Out On Top

The Learning Advantage: Judith Carter and Kathryn Norcop

Judith Carter was one of the most popular teachers serving special-needs elementary students in her Santa Clarita, California school when she learned that summer school, an essential service for her students, was being cut by the state in 1980. Carter was used to challenges; as a Peace Corps volunteer a few years earlier, she’d arrived in Sierra Leone at the time of a major coup. Carter knew how to turn setbacks into opportunities.

Her partner, Kathryn Norcop, was earning her MBA and eyeing a start on her own business. “We just said, ‘Hey, let’s dive in.’” Norcop says. A student’s parent lent them the use of her downstairs home, and the business partners launched The Learning Advantage, a tutoring center that would build an individualized plan for each student. It was a first for the community; a mom and mom operation that focused on education before profit and operated as an extended classroom, not a franchise. Carter was a teacher known for her compassion, going so far as to seek out sympathetic doctors and orthodontists when her low-income students needed medical care or braces, and her reputation complemented Norcop’s shrewd eye as a business manager.

“There are a whole variety of learning styles,” Norcop says. “A surprisingly small amount of people function well in the school system as it’s designed now. The rest of us kind of fumble our way through it. But we carry the model of ourselves as learners throughout that experience. If you’re ‘ADD’ then you don’t get a sense of yourself as a learner because the environment is not set up where you can learn.”

Now, the business partners oversee a staff of fifteen teachers and 150 students. “We have a very high success rate,” Norcop says. With Carter’s uncanny sense as a diagnostician—constructing what a child needs out of a learning program—their reputation continues to grow; ninety-five percent of the parents who contact The Learning Advantage end up as clients. And Carter and Norcop offer scholarships and sliding-scale rates for willing low-income learners.