Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle

Why did Albemarle County school officials commit nearly $2 million to a software system that has proven faulty, despite multiple complaints from teachers that using it was a "waste of time," and an admission from one County school official that it was "glitchy, to say the least"?

At a time when school systems are facing budget cuts, losing teachers, and seeing classroom size increase, spending on technology has soared. Indeed, terms like "digital learners" and "data driven education" have captured the imaginations– and purse strings– of school administrators.

Just recently, the Charlottesville School Board announced that it will spend $2.4 million on new tablet-type laptops for students. According to a recent article in the New York Times, education, technology, and big business are now entangled to the tune of $1.89 billion a year, the amount that schools spent on software for classroom use in 2010. Spending on hardware, researchers say, was likely five times that amount.

However, according to experts interviewed by the Times, there is very little specific evidence that using technology in the schools enhances learning.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” said Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, in the Times. "There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line."

However, a Hook investigation reveals one possible trend line in the County school system: implementing the software system may have benefited top school administrators, and the company they contracted with, more than it has teachers and students.

But getting answers hasn't been easy.

When the Hook filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents and staff emails concerning the implementation of the software, the newspaper was charged nearly $2,000 for the information. In addition, 268 emails to or from County School Superintendent Pam Moran were withheld.

The County school board has clammed up as well.

According to School Board member Eric Strucko, who had already commented for this story, members met in closed session on August 25 to discuss questions raised by the Hook, and the nature of the newspaper's FOIA request, but said the law restricted the board from commenting further.

The tech-savvy Super

In April, while Moran was receiving a Distinguished Public Service Award from UVA's Curry School of Education, with the citation noting that she is a "visionary leader" particularly well-known for her "integration of technology at all levels of a school system," the actual technology being integrated in County schools was so faulty that schedules, grade calculations, and transcript mailings for college-bound seniors were being done by hand.

"Using this stupid system," one school staff member told the Hook, "was like trying to text with a rotary phone."

Indeed, as the Hook reported in its March 10 story, 'Unpardonable': Faulty IT system vexes college-bound County seniors, parents at area high schools were "stunned" to learn that the County schools' Student Information System, or SIS, had created errors and caused student transcripts to be sent to colleges late, a situation that one school counselor called "unpardonable."

While the Hook found no evidence that any seniors were denied college admission as a direct result of the fiasco, due mostly to over-time work from counselors and teachers, who assembled the information by hand, a follow-up investigation reveals that faculty had been struggling with the software system, provided by a company named Schoolnet, for months, even years.

"The central office claimed that Schoolnet would be an instructional aid, but that was simply not true," says former Western Albemarle High School social studies teacher Mark Crockett, who calls the purchase of the $2 million Schoolnet system a "boondoggle."

"It was expensive and time-consuming," says Crockett, "and no one really uses it."

As part of a written "narrative" provided to the Hook in response to the FOIA request, school officials claimed that Schoolnet's Instructional Management System (IMS) was a "key component of the Division's organizational communication system."

"Only in theory and propaganda," says WAHS English teacher Bill Guerrant, who retired in June after 29 years. "I think teachers and staff were required to log on to increase Schoolnet's web traffic, to justify the expense."

Like Crockett, Guerrant says that using the IMS was a tedious, time consuming process that was full of glitches, and that teachers and staff were simply not using it.

"It was a complete waste of time I could have otherwise spent grading and preparing for my students," he says.

"Once a quarter I give the County-mandated assessments using it, but that’s it," says a 6th grade teacher at Henley Middle School who asked to remain anonymous.

Indeed, the teacher says she recently discovered that none of the other 13 6th grade teachers used Schoolnet more than once a quarter, and that only one 7th grade teacher was using it.

"The narrative downtown gave you seems to come from the vendor's website," says Guerrant.

As for the new Schoolnet SIS system, officials explained that it gave classroom teachers the capability of "generating and emailing student progress reports to parents, and keeping them informed of student performance in a timely manner throughout the school year."

But couldn't that be done with a phone call?

"Yes," says Crockett, "or an email."

However, one part of the official narrative makes sense to Crockett: that the IMS system was a "central repository for student data" used to meet the demands of Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) testing.

"You see, the be-all end-all of Schoolnet was student test scores," says Crockett.

How much is enough?

For a decade now, public school systems across the country have labored under the demands of No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law that requires them to make "AYP," Adequate Yearly Progress (a measurement determined by standardized test scores) or else risk being labeled a "failed" school and face possible federal intervention.  

In 2009, County school brass proudly announced that the school system had made AYP, meeting all 29 No Child Left Behind achievement benchmarks,  an accomplishment for which Moran credited teachers– and Schoolnet.

“We attribute our success to our excellent teachers who work together in professional learning communities," said Moran in a Schoolnet press release. "They are able to access, understand, and apply real-time student assessment data through our information management system, Schoolnet.”

As recently reported, however, Moran has nothing positive to say about NCLB, as her division– joining the crowd of 128 of Virginia's 132 divisions– failed to make AYP. Moran blamed the situation, Albemarle's second consecutive failure, on NCLB's testing standards, which climb each year, calling them "onerous" and "unrealistic" at an August 11 School Board meeting.

"Enough is enough," Moran declared.

While Moran joins a chorus of educators across the country demanding reforms in the NCLB, and which the Obama Administration is pushing for, recent years have proven to be a boon for companies like Schoolnet. In the five years after NCLB was passed, the company's revenues shot up over 1,700 percent. 

"Schoolnet is inextricably linked to NCLB and AYP," says Crockett. "I’ve provided plenty of data on this before to school officials."

According to the latest data, says Crockett, 99 percent of all schools in California will be failing schools by 2014; 88 percent in Connecticut and Ohio; and 96 percent in Illinois; with that same trend continuing across the country.

