Gigi Schweikert is a true ECE powerhouse.
As president of Lightbridge Academy, former TV host of Today’s Family, international keynote speaker and mom of four, Gigi’s dedication to early childhood education hits every note.
Not surprising for someone who realized they wanted to be an educator—and set up her own backyard summer camp—at just nine years old.
Gigi’s career was all uphill from her successful backyard enterprise. She worked for various child care programs, including Johnson & Johnson, before becoming a mother herself—and while looking after her four kids, she poured all her spare time into writing books on early childhood and speaking at educational events.
Talk about a supermom.
Once her kids were old enough, Gigi reentered the professional arena full-time, soon taking on the role as President and COO at Lightbridge Academy. Today, the child care brand has 15 company-owned centers and 38 franchises across 8 states, plus more than 80 additional franchises in the pipeline, despite the pandemic.
“I've been at Lightbridge for six years now. We now have 53 centers open with a really nice pipeline and we'll be in 9 states soon. Even in the pandemic, we opened 10 centers in 2020 and have more scheduled for the end of the year,” says Gigi.
18 published books and 30+ years’ experience later, we caught up with Gigi to get her take on teaching and parenting in the post-Covid era. Check it out!
For Gigi, although it was Lightbridge’s company culture and unique Circle of Care philosophy that made accepting her role there a no-brainer—it was the commitment to brand consistency that continued to fuel her passion for the company.
It’s a sentiment that gets reflected back to Gigi daily in her interactions with parents, guardians and child care center franchisees.
“I had my best ‘aha!’ moment when some prospective franchisees, who were parents in one of our centers, took a tour of our corporate HQ center and said, ‘Wow, it feels the same [as the other center].’ They were really impressed by the consistency of the brand, and so was I,” says Gigi.
Lightbridge’s unique Circle of Care Philosophy makes sure parents, employees, the community and children are all cared for equally.
Gigi and her team protect their brand’s values with everything they’ve got, but with over 50 centers (and growing), there’s a lot to look after.
So, how do they continue to scale without losing their special sauce?
Gigi gave us an inside look at her three-step process for maintaining an instantly recognizable brand across their growing network of child care centers:
We do that in several ways:
Armed with a clear plan for establishing, upholding and even measuring brand consistency across the child care franchise, Gigi and the Lightbridge team are able to keep their fingers firmly on the pulse of how their parents actually feel about their brand.
Building a consistent brand that always hits the right note with parents isn’t easy.
For Gigi and the team, it comes down to streamlining systems—and technology—across all child care centers. The aim is for their values to shine through, and to make sure parents get the same level of service and communication no matter which center they’re connected with.
“Guy Falzarano, the founder and CEO of Lightbridge Academy, is very forward thinking when it comes to technology. One of the first things he did back in the ‘90s was invest in ParentView®, [an internet monitoring system which allows parents to remotely view what’s happening in classrooms through a secure connection]. All the tech he’s invested in has been absolutely phenomenal,” says Gigi.
But when you’ve invested in technology for over 20 years, it’s important to step back, take stock and make sure those investments still work.
“We realized we had around 11 different programs that were not integrated. Every single one was great—all of them were creating the culture we wanted and giving us what we needed in terms of data—but because there was such a multitude of platforms, that meant a lot of extra admin work,” explains Gigi.
To tackle their tech overwhelm, Lightbridge Academy decided to hire an administrator to focus solely on managing systems—but that still wasn't enough. Eventually, Gigi and the team brought CIO Ben Blake onboard to help streamline their systems so teachers could get out from behind their screens. After a rigorous selection process, Ben and the team landed on MomentPath.
The parents loved it. And unbeknownst to Gigi and the team, the new unified tech platform couldn’t have come at a better time.
“One of the ways we use MomentPath is to communicate with parents and educate them on what we're doing with Covid. It’s an extremely helpful tool for us. We send small videos about masks, sanitization, screening processes, etc., to help parents visually learn about what we're doing to protect their children and them,” Gigi explains.
