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Former Raleigh teacher new CEO of Clever software company

Trish Sparks, a North Carolina native and former Wake County school teacher, has taken over as CEO at one of the country’s most ubiquitous education software companies.

Trish Sparks, a North Carolina native and former Wake County school teacher, has taken over as CEO at one of the country’s most ubiquitous education software companies.

Courtesy of Clever

A former Wake County middle school teacher has taken over the top spot at Clever — a widely used digital learning platform in K-12 schools, according to the company.

Clever administers a single sign-on platform used by more than 50% of U.S. students across 95,000 schools. The EdTech corporation’s products include digital classrooms, libraries, messaging apps and more, available in an online space where teachers and students can interact. About 65% of the country’s school systems, including Wake County Public Schools and Orange County Schools, use Clever products.

Just before the pandemic began, the San Francisco-based company opened a Durham office. Its Triangle employment is limited, including about 20 developers, support staffers and company leaders.

But one of them is Clever’s new CEO, Trish Sparks, a North Carolina native and former teacher. Sparks grew up in Spruce Pine — an hour’s drive northeast of Asheville — and taught at East Wake Middle School after graduating from Meredith College about 20 years ago. East Wake, which was renamed Neuse River Middle School in 2019, then offered several vocational courses.

“So I taught keyboarding, computers, computer history, that kind of stuff, but for middle-schoolers,” Sparks said.

After four years with the Wake County Public School system, Sparks spent her next 15 years along a circuitous career path, “bouncing all over the place.”

“Some people, they come out of college and they know exactly what they want to do,” she said. “It’s like from point A to point B. That has not been my career journey at all. If you were to look at my career on LinkedIn, it looks more like a game of Chutes and Ladders.”

Sparks worked in everything from software development support to technical sales. But she always wanted an opportunity to combine her teaching background with technical expertise.

“So once I found out that Clever was looking for a VP of customer success, I just I couldn’t resist,” Sparks said. “It brought all the things together that I love. As a teacher, there’s an education component. There’s a technology component, which I’ve always been super passionate about. And I love customer success in a fast moving, growing company.”

After working from Clever’s San Francisco headquarters for about a year, Sparks moved back to the Triangle in August 2020, at the pandemic’s height. While in-person work may soon resume, she plans to run the company between Durham’s office and her Chapel Hill home.

Sparks’ tenure as CEO officially began May 1. She inherited a well-run company with a positive trajectory, Sparks said, and she’s not looking to overhaul the operation. But international expansion is one of her primary goals.

“The pandemic in some ways made us even more critical to schools to make sure that students can access their EdTech,” she said. “And so I would say over the past few years, we went from a nice-to-have to a must-have… One of my big focus areas over the next year or so is really focusing on going international.”

Last year, Clever was acquired by Kahoot, a game-based learning platform with activity in about 200 countries. Sparks hopes to leverage Kahoot’s network to introduce Clever in markets around the world.

As its product range expands in 2022, the company will hire dozens of new employees. Sparks hopes to see 30% growth at its Durham office and surrounding areas.

“We’re not as centralized in Durham and San Francisco anymore,” Sparks said. “We have folks in almost every state now. But I really would like to hire more in the Triangle. I would love to have even more of an impact here.”

This story was originally published May 6, 2022 5:45 AM.

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Lars Dolder is a business reporter at The News & Observer. He covers retail, technology and innovation.