SAGE tutor Andrew Nesteruk covers high school geometry with freshman McKenna Reid and her brother, Kellen, a sophomore.

SAGE Affordable Tutoring owner Phillip Hutcherson and his wife, Frances, were the first in their families to go to college. Hutcherson was only the second generation in his family to graduate high school.

Growing up poor in Texas and New Mexico was his motivation to escape his condition, and education would be his means.    

“I realized education took us to a whole other level,” he said of his family’s turnaround. “It’s allowed a different lifestyle and we probably make better choices. Education is an important thing, and I feel I need to pass that knowledge on to other people and give them more opportunities in life.”

Hutcherson, who also teaches math to gifted students at District 11’s West Middle School, began Sage Affordable Tutoring in 2010 as a way to give back, he said.

He began tutoring while in college at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, N.M., where he “developed a passion and realized how important it is to help others.

“When I got out of college, I became a teacher and continued it.”

House of many masters

Hutcherson provided tutoring services as a way to supplement his day job, but due to referrals, the demand soon outpaced his capabilities. He interviewed more than 30 teachers in 2010 and settled on 12 to launch SAGE Affordable Tutoring.

“They’re not employees. I don’t consider them working for me. They’re working with me,” Hutcherson said. “These are tutors who are masters at what they do.”

SAGE has since grown to 18 tutors, Hutcherson said, adding that all but two are either current or retired educators. The remaining two have master’s degrees in their fields. The teachers have been certified with the Colorado Board of Education and all undergo background checks, he said.

“Many of us have won awards, which is what sets us apart from the college student trying to make a buck or two,” he said.

Hutcherson won the 2010 Raytheon Math Hero Award and named the 2011 Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics Outstanding Math Teacher. He also earned his National Board Certification in math in November 2012.

SAGE, an acronym for Students Achieving Greatness in Education, provides tutoring to both children and adults in subjects ranging from calculus to chemistry. Subjects also include social studies, foreign language, music and test prep, one of the most sought-after services, Hutcherson said.

“A huge amount of our business right now is test prep,” he said, adding that SAGE prepares students for Advanced Placement exams as well as the ACT, SAT and the ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, for those entering the military.

“About 75 percent of our referrals are for test prep,” Hutcherson said, adding business has been on the rise, which he attributes to an increase in both the volume and difficulty of schoolwork.

“A lot has to do with an increase in content standards,” Hutcherson said.

“Common Core standards have raised the rigor and expectations and schools are trying to keep up. Students are having a harder time and need additional support to maintain their grades and understanding.”

Paying the bills

Hutcherson said SAGE’s overall number of billable hours has quadrupled since opening in 2010. Prices range between $30 and $35 an hour and teachers are able to keep most of what they earn, he said.

“Teachers don’t get paid what they’re worth,” he said. “The people doing the work are the ones who should get paid.”

Hutcherson said less than 15 percent of hourly wages go to SAGE, and that money is used to cover the costs of advertising and leasing space.

He said that while his 18 tutors draw from a deep well of knowledge, they don’t know everything. If SAGE doesn’t have the resources to get students where they want to be, they’ll help find someplace that does.

“We’d rather recommend you go somewhere else to get the help you need than try to claim we can do something we can’t,” he said. “Especially if someone took the time to reach out for help. We don’t want them to fall short.”

Hutcherson said respecting SAGE’s students and educators is just part of his business plan.

“It’s a three-piece approach,” he said. “First, treat parents right and [charge] so people can afford it. The second part is providing high quality customer service to students. We want to make it as great as possible.

“The third piece is how we treat our tutors. We treat them well because we want them to stick around and continue to provide great service to these kids.”