Ask John Gamba Jr. C’92 for a memorable incident involving the Partnership for Academic and Community Excellence —PACE—and he doesn’t have to think very hard to come up with some good ones.
“We once had a third-grader from a local elementary school wander off of school grounds and become lost,” recalls Gamba, CEO of the California-based company. “The principal, faculty, and staff from the school started to panic, so they sent a PACE call to 1,200 parents in the local community.
The call was distributed to parents within four minutes. Parents converged to the scene and one parent who heard the message found the boy. He was about a mile from the school, lost and confused.”
Needless to say, the boy was quickly reunited with his parents, and the principal immediately sent a follow-up message to parents informing them of the good news.
PACE describes itself as a “Web-based relationship management solution that allows K-12 schools to proactively connect with parents at the touch of a button.” It requires no hardware, software, or additional phone lines, and it “usually takes a ‘digitally phobic’ administrator about 15 minutes to learn how to use it,” in Gamba’s words. A parent, administrator, or teacher logs onto the “company’s secure Web site; records its outbound message; selects the recipients; and schedules a time to send a telephone message—which is instantly delivered to up to 5,000 recipients. An e-mail report is then sent detailing the success of the transmission. Some 650 K-12 schools and districts use PACE, whose system contacts more than 1 million parents each month.
“Our system cuts across the digital divide and helps to keep parents involved in their child’s education,” says Gamba. “We serve some of the most economically distressed communities with a solution that sends messages to a parent’s home phone.”
In addition to helping to locate missing students, Gamba says the messaging system has been used to alert parents of school lock-downs, gun-scares, and Internet bomb threats.
“The system was once used when a man less than 100 feet from the playground of one of our schools opened his door brandishing a shotgun,” he says. “The school was locked down and the principal used PACE to inform parents of the danger. No one was hurt.”
Then there was the time it was used to rally support for a blood-drive held for a student in desperate need of a transfusion. “The PACE message was sent by the best friend of the girl who needed blood,” says Gamba. “The event was standing-room only. I believe that 98 percent of the parents showed up to support the blood-drive. That little girl got her transfusion.” (More results can be found at: www.paceamerica.net/asp/halloffame/)
Gamba isn’t the only Penn alumnus involved with PACE. His father, John F. Gamba Sr. W’61, is a “significant investor” and member of its board of directors, not to mention an Alumni Award of Merit winner and president of the Southwest Florida Alumni Club. (His mother, Mary Anne S. Gamba NHP’65 G’84, is also an alumna, though not involved with PACE.)
Then there’s Matt Rosler C’96, PACE’s senior project manager, who focuses on marketing and client services with the company’s university clients—one of which is Penn. He describes some of his work as “providing alumni clubs across the country with a means of reaching out to their alumni to encourage membership registration and event reminders.”
“Matt is what I call a ‘bleeder and leader,’” says Gamba. “He eats, drinks, breathes PACE and has one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I have ever worked with.” Another Penn alumna, Gigi Goodling (the former Gihann Patel GL’91), helps manage PACE business affairs and provides legal consulting.)
Using PACE, alumni-club leaders can “send personalized messages that rally support for upcoming club events and fund-raisers,” Gamba adds. “Wharton Club leaders are also starting to use the product for proactive outbound messaging. The best part of the product is that we integrate the Penn Fight Song at the beginning and end of the message in order to ensure that recipients know that it is Penn calling and not a telemarketer.”
Last year, they persuaded Fran Dunphy, the men’s basketball coach, to record a PACE message for the Southern California Alumni Club in an effort to rally support for a Penn-USC game last year. “Penn won by something like 40 points,” says Gamba, and “PACE was obviously the reason for the rout!”
Gamba acknowledges that it was “extremely difficult” getting PACE off the ground in the wake of the dot.com crash and budget cuts for public schools, and credits a corporate-sponsorship model created by founder Bennett Liss (among other things) with enabling the company to survive and grow.
“We are achieving our mission, which is to be the recognized leader in school-to-parent communications,” says Gamba. “We are the first and only network of our kind, built exclusively for the K-12 market. We are definitely making a difference—and having a great deal of fun along the way.
“There is nothing better than being the leader of a company that helps keep students safe, parents involved, and schools secure,” he adds. “As the parent of a four-year-old, I arrive at work every day with a sense of purpose. When I listen to some of the messages that are distributed through PACE, I have a strong sense that we are innovating K-12 education as we know it.”