"Now that 2014 is closing in, and more than half of all school districts in Virginia are not making AYP," says Crockett, "suddenly, superintendents and school board members are starting to talk against NCLB. But they should have been doing this years ago."

However, as the Hook 's investigation reveals, Schoolnet appears to have been a boon for school administrators. While there's no evidence that Moran or anyone else in her office was paid directly by Schoolnet, the relationship with the high-powered edu-tech company appears to have paid other dividends.
The Schoolnet way

In 1988, Schoolnet co-founder Dennis Doyle co-authored the best-selling book, Winning the Brain Race: A Bold Plan to Make Our Schools Competitive, with late former Xerox CEO David T. Kearns. It branded the public school system a "failed monopoly," advocated for private and religious school vouchers, and argued that public schools should be run more like businesses.

Doyle had been writing about the subject for years with the support of conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institute. In 1991, the first President Bush was so impressed by the running-schools-like-businesses idea that he made Kearns the Deputy Secretary of Education.

Ten years later, it was the second President Bush who won passage of NCLB, based on the same pro-business philosophy, and Doyle went from education scholar to educational software millionaire. In a January 2005 article, Doyle called the NCLB law "bold and visionary" and heralded the ascendance of chief information officers, or CIOs.

"We are witnessing a sweeping cultural change in the business of education," Doyle wrote. "More school districts now have CIOs, formerly a business-only role, which is becoming vital to effective education."

This past April, the company was purchased by a competitor for a whopping $230 million in cash.

It's not hard to see how the money piles up.

To improve student achievement through "data-driven decision-making," Moran locked the County into a six-year contract with Schoolnet that launched with an upfront licensing fee of $750,299 and an average annual fee of about $70,000 for hosting and services. And there's another annual fee, over $100,000, for "software maintenance."

In all, the December 2006 deal has committed the County to spending $1.72 million. And that wasn't the end of the money-flow to Schoolnet. Last summer, the division implemented another Schoolnet system called GradeSpeed, a brand new SIS designed to house student data, create course schedules, record grades, and allow parents and teachers to communicate, for a one-time cost of $47,000 plus about $48,000 in annual maintenance costs– with a goal, according to Moran, of "creating a seamless information portal."

The result, however, was the springtime transcripts fiasco.

Moran then issued an RFP for a new student information system to replace GradeSpeed, and earlier this year she contracted with Schoolnet's new owner, Pearson, for its "PowerSchool" system. The new package carries an upfront cost of $225,317 with $58,500 in additional annual payments.

"When it became fully apparent that the GradeSpeed product could not meet our needs as a school division, we took steps to move to a new product," says Moran in a prepared statement.

According to then County schools spokesperson Maury Brown, the problems with the Schoolnet SIS became "fully apparent" in late March, but as the Hook's FOIA revealed, teachers had tried to make Moran and other central office executives aware of the severity of the problems as early as the previous summer.

"Why did we not listen to the teachers' recommendations if we took the time to ask them?" wrote former School Board member Ronnie Price in a November 3, 2010, email to Moran and other County officials, following a meeting at which teachers voiced their concerns about Schoolnet.

"We brought these concerns about Schoolnet and the GradeSpeed system forward beginning last summer," says one teacher who asked to remain anonymous, "and continued to do so all year. We were ignored and even chastised for complaining. "

"The teachers feel they have no access to nor ability to communicate with the School Board without fear of retaliation," Price told Moran.

I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine?

Way back in 2008, questions were raised about Schoolnet, which, although purchased in 2006, was at that time not yet operational. But it wasn't the local media asking questions; it was a Western Albemarle High School student.

Aspiring filmmaker Zack Marotta, who now lives in New York, produced a short video news story for the student newspaper, The Western Beat, pointing out that severe budget cuts were being contemplated, as well as fees– which have since been implemented– for participating in athletics. The story questioned the $750K initial cost of the software, as well as its effectiveness. 

Ironically, in an October 2006 email to school staff, Moran advocated upgrading the school's aging student information system at the time, Pearson’s SASIxp, with a new product from the same company. Instead, she contracted with an entirely new vendor, Schoolnet, a decision that some school staff find puzzling, considering the County's history of using Pearson products.

School board member Strucko, who, in his job as director of business planning for the CFA Institute, has seen plenty of software implementation, says changing vendors is not unusual.

"I will say that facing the decision either to upgrade an existing legacy system or purchase a replacement product is a standard exercise for any organization," he says.

However, Moran played a role in Schoolnet's marketing for GradeSpeed, as she was prominently featured in the company's promotional materials when the product launched.

“The Schoolnet staff provides customized attention and exemplary service," said Moran in a 2010 Schoolnet press release. "I believe that Schoolnet and GradeSpeed SIS will add significant performance value to any school district looking to enhance learning results through more informed data-driven decision-making."

In addition, Moran has been a blogger on Schoolnet's website, where she touted former CIO Luvelle Brown's work implementing Schoolnet in Albemarle. Since 2008, both Moran and Brown have been featured speakers at EduStat University, a technology conference founded and funded by Schoolnet and held two years ago at Monticello High School.

There, in July 2009, Moran shared the stage with Doyle and Schoolnet CEO Jonathan Harber. Various speakers, some nationally known, spoke on the theme of "data-driven decision-making for schools" and addressed the question "What is wrong with our learning environments?" while Schoolnet employees held workshops on using company products.

According to a memorandum of understanding with Schoolnet, obtained in the Hook's FOIA request, the County school division was responsible for local travel, venues, and equipment, and– most surprisingly– an in-state marketing campaign for the event. Meanwhile, Schoolnet was charging between $500 per individual and $1,000 per team (a school principal and two staff members) for the conference. Over 500 people attended.

In return, Schoolnet spent $85,000 on the event, including $9,000 for a catered dinner at presidential mansion Ash Lawn-Highland and $12,000 for on-site food and beverages, which were, according to the agreement, "upscale to make participants feel like they were at a special event."

