. With the aid of Frankenbery and Pitsco, the Learning Center staff developed a rocketry activity at all grade levels, including a full nine-week curriculum on rocketry at the high school level.

Working with staffs like those at the Learning Center to figure out best ways to integrate curriculum is something Frankenbery loves.

“I love the collaboration,” Frankenbery said. “I really enjoy problem solving with a group of people and looking at an opportunity and turning it into something tangible. Doing that for people like those at the Learning Center is so satisfying. The magnitude of what the Learning Center is doing puts them at the absolute top of the game in terms of numbers of students served and the variety of resources they can bring forth. They are unsurpassed.”

Frankenbery travels all over the country helping schools with their curriculum. He feels that each project is like his child; each is special in its own right.

He said the feeling he gets seeing a project go from initial concept to reality is extremely rewarding, especially when he sees the excitement in the eyes of the students involved.

“I often think when we put a program together, what a stark contrast it is compared to the curriculum I had at my disposal,” Frankenbery said. “There’s no doubt it would have been a lot of fun to be a teacher in a place like the Learning Center.”

“When you’ve been a teacher, the joy of interaction with students never goes away. There’s always an itch to get back involved on that level. I have opportunities to tutor students so it helps with that itch. Thankfully, I collaborate with people who have a passion for education like I do. I love being part of the piece of that puzzle.”

Champions of the unexpected for 20 years.