South Pacific Press CEO and co-founder Neale Pitches spent January in the UK dodging blizzards and helping launch CSI Literacy to the Brits. In March and April he was trekking around the US, “re-booting” SPP’s educational profile in that country.
As a company, South Pacific Press began in 2005, in a small office in Wellington, founded by Neale and Meryl-Lynn Pluck, of Rainbow Reading fame. Education runs in Pitches’ blood – former teacher then principal of Onslow College, followed by nine years as CEO of Learning Media.
SPP’s mission has always been to remain close to the classroom, to be nimble and to move into niche markets to address real needs in literacy. In 2007, SPP bought educational contractor Lift Education from its founder, Dr Sue Watson (now Global CEO of the KEA network).
SPP works mostly in joint or co-development projects. “We are quite small, so we like partnerships,” says Pitches. CSI Literacy, a growing suite ofevidence-based literacy resources for years 4 to 9, is a strategic joint venture between SPP (the co-publisher) and Californian-based Pacific Learning, who also distribute the resources in the US. CSI Literacy is SPP’s current major product range, and CSI Literacy Kit 3 won Best Educational Resource or Programme for Export at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards in 2012.
“We began development of CSI Literacy in 2007, published the first edition in 2008, and had strong success in the US market in 2010,” says Neale.
Following its early success in the US, CSI Literacy was introduced into Australia and New Zealand, and most recently the United Kingdom and Europe. SPP has distributors in the UK, USA, Australia and Singapore; local warehousing and distribution is undertaken in Nelson by Rainbow Reading.
However, the timing of the CSI Literacy rollout was not ideal – the recession began to be felt in educational publishing in 2007, with a lift from the US market in 2010. Only now, in 2013, trading is up compared with previous years, but from a low base.
“It’s challenging,” Pitches says. “The high NZ dollar and the rush to digital resources mean schools demand resources in formats ranging from completely hard copy to completely cloud-based. We create blended solutions… they’re aimed at needs that we’ve researched, and the solutions are elegant and contemporary, comprising books, digital interactive texts, audio texts and iPad apps.”
Excellent school data, especially for Māori and Pasifika students from New Zealand schools, showed Pitches that CSI Literacy had hit the “sweet spot” long sought after in education – the ability to accelerate student achievement in literacy in the troublesome middle years of schooling.
Pitches has just finished a round of seminars in the North Island on this issue, addressing and gathering feedback from teachers, principals, resource teachers of learning and behaviour and resource teachers of literacy.
“SPP has a positive DNA,” Pitches believes. “What drives us is doing work that is vitally important; doing things no one else is doing and walking on the edge of viability… though we do manage risk carefully.”
The core team numbers around 10 in their Tory Street office, but SPP has a pool of around 100 contractors who have skills they can call on at peak development times.
Recent good news for the company is that SPP’s Lift Education has been contracted by the Ministry of Education to develop the Connected series. This is a series of three science-oriented publications in hard copy and digital formats that includes mathematics, technology and literacy support. The series will focus on the nature of science and have perspectives that include Māori and Pasifika.
Lift Education provides specialist services across the education sector, including publishing services in English, Māori and Pasific languages. It developed the Volunteer Recruit Programme for the New Zealand Fire Service, highly commended in the category of Best Book in Higher Education Publishing at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards last year. The SPP/Lift Education team also collaborates with Core Education through their Literacy for You online professional development course.
SPP is a regular attendee of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Our big focus coming from successive Frankfurt negotiations (these deals can take time) is the UK. In 2012, we signed a deal that was two years in the making, with education heavyweight McGraw-Hill Education UK. We have been very busy developing ‘standard English’ (UK, New Zealand and Australian) editions of three of the CSI Literacy kits and all of the CSI Chapters – a big job.”
This year, McGraw-Hill Education UK launched CSI Literacy as one of its premium new products. These new editions are now moving into UK, European, Australian and New Zealand schools. McGraw-Hill UK has rated it an exciting programme and Pitches sees “green shoots” for SPP in the UK market.
“We attend Frankfurt to keep pace with the industry and to spend quality time with our US and other international contacts. So it is important for us to be there.
“Our big distribution deals are done face-to-face in the markets,” says Neale. “But we do some small deals at the fair. We travel to and from Frankfurt via marketplaces where we have relationships so we make it a business round trip.”
It was CSI Literacy’s innovative, world-first, digital teaching interface that helped seal the deal with some of their international partners, and it is changing literacy teaching in classrooms around the world.
“The SPP team members are innovators and we’re all passionate about education,” says Pitches. “Accelerating student literacy is the key to accelerating overall student achievement in the troublesome middle years. We have a product that has proven results – now we just need to keep moving forward with more world first products.”