At the time of the convention, a local news story touted EduStat 2009 as a gathering of "world leaders in educational innovation" held in Albemarle County because of the school system's tech savvy reputation.

"Albemarle is considered an innovative leader in how we develop curriculum, how we deliver instruction in the classroom, and how we assess it," Luvelle Brown told the Charlottesville Newsplex.

However, the press account didn't mention that Albemarle County Public Schools was a Schoolnet client. Last month, the EduStat University conference was hosted by the Virginia Beach School system, also a Schoolnet client, and Moran and Brown were featured speakers. Indeed, since the 2008 conference, the school system hosting each event has been a client.

"That lack of disclosure doesn't surprise me," says Crockett. "This is all just phony baloney. Don't get me wrong; technology is a valuable tool, but technology doesn't teach. Teachers were forced to use this technology so the administration could say it was useful."

"This doesn't look good," says former County school board member Gary Grant, commenting on the presence of County school brass at Schoolnet conferences, and Moran being quoted in the company's press releases. "That's a potential conflict of interest."

Useful to whom?

In February 2010, before her Curry School honor, Moran received a national Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award from eSchool News for "outstanding leadership in the use of technology to further educational goals." Moran and Brown, who was in charge of the implementation of the Schoolnet system (and had famously introduced iPods into the classroom), along with Assistant Superintendent Bruce Benson and others in the central office, were fast becoming known as school-tech innovators. 

In a 2009 reorganization of the County Schools' central office, which eliminated 15 positions, Brown went from being the rather blandly titled "executive director of division and school improvement," to becoming the Chief Information Officer (those CIOs Doyle talked about), and shortly after that the still more impressive-sounding head of the Department of Accountability, Research & Technology (DART), a department in charge of implementing and maintaining Albemarle's Schoolnet.

In addition, former principal and teacher Bruce Benson was made assistant superintendent for planning and operations, and high school principal William Haun took Benson's old position.

Last year, about the time the problems with Schoolnet began to emerge, Brown landed a $175,000-a-year superintendent job in Ithaca, New York, based in no small part on his high-tech credentials.

In May of this year, Benson, who took over the leadership of Technology after Brown's resignation and before the hiring of new CIO Vince Scheivert, accepted a six-figure job as Superintendent of Accomack County Public Schools.

Of course, those salaries can't beat Moran's $180,000 a year. Indeed, while the central office staff may have been reduced, six central office employees there right before Benson's departure made a combined $641,000 in annual salaries.

Something to hide?

When the Hook made its request for emails between County School executives and Schoolnet representatives, over 3,000 pages were delivered, with most documents confirming the massive frustrations staff were having with Schoolnet and the new GradeSpeed system. What came as a shock to the newspaper, however, was the bill.

Typically, when the Hook files a Freedom of Information request, the newspaper receives a bill amounting to about 10 cents per page. In this case, that might have meant about $300. Albemarle County Schools, however, went farther, billing the Hook $1,972.

"That's outrageous," says former school board member Grant. "It sounds like they want to stick it to you."

Despite the voluminous charges, Moran refused to turn over her own correspondence, opting to withhold 268 emails she sent or received regarding Schoolnet. Under a special exemption afforded to chief executives, state law gives her that right, but that means the public may never fully understand what transpired.

So why was the bill so high? It included staff time for "researching, printing, and reading emails." That would be 54 hours of staff time– including 44 hours attributed to the school board clerk. The official pre-search estimate hadn't quite predicted the eye-popping bill.

"I think this will take a few to several 8-hour days," wrote Annie Kim, then senior assistant county attorney, in her cost estimate. "Most or all of the work will be done by employees with an hourly rate of less than $30 an hour. Given this, I believe that the cost will exceed $200."

Legally, Moran maintains the right to bill for research costs, including her own time. Indeed, Moran charged $85.99 per hour for her time, while other top administrators charged between $55 and $63 per hour for theirs. After our complaint, Moran deleted research time spent by her and by the other administrators and reduced the bill to $1,464. But she declined to reduce it further.

What's more, the County school system has a Communications & Media Relations office charged with "enhancing communication" between the school and the general public and also "manages Freedom of Information Act requests."

However, according to County attorney Larry Davis, the Hook's information request was "non-routine" and therefore required attorney assistance and what he called "reasonable" charges for the time spent gathering the information.

Grant says he considers Moran a friend, but he finds her handling of the information request disturbing.

"Do you want a superintendent who's transparent," asks Grant, "or do you want one who's exacting retribution against a reporter who dares to ask a question?"

By comparison, when reporters received over 24,000 pages of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's emails after a FOIA request earlier this year, news organizations were charged just $725 for copying.

Asked why she withheld her emails, whether she considered the cost of the FOIA request reasonable, and if her public statements about Schoolnet products represented a conflict of interest, Moran had a reporter summoned to her office to pick up a letter of response from her secretary.

The letter did not address the question about her email, the possible conflict of interest, but she wrote that she considered the FOIA charge reasonable and did admit to problems with the Schoolnet SIS.

"There are complexities involved in the development and implementation of any software," wrote Moran, saying she was committed to finding the "best value" on services for taxpayers."

Damage control

While Moran's communications remain hidden, emails from other officials offer glimpses of a software debacle. There were "multiple setbacks daily," according to an email from Luvelle Brown, who was serving as an unpaid member of Schoolnet's Product Advisory Council. In another 2010 email, Brown tells a Schoolnet official he needs to meet with school staff to "do some damage control."

In another email, Schoolnet Vice President Andy Brenner says he's flying into Virginia Beach late one night to meet with school officials there and wants to know if Brown, whom he address as "my man," wants to go out on the town after his flight arrives.

Brown also met with a group of teachers last spring to talk about the positives of Schoolnet.

"But teachers had already found out how useless it was," says Crockett. "At the end of his pep talk, he asked, 'Doesn't this sound like something you can use?' The answer was a resounding 'no.'"