As a mother herself, Gigi knows exactly what makes working parents tick—it’s all about getting them as involved in their child’s day as possible (with minimal fuss).
Even before the onset of the pandemic, the pressure on parents was all too real.
“At Lightbridge Academy, we’re known as The Solution for Working Parents®. We're not just educating and caring for children, but also supporting the parents,” she explains. “Parents are busy. Most days we can't even figure out what we're going to have for dinner. We always feel like we're working too much, and we always feel like we're not giving our children enough.”
“We have a more fragmented workplace now, meaning people aren't just 9-5—and child care needs to respond to the flexibility that parents now have in the workplace. The question is, how do we do that so that parents can balance what's happening with their children and what's happening with their work, and still feel good about their accomplishments at the end of the day?”
For Gigi, minimizing parent guilt, supporting their needs and building trust with working parents paves the way for long-term, loyal relationships—and the technology they choose must reflect that.
“MomentPath affirms the trust that a parent already has in Lightbridge Academy. It gives them a picture of their child's day, so they don't miss anything—even if it's the not-so-good stuff, like a sniffly nose or a difficult nap time. So as a parent, they feel fully connected to their child—and that helps them be more productive in their job, and to feel more confident in their choice to be a working parent. It really lessens the guilt that working parents can have,” says Gigi.
“The features that really stand out for us are the opportunity for MomentPath to walk through the journey of a child's experience with our brand—those important moments of the day that over time, lead up to their entire life experience in your program. I often hear from parents that they like the way it scrolls, the way it feels like social media. It feels very comfortable in their hands, something very familiar yet very precious because it has to do with their child.”
Rather than using an off-the-shelf child care management system or overspending on creating a custom platform, Gigi and the Lightbridge Academy team have found a way to provide user-friendly access for parents who crave deeper insight into their children’s days, making them feel confident they made the right choice.
Practical steps for staying safe and supportive
From choosing the perfect child care option to wondering whether to send their children to school at all, parenting isn’t easy in the best of times. And since the pandemic hit, the challenges for parents are bigger than ever.
“It's a really hard situation right now for parents. They question, “Do I put my child in child care or not, given the Covid situation?” Also all staff members need to know that we care about their well-being too. For this reason, we developed the ‘Lightbridge Promise’, it is the Gold Standard for health & safety in the child care industry. We wanted to set the bar for cleanliness and health and safety,” says Gigi.
Here are some of the practical steps the Lightbridge Academy team has put in place:
In spite of the increase in protocols and procedures, some parents are still unsure whether to send their children back to preschool. Gigi has some reassuring words.
“There was a study that came out recently from Yale that said there’s not a greater spread of Covid among children in child care. I think parents can be a little bit more comfortable knowing that research exists and recognizing the physical health of children is dependent upon their emotional, mental and social education. That socialization aspect is really pivotal, and education is so important,” she says.
But at the end of the day, it’s the parents’ choice—all any early learning professional can do is educate parents about what their center is doing to stay safe.
“As a parent group and as a community, it's not our responsibility to judge other people for the choices they make as parents. It’s my responsibility to educate parents about what we're doing to create a safe and nurturing environment, and the benefits their child can experience... not only academically but also developmentally. But at the end of the day, it's every parent's decision and they should feel comfortable in the decisions they make for their child,” says Gigi.
2020 changed everything for the ECE industry—but for Gigi, her reason for being is still the same.
From spreading the word about Lightbridge Academy’s Circle of Care philosophy, to making sure their tools support the needs of the communities they care for, Gigi’s dedication to holistic child care continues to shine.
The way she sees it, “It’s not about waiting for smooth waters. It’s about learning how to row the boat.”
Above all, it’s Gigi’s drive for brand consistency and strong communication, along with a commitment to human-first technology, that rule her choices—and lead to Lightbridge’s undoubtable position as one of the most innovative child care brands in the US.
“Communication is power,” says Gigi, “There's a lot of uncertainty about communication today, unfortunately even in the news. Sharing reliable, trustworthy information is really important, and that’s why we rely on MomentPath.”