FASL- The Foundation for the Art and Science of Learning

The Foundation for the Art & Science of Learning’s (FASL) mission is to research, develop, inspire, and spread effective practices in schools to achieve immediate and lasting change in student learning. FASL delivers inservice education, public outreach and scientific research in all fields related to the mission. FASL is supported primarily through grants, program service revenue, and professional education training. FASL partners with Syfr Learning LLC to provide the research based professional learning practices called Teams Improving Practice (TIP) and that assist partner schools as they close the gaps, raise the bar, and prepare for the future. Christine Drew is the executive director of FASL. Her partner is Richard Erdmann, the CEO of Syfr Learning. Both Christine and Richard had interdisciplinary majors in college, both began their own companies early in their careers, and both have been involved with educational technology since the early 1980s. They co-authored both The Art of Learning, and MEGAThinking: Act Big, think small – Learning about Learning, the first in a series of books about accomplishing big visions with small steps based on the sciences about learning.
Christine & Dick

Christine Drew

Executive Director, FASL and Co-author of MEGA Thinking

Christine’s career spanned forty years in public education as a teacher, assessment consultant, and education software developer. Christine has consulted with school districts and businesses on instructional leadership, reframing classroom instruction informed by data from assessments, creativity, and twenty-first century skills development.

Inspirational advice on improving performance while preparing children for the future is Christine’s specialty. One of her favorite topics is developing potential in students and adults.

Christine began her teaching career during the first year of her school’s integration and taught middle and high school geography, history, language arts, and creative writing. When she moved with her husband and started a family, Christine started a tutoring service from her home.

While tutoring, Christine learned that children who fall two or more years behind their grade level before entering high school have a nearly 100% chance of dropping out. Since two of her tutoring students were in that category, Christine asked their school systems to let them re-enter at grade level if they could prove that their achievement was at that level. At the end of seven months of formative assessment followed by targeted instruction, both students were back on grade level based on the administration of standardized tests. They went back to school as freshmen instead of 7th graders, and both graduated, on time, four years later.

Thinking about going back to the challenge of teaching middle and high school, Christine realized that instruction tended to move forward independent of any information about student performance. This began Christine’s passion to work on a student management system to tie objectives and formative assessment to instruction in a classroom. With her own children now in school, Christine started a consulting company to help schools integrate software with instruction. In this capacity she became a client of Richard Erdmann’s company, Wasatch Education Systems.

Christine and Richard later worked together to create an instructional management system that integrated student activities, lessons, assessments, standards and the gradebook through the use of a desktop computer. Richard and Christine co-founded the first company with a standards-based report card, data-driven lesson planning, and formative assessment tools. The company was sold in 2000. After selling this company, Christine worked as Chief Academic Officer for an online assessment company, and worked with IBM’s EduQuest division to create the Curriculum Connections product line. Christine also developed products for Scholastic (The State and Local History Kit) and presented internationally for WorldClassroom, the first web-based, curriculum-based student discussion forum.

Christine joined Syfr in 2008 to build a product and service around the intersections concept—the idea of using ideas from outside education to intersect with educational expertise to frame new questions and find new answers. She became the president and COO in 2009. In 2018 she became the Executive Director of FASL. She formed FASL with the idea that it could become a more flexible organization for educational partnerships and research. FASL licenses the products that she and Richard Erdmann developed at FASL.

Christine’s hobbies include a love of gardening organic vegetables, learned from her grandparents in Illinois, a love of children and watching them learn and grow (she has two godchildren and four grandchildren), and a love of cooking with herbs and fresh ingredients. As a result, she occasionally teaches cooking classes and caters dinners. Her home is Blackberry Pines Farm in Alabama, and she would love to serve you there anytime you are in town. She will entertain you with stories of the origin of herbs and spices, what we owe to Lewis and Clark, and the story of women’s suffrage while the dogs and cats mill around your feet at the family table.

Dr. Johnny L. Veselka

Dr. Johnny L. Veselka

Board President

Dr Johnny L. Veselka has nearly 50 years of experience in public education. He retired June 30, 2018 as Executive Director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, a position he held for more than 32 years. 