Attempts to reach Brown for comment were unsuccessful.

In a series of communications in early September 2010, Haun, tech director Becky Fisher, and division spokesperson Maury Brown helped draft a letter for Matthew Haas, Director of Secondary Education, to teachers who had been reporting that GradeSpeed had been calculating grades incorrectly. In the carefully worded letter, Haas praises the teachers' hard work, acknowledges the problems, but tells them that they will have to keep using it.

"Should we acknowledge that it [GradeSpeed] has a 'known issue' that we are going to need to work around this year?" writes Maury Brown in an email to the group, adding that she has been advocating more disclosure of the problems.

"I'm afraid too much soft-pedal will further erode our credibility," responds Maury Brown. "It is clear that the new SIS and GradeSpeed are 'glitchy,' to say the least."

"The theme of the difficulty of using Schoolnet has come up several times," wrote board member Kolezar in a November 5 email to Moran, Benson, and Luvelle Brown. "Is there any substance behind this complaint?"

"No one could give me a reason why we went with Schoolnet," then Board member Price writes in an email. "Schoolnet had huge problems. It was new, and my understanding was that the process itself was flawed, and the teachers were complaining because they felt they were doing double work in helping the vendor to create this new system."

Indeed, by early 2011 the situation was deteriorating.

"We have been functioning in crisis mode for a long time now," writes Monticello High School principal Catherine Worley in a February email to tech staff. "It greatly concerns me that this crisis mode may directly affect kids now."

"There have been multiple failures in the process of getting transcripts out this year," writes Mark Leach, the County school division's coordinator of information management systems, in a March 2 email to Moran, Benson, and Haas. "A significant portion of the problems have been with the SIS itself."

A month earlier, a frustrated Leach fired off an email to a Schoolnet rep complaining that information from the company to address the problems was "incomplete or misleading."

Kolezar, responding to a March 14 email from a parent demanding that Moran be fired over the faulty grading system (and over her insistence on "4X4" block scheduling), calls the SIS "a major mistake," but expresses full support for Moran.


"We did receive updates from the administration, particularly Mr. Brown, who did disclose a few difficulties with implementation," says Strucko, who also mentions that new CIO Scheivert has kept the Board informed about the progress in fixing it.

"While the decision to purchase this system pre-dated me," Strucko says, "overseeing the work on a $2 million information system project that has failed up to now is part of my responsibilities."

According to former spokesperson Brown, while the $225,317 Pearson PowerSchool product is being implemented, there are no plans to stop using the roughly $150,000 a year Schoolnet Instructional Management System.

Moving forward, Strucko says, he plans to request that the Board receive a presentation on the progress of Schoolnet at its next meeting.

"I do think we need to see immediate and tangible progress with fixing these systems," says Strucko, "before the Board and the public can have restored confidence that we made a sound investment in this infrastructure."

However, after nearly three decades of teaching, Guerrant questions the investment by a central office that "practices deception and misdirection" and fails to "provide leadership that teachers can respect."

"This software problem is only one illustration of how the current administration has compromised instructional rigor and driven dedicated teachers away," says Guerrant. "It's an experience teachers in this county have long since struggled to overcome."


CORRECTION 9/15: School Board member Eric Strucko no longer works at CFA, as we initially reported. He left that position in 2007 and is currently the CFO at the University of Virginia Physicians Group.


Adding some letters after your name doesn't mean you have common sense nor good judgment as proven by Albemarle's school administration. The mantra is ACPS never has enough money, now we see why. World-class or do they mean world-ass? Obvioulsy getting a tech-savy award doesn't mean you know technology and its proper uses. Maybe ACPS and the city they can spend more education money on tech people instead of teachers!

There are at least two free and open source learning management systems, Moodle and Sakai, which will do most of, if not all of the functions provided by this system, and they are supported by local companies, meaning money invested in implementation and maintenance go back to the community.

The author needs to make a correction - Strucko doesn't currently work for CFA.

"Communications & Media Relations office" <---- tell me this is not being being paid for with taxpayer education money please.

Good point about Moodle and Sakai. Rutgers uses Sakai, if it is good enough for their needs, it is surely good enough for Ablemarle schools. If they really want to go the tablet route, $100 Android based tablet + Sakai would be equal if not better. Save the $2,000,000 and spend it on a teachers and a competent network administrator to keep the system up and running.

And there is always pencil and paper, which is a proven technology. Additionally, you can't play angry birds or watch porn with a pencil and paper, and I'll bet you that is the first thing students do with these new tablets.

Perhaps the county should put less money into this and more money into paying more insurance for the possbility that principals who make unfair (and blatantly untrue) assessments of teachers (to prospective employers – without the teacher’s knowledge) leaving their jobs for no reason other than those jobs were fazed out by population declines will cause the county to be sued. I don’t want to name the school but it starts with “W.” Perhaps they should rein in their "chatty" principals. Could be a problem. Human resources should be the only ones giving out the references, and it should only be the truth, not speculation. When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, sometimes both hands get slapped. Get a new policy, Albemarle County.

Really, less money was put into things of this nature that fail, perhaps some teachers would still have their jobs.

How telling that only former teachers were willing to have their names used. Current teachers are afraid to have their names used, but as a parent, I can tell you that they all were frustrated with the new system. This summer when I called my son's guidance dept. to ask about his schedule, she told me that they were backed up because ACPS had introduced yet another new scheduling system. The article is right - ACPS seems to be enamored of the latest and greatest technology in pursuit of the ego-stroking "world class" status. Last year, after pushing through the 4x4 system and giving high school teachers no time or support in trying to adapt, ACPS then added the new Schoolnet system on top of that. To say morale was poor is a vast understatement. We lost many of our best teachers to retirement or local private schools.