A former classroom teacher in the North East Independent School District (San Antonio), 1969- 1974, Veselka joined TASA in 1974, and became Executive Director in January 1986. From 1979 to 1981, he participated in the Cooperative Superintendency Program, a doctoral superintendency preparation program jointly sponsored by The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Education Agency, earning his Ph.D. in educational administration from UT-Austin in 1982. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from St. Mary’s University and a Master in Educational Administration degree from The University of Texas at Austin. Under his leadership, TASA became a major voice for school administrators on legislative issues and state policy matters, and became the leading provider of professional development programs for school system leaders in the State of Texas. 

Since the formation of the Public Education Visioning Institute in 2006 by 35 public school superintendents who were inspired to come together to create a new vision for public education in Texas, and the subsequent publication of “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas” in 2008, TASA’s mission has focused on promoting, providing, and developing leaders who create and sustain student-centered schools and develop future-ready students. Veselka has received numerous awards during his career, including the Key Communicator Award (2009) from the Texas School Public Relations Association and the Golden Deeds for Education Award (2003), presented annually by Texas A&M University and TASA. Upon his retirement, the TASA Executive Committee recognized him as Executive Director Emeritus.

Richard Erdmann

Richard Erdmann

CEO and Co-Founder of Syfr Learning, Co-author MEGAThinking: Thing BIG, try small

Dick’s career spans almost fifty years in public education as a consultant, a software entrepreneur, and in public policy discourse.

If one believes that a person’s interests during their youth have anything to do with what they do for a living, then Richard Erdmann was destined to be an entrepreneur, using technology, an educator, and being somehow involved in music. In San Antonio, where he went to junior high and high school, he began his own gardening business while in junior high school, and by high school was teaching music lessons, tutoring students in reading, taking programming courses on Saturdays, and playing in a garage band. He worked throughout college selling and teaching Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics, and did some gardening for faculty members on the side. Gardening remains his hobby.

Dick graduated from the University of Texas Latin American Institute in Austin, Texas. When he left military service in 1969, Richard joined a friend from college who had just started a financial services software company. He began as a programmer and eventually became the president. Richard went into education sales in 1971, and within a year became a regional manager of sales and operations for reading and math programs serving over 30,000 students. He worked in a short-lived federal experiment that paid vendors based on performance, so Richard had an early exposure to high stakes tests. He has been driven by measurement ever since.

In 1984 Richard started his first education company, which designed and created the first truly networked instructional software in K-12 education. It pioneered several firsts in the industry, ranging from integrating computer tools like word processors, databases, and spreadsheets directly into the courses (at that time the company had to create its own word processor, spreadsheet and database), to using interactive graphics for computer-based science field trips and experiments. He then partnered with Christine to develop a software-based system that made it easier for teachers to manage work.

Syfr, however, became his passion. In its first incarnation it was a conference company bringing educators and policy-makers together, often for the first time. He wanted educators to see their craft as a very interdisciplinary endeavor addressing the needs presented by a world in which change was accelerating. In 2008 Christine joined him and the company refocused on teachers rather than superintendents. By 2016 they had firm evidence from a study involving over 60 teachers and 4,000 students that their scientific approach to learning worked and at scale.

Education remains Richard’s passion. Syfr has allowed him to focus his experiences in economics, history, music and the arts, technology, education, and entrepreneurism on education, with the help of experts from all of these fields. And yes – music, art and science are a part of every inspired and designed professional learning or conference.

Jenni Donohoo

Jenni Donohoo has more than 20 years’ experience in leading school improvement. She is the director of Praxis-Engaging Ideas, Inc and a Project Manager for the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE). In this role she works alongside system and school leaders in order to improve the quality professional learning and collaboration in schools and school districts. She has authored many peer-reviewed publications and is a best-selling author of several books including: Quality Implementation: Leveraging Collective Efficacy to Make ‘What Works’ Actually Work; Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning; Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement; and The Transformative Power of Collaborative Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms. Jenni has a PhD in Educational Studies, Supervisory Officer Qualifications, and is the former president of Learning Forward Ontario. Jenni has presented and delivered keynote speeches at many national and international conferences.