Give me a great teacher with a piece of chalk and a blackboard any day over a mediocre teacher with all the latest whiz-bang technology. I have seen plenty of those expensive smart boards gathering dust in the back of our classrooms after the newness has worn off.

First: They are guidance counselors not councilors. Get it right editors.

Second: The major transcript snafus last year were not with SchoolNet but with the new web-based gradebook Gradespeed which was not compatible with SchoolNet and did not meet the requirements of its contract with the County. Hence, the County ended its contract with Gradespeed and is using a different program called PowerTeacher this year. We will see what kinks this program has, but the City has been using it for years.

Third: Money has been put into technology, but schools have lost their CTIPs (curriculum and technology integration partners) who were staff members were trained to help staff integrate the technology into their classrooms in a meaningful manner and maintain the hardware so that it didn't become damaged or unusable. Yes, we have coaches who are working with teachers who ask for help in these areas, but it is not the same as having a person in your building devoted to working with teachers and technology. Many of us get fed up with computers that aren't working properly or available when we need them, so we just avoid using them in the classroom altogether.

The thing that burns me up is that excellent, young, enthusiastic teachers were let go by the county in order to "save money" when they easily could have held on to their jobs if the nearly two million dollars was spent on saving them instead of on schoolnet. The 4x4 implementation debacle wouldn't have happened either, and high school teachers wouldn't be yet again teaching another class (6 out of 8 now, instead of 5 out of 7, as was the case in the past).

Technology doesn't make a county "world class." Good teachers do. And so many of them were lost to save money while the county spends two million on total CRAP.

The county school leadership is a JOKE.

“The integration and collaboration that is happening in our
schools has by far been the biggest impact Schoolnet has had in
our district,” says Chris Gilman, Coordinator of Research and
Program Evaluation at Albemarle County.

Does this person work for the same ACPS?

I do not understand why if we have a Federal department of Education they did not fund a universal open source program for all school systems to utilize for free if they chose? That way the glitches could be fixed and shared and the costs would be maybe ten percent of current expenditures.

also why does this school board keep volunteering to be the guinea pig for these companies to overcharge them to work the bugs out of their defective products?

The superinteeant needs to come clean.

Gee, do you think Pam Moran is tweeting about this? Let me go check.

This is terrible. A technological fetish in education is costly, ineffective and as the recent NYTimes points out, it lacks any empirical support. Blind faith in technology is as harmful as blind faith in anything else, often leading to deception and misdirection.

Ms Crumpet, it is because we don't need the Federal Dept of Education to fund an open source program (as if they would do a good job). As a number of commentators have pointed out, open source alternatives already exist; it's simply a lack of imagination rooted in reflexive dependence on government or corporate solutions that constrains our ability to do better.

@confused easily -- Strucko does indeed work for the vast UVA "Industrial Complex" in the Health Services Foundation as CFO. Can't you tell? He exudes UVA arrogance, "beyond compare," to borrow from UVA Health System's pompous ad campaign.

Thank goodness the contents of this article are finally being exposed! This article reveals one of the main reasons I resigned from ACPS two years ago. The amount of time and money wasted on SchoolNet is astronomical and entirely emblematic of the way the County chooses to use its dwindling resources. SchoolNet is a COMPLETELY useless and unnecessary system for a classroom teacher, yet teachers are required to log in periodically just so that the administrators can say that it is being used. It never even worked properly during the training sessions we were required to attend to learn how to use it.

This sort of waste is a slap in the face to the hardworking faculty of the County's schools when budget cuts require increased class sizes and increased teaching loads without even the simplest cost-of-living raises. The County talks a good game about supporting and retaining the "best" teachers, but then spends money on expensive, and glamorous-sounding, yet entirely non-functional and irrelevant software instead of supporting those who get the job done for our students in ways that actually might be useful to them. It is disgusting, and they should be ashamed.

@former county teacher Thanks for speaking up.

It has not been noted by Mr. McNair, (perhaps he has no knowledge of this) that a yearlong (2009-2010) committee of teachers/counselors/principals was indeed set up to choose the new SIS software. The committee gave its recommendations and after months of volunteer time, gave the SchoolNet system the lowest rating, of course, because these are the people that are actually working. Disingenuous requests for feedback are rampant in this school system, they ask for your opinion just to be able to say that they did, they know what they're going to do all along...

I would like to see a police investigation into whether Moran was pocketing "speaking fees" and the like from this company in exchange for using her authority to purchase their software (and to gag those who tell the truth about its functionality).

We should all insist that Ms. Moran release her e-mails, and take this a step further asking that the law be changed, so that this exception not be allowed.

Her behavior, as documented in this article, indicates a clear conflict of interest and should be further investigated. Did her endorsements cause other school systems to purchase this faulty software ? Was she in any way compensated for these endorsements ? Of course her elevation to the speakers podium of these technology marketing events is a direct form of compensation .

I find this another shocking example in our community of officials blinded by those who stand to make a financial gain, being allowed improper access to influence costly community decisions.

I would think that the Board of Supervisors, who are involved in scrutinizing every financial outlay would find this waste of taxpayer money unacceptable and the atmosphere of distrust that it has bred in the teaching staff which will directly harm the entire system, and most of all the children.

More evidence that the Hook is still the real deal when it comes to investigative reporting, an endangered species. Thank you Mr. McNair and the entire staff, for supporting the significant effort, and monetary outlay it took to bring this matter to light !

Who will hold the Superintendent and the School Board accountable the same way they hold students and teachers accountable? They should all be fired. My kid did not have a transcript sent to a top notch school because of these unethical acts. People should start going to school board meetings and holding these people accountable for their actions. ACPS needs new leadership.

The Curry School award just shows you how the people at the top of all these institutions just pat each other on the back and reinforce the unethical behavior. Egg on their face. But maybe Curry endorses the commercialization of education and the lining of the pockets of educators who can make a buck on the side. Thanks Dave for the story. Maybe you can put tis story together with the tag line of the VQR story and investigate how much workplace bullying is going on in ACPS. I'll bet many teachers are treated like crap.

Dave McNair always does a great job at investigating and reporting. I wish he was in charge. McNair for Mayor!!! Can you imagine having leaders who actually questioned things rather than just trying to keep the corrupt systems moving along like keeping the trains running on time? Now that would be a democracy I could fight for.

Thanks for this article.

I was horrified, last summer, when a close friend of mine, an ACPS teacher, described to me many of the very issues you discuss above: the glitches, the obtuse and faulty functionality and way in which this and other "technological innovations" are being forced upon teachers, wasting time, resources and importantly, further constraining the manner is teachers actually teach ( for example, forcing them to give student tests which can be administered at and graded by computers, even where inappropriate to the subject matter). And yes, they are scared to speak up; very scared, scared for their future employment, which is already annually uncertain.

I am a tech fan myself and believe it can and should be used to make the lives and teachers and staff easier. But this is just a fiasco.

On another note, can someone from ACPS please call me about a bridge I have for sale.

It seem more than just a little bit clear that Albemarle County officials were warned very early on that SchoolNet was problematic and that it little or no instructional utility. But they didn't listen early on. Nor did they listen later on, when "glitches" continued and intensified. But that is the Albemarle County schools central office modus operandi: top-down, autocratic "leadership" that steadfastly refuses to seek input from the people most affected by the decisions that are made, and an unwillingness to accept responsibility for the mistakes and turmoil and failures that result.

[Note to bill braske: if you had clicked on the link provided in the article to the Western student's video report on SchoolNet, you'd have seen that SchoolNet was already purchased and in place long before the alleged "committee of teachers/counselors/principals" that you reference in your comment. The fact is, teachers were never consulted on the purchase of SchoolNet...nor were their warnings and complaints given any serious attention for along time, even as problem after problem cropped up.]

A reasonable person might deem it acceptable that several e-mail communications between the school superintendent (Pam Moran) and SchoolNet officials would be withheld from The Hook's Freedom of Information Act request. Perhaps even a dozen or two might be excluded. But 268? Two hundred and sixty-eight withheld e-mails? One has to wonder what the superintendent is hiding....and why.

oops...seemS clear.

and, that it HAD little or no instructional utility

What does the Lemon clause in the contract with Schoolnet say? I would hope the county attorneys(and there are way too many of them) would have protected the county in this regard. Judging by the pictures the Hook provided it appears that Moran crossed the line and perhaps got a little too chummy with the CEO of Schoolnet and was blinded from the reality of how faulty their product is.

The school board is also to blame for not being demanding and accountable. They seem to find time to make excuses rather than addressing the true problem...perhaps they are shielded from the truth with alot of empty words. Why is it that if anyone asks a challenging question they are scorned by this school board?

Based on all the quotes in this article there are ALOT of excuses but no real solution. Based on that I say throw ALL the bums and parasites out...which includes the school board and ACPS administrators!

Good article.

I think a lot of folks are confusing SchoolNet with Gradespeed. GradeSpeed does fall under the SchoolNet umbrella but is(was) a separate program. Gradespeed is the SIS/Grading system that the schools had last year and was a miserable failure. ACPS has since make a smart decision and went with a different program this year.

SchoolNet, however, is still around and I think is that main piece of software discussed here. The county says great things about it, but it is rather horrible to use for teachers. It's not user friendle, cumbersome and they do requre teachers to log in to show use. It doesn't matter if you actually use it or not. When a teacher is directed to at least log in by such and such a date, you know they're only doing it to increase some number to show that teachers are using it. They've also placed the county schools newsletter (The Compass) on SchoolNet. I'm assuming this was so that more people would have to log on to read it, therefore increasing the numbers once again. The only thing that accomplished was fewer people read it as it is a pain to access. Don't give teachers an additional classes to teach with more students and then expect to take the time to use a program that has little instructional value that takes forever to use.

What makes this article come full circle for me is all of the research I have been doing on on ed reform. This situation is exactly of what critics of the reform movement were warning about; the partnership between public monies and private corporations. When you think of something like SchoolNet selling a product that is only a data collection and organizing tool and its only reason of existence is because of NCLB, something seems fishy. The Obama administration is tailoring its policies to quietly force schools to play ball with large corporations. This example of SchoolNet is one of them. Almost 800K up front and almost 60K annually for a DATA COLLECTION program that serves no instructional purpose at all. Then companies scratching the backs of the school division leaders ( I would like to say kick backs but, no evidence yet supports that, so I will say scratching the backs). By "scratching the backs" of division leaders, private companies can then easily coax them into long term contracts which "steals" money from the school division's annual budgets. Now the county has obligated funds of one or two million a year on non education related items. So next annual budget cycle, when the county comes up short, you will notice how teachers will lose jobs, but private contracts will still be honored.

BTW... don't let the language fool you. If you are for "ed reform" you are voting for the private companies.

You're dead on teacher-- "the partnership between public monies and private corporations"

Accountability can't be avoided, but teachers should be accountable to parents and students. Current reforms that attempt to reduce everything to numbers and data lead us to this problem. Started by republicans like Allen in Virginia and Bush nationally, and extended and continued by democrats like Obama, this madness of school reform follows no ideology. Test kids as much as you can and create mountains of data that can only be tracked by complex management systems like SchoolNet.

But, accountability? Are only our teachers accountable? Who will answer these charges and perhaps explain 1)why such an error in management and judgment occurred, 2)why it was covered up or glossed over instead of confronted openly and honestly, and 3)how we can be assured it won't happen again?

I have a couple of questions: (1) How many IT people do we Albemarle County taxpayers actually employ for the school system? (2) And what do they do all day? This is not meant as a criticism of IT personnel in any way. I'm really honestly curious. And I think the answer to this would be a good sidenote to the article.

Buy all the children laptop computers, and then all the children will be above average ... at pushing buttons ...

And any organization that operates around a software system will be mechanistic and essentially incapable of meaning or purpose ...

When city officials, school, county, whoever, won't let you see records you automatically know they have something to hide. Anytime FOIA has to be used to open government communications or records its time to start firing people for cause. The DEA has become a 500lbs gorilla and needs to go on a diet. I firmly believe on a good education at any cost but when stuff like this happens people need to be held accountable for their actions.

to teacher and teacher 2 - I second your comments enthusiastically. Teacher and school accountability are well and good, but doomed if children and parents don't hold up their end of the bargain. Does anyone hold the child accountable? Is anyone actually allowed to fail a child who doesn't do the work anymore? And do parents ever experience any consequence for not encourging and supporting their children and insisting that the children achieve in line with potential? Not really. So clamping down on schools and teachers is like the old tale about looking for lost keys under the street light - it's easier to do it that way even if the method dooms the search to failure.

This series of “financial” events is only the tip of the ice berg. Consider the documented mission ACPS promulgated a mere three years ago--rigor, relevance and relationships (supposedly the underpinning of our world-class system)--what Mr. McNair exposes is a complete dismantling of these concepts. In fact, ACPS is laying down the groundwork to eliminate "Our highly qualified teachers [who] bring hands-on, concept-based lessons to the classrooms every day, so that students are challenged to understand beyond memorization" (ACPS webpage, "About Us"). ACPS is using technology and instructional models that limit the efficacy of the teacher and instead tout the values of online learning, the antithesis of the "research" they expounded when they adopted the three "R" mission.

Technology is just ONE piece of a larger plot to undermine the value of public education. The increased class load on high school teachers is a complement to the long term goal to eliminate courses (under the guise of lowering costs) but more importantly we can expect the whole of 12th grade to disappear. (The idea of "graduating" 16-year-olds should be of greater concern to us all). Compare the drive to increase college credit courses and online courses to what we know about cognitive and moral development. That ACPS references the UVA medical school as an instructional model for K-12 should truly frighten us--it reveals how out-of-touch this leadership is. That there are questionable relationships with education "businesses" is only a spotlight--we need to turn on all the stage lights to see what primrose path Dr. Moran is leading us down.

Board of Supervisors should call for an investigation of the school administration and the School Board.

Oh Betty,Betty, Betty,
Asking the board of Supes to look into this matter is like asking the fox to look into chicken coop. You need to wake up and smell the stink bugs, we're infested with them.

Didn't you see my tongue in my cheek? Actually asking Richmond to look into it wouldn't do any good either. Virginia is a little slack on enforcement and accountability in a variety of areas, especically State laws. We need the Feds to take a peek. Any hope for RICO?

"Any hope for RICO?"

You mean Recyclers Intimidated by Corrupt Officials? The County only lets that sort of thing be used against the competition, not themselves.

@Lynn , Another question is "How many IT people are actually paid by Schoolnet at a much higher rater thant ACPS pays?" The City paid an exorbitant amount for data entry for its new (different) system than the City normally pays. Remember that the vendor charges for data migration (import).

To 'Annoyed by typos'....your comment below is incorrect. GradeSpeed was and is a Schoolnet product, so the problems were indeed with Schoolnet. Also, the new SIS system is from Pearson and it is called PowerSchool, not PowerTeacher. This is all explained in the story--Dave

"Second: The major transcript snafus last year were not with SchoolNet but with the new web-based gradebook Gradespeed which was not compatible with SchoolNet and did not meet the requirements of its contract with the County. Hence, the County ended its contract with Gradespeed and is using a different program called PowerTeacher this year. We will see what kinks this program has, but the City has been using it for years."

It appears that the commenter kilgoretrout is on to something.

kilgore says that the county schools superintendent has laid "down the groundwork to eliminate '...highly qualified teachers''." Indeed she has. There's not only been concerted effort to shed experienced teachers but also the superintendent has no love lost for those teachers who ask questions about her "vision" and her policies (note how many teacher comments for Dave McNair's article were anonymous). She builds a wall of loyalists around her, and hires new administrators who pledge her their fealty.

The county schools "Lifelong-Learner Standards" include the following:

* "Think analytically, critically, and creatively..."

* "Understand and apply principles of logic and reasoning; develop, evaluate, and defend arguments."

* "Seek, recognize and understand systems, patterns, themes, and interactions."

However, if teachers actually practice these "habits of mind," then their questions are perceived as "criticism," they get labeled as"troublemakers," and they are "marginalized." The culture created by the superintendent's top-down direction, lack of communication, and dismissal of teacher input is –– according to teachers –– one of distrust and disrespect.

The county learner standards also include the following:

* "Demonstrate ethical behavior and respect..."

* "Apply habits of mind and metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate one's own work."

Perhaps the superintendent and the Board would do well to heed the "skills and habits" they prescribe for students.

And to think that we have entrusted our children to these educational leaders; what wonderful role models! It sickens me that School Board members are condoning this unethical behavior as they should be demanding the immediate release of all information that Moran has refused to release as well as resignations from Moran and those on her staff that have been involved in this, but of course many have left town. Hmmmmmmm...................

I found out this week that with the new Power Teacher grade book if a student is removed from a teacher's roster to be placed in another teacher's class, all the grades for that student (that the original teacher recorded) are lost.

One more nail in the coffin as for me believing that there are government officials be they state local or fed that act in may behalf. Just one more boondoggle to enrich the coffers of a few connected individuals. Not that I'm jealous, far from it. The other bad part is that we (our other elected officials) do NOTHING to hold these people accountable. Make sure you teach your kids the meaning and mindset of integrity, Greed can be a slippery slope.

In regard to the transcript fiasco, I would be very interested to know how the admit rates of our 2011 seniors to top institutions (particularly ivies, Stanford) compares with past years. I have heard that at least one of the high schools (where counselors were feverishly working to get the transcripts out by hand) NONE of the students were admitted to Ivies in 2011.

Also, why are MHS students and teachers still being subjected to the 4 x 4 schedule? The students despise it and so do many of the teachers. Could this a parity issue?

NOTE: if you're here to post a comment that simply bashes someone or something without any kind of argument or reasoning; that is if you are here simply to throw stones, there's a good chance your comment will be deleted.

The comments showed FACTS that certainly relate to the story. This is about using technology isn't it?

Remember the story about her incessant texting during graduation ceremonies last year? Is that the norm for superintendents? people her age?

Her twitter activity is relevant to this unfortunate IT situation.

Oops, I meant "tweeting" during graduation exercises, not texting.

The photo is priceless. just priceless.

"tweeting" during graduation exercises? what a poor role model to the students.

Thank you Hook for exposing some of the dog and pony show going on in ACPS. There needs to be a change in leadership in ACPS, starting with Dr. Moran and then moving on to the new CIO.

This failure by the chair of the SB to see any problem with the deception uncovered in the Hook article epitimizes the lack of oversight the SB has shown in many of the decisions made at the behest of the superintendent. A slick powerpoint presentation seems to be enough to convince them that what is being presented should be enacted.

Interactions with some SB members about questions and concerns can deteriorate into condescending assurances that our fears are unfounded; those in charge know best. Honest dialogue seems impossible.

It is the deception that I find most troubling. Parents and teachers were played for fools. Imagine the concerted effort it must have taken to carry out this charade. I believe that the credibility of the county leadership has been lost.

The article in the Hook is the voice calling out, "The Emperor has no clothes."

But the school board will gather this Thursday at the Monticello H.S. media center for a worksession on "Learning Spaces" and "Contemporary Design for Learning." ( (see item 7.1)) While the needs and concerns of the community continue to be ignored or "of no concern" to our school board, they are more than willing to further advance the dialogue on innovation that casts our system in a progressive light.

I guess after visiting the UVa Med school and attending a few national conferences the answers to all of our problems become clear. Nevermind bothering to ask the students and parents of Albemarle county what they believe their education should look like.

Moran should resign and school board nembers should step down.

In reference to the SchoolNet fiasco story, and the the School Board's apparent lack of any serious concern over what transpired, commenter lizdarcy writes: "It is the deception that I find most troubling."

Many teachers in the county find that deception troubling as well. But it's not limited to this particular incident, nor is it specific to the schools. In the recent past the county's human resources department tried to snooker all county employees with a forced-choice survey question asking whether they would rather have an early retirement incentive, or health care. The decision to scrap the retirement incentive had already been made (in writing, with no substantiation) many months earlier.

The county, with much "guidance" from Ken Boyd, created a "market" made up almost entirely of poorer and much poorer localities than Albemarle for the purpose of determining teacher pay (meanwhile, the county subsidizes its biggest and mostly wealthiest landowners with huge tax breaks). And, over the last half-dozen years the human resources department has purposefully and routinely collected inaccurate salary data from that skewed "market."

So, deception is nothing new. But it also shouldn't be acceptable. In the schools, the deception is aptly illustrated by SchoolNet, an expensive, and apparently useless (to teachers) piece of technology. But it also includes the so-called "coaching" model and professional learning communities (PLCs). The "coaching" model has taken teachers from the classroom and made them roving "helpers." It's in its third year and costs over $1 million a year, yet there's been no attempt to substantively evaluate its efficacy. The PLCs are really not very "professional" (at one school teachers who arranged themselves into groups to study authentic assessment and critical thinking and writing were forced to disband) nor focused much on learning: they are dedicated to test scores.

In response to parental concerns about leadership, the school board chair wrote that he's watched Albemarle County "become one of the best systems in the state and in the nation. That progress has been built on the
solid foundation of great leadership from Dr. Castner and Dr. Moran."

Frankly, quite the opposite is true. The county schools are still pretty good in SPITE of what the superintendents have done. And it is dedicated, hard working teachers who continue to be its strength and most important resource. Yet, interestingly, when the schools "leadership" commissioned a "Resource Utilization Study," not a single teacher was scheduled for an interview.

The previous superintendent helped to orchestrate the rigged "market" for teachers and routinely ignored their input on critical issues. The current superintendent has probably outdone that. In fact, one departing administrator was so disgusted with and disappointed in the "leadership" that he gave central office personnel copies of psychologist Irving Janis' book, Groupthink. According to Janis, Groupthink is characterized by close-mindedness, pressure to conform, insulation of those in power, censorship of ideas that deviate from dictates, and failure to fairly evaluate alternatives and "preferred choices." Ultimately, according to Janis, it results in "defective decision-making."

There are, of course, better ways to lead and manage organizations.

The facts ma'am, nothing but the facts:

SOURCE> Twitter 9/19/11 @8:52 AM

pammoran About @pammoran

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The facts ma'am, nothing but the facts:

SOURCE> Twitter 9/19/11 @8:55 AM

David McNair About @DSMcNair

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The facts ma'am, nothing but the facts:

SOURCE> Twitter 9/19/11 @8:57 AM

The Hook newspaper About @readthehook

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Hook - thank you for this article. There needs to be checks and balances and something implemented to be sure things like this do not occur again. I, too, am curious about how many in IT we have employed in the Albemarle County Government. I noted at another company I worked, we spent hundreds of thousands on software which I knew the talent of our IT department could have created a custom system which would do all, cost less and then turn around and sell to others in the industry - what a concept!

It should be noted, was any research done to see what other school systems out there were utilizing? Why are we frustrating teachers and others further when their focus should be our students? It is horrible enough that the expectations of teachers has increased.

I also agree with the previous comment that it doesn't matter how many letters are behind your name and truly from my experience the more there the less common sense and increase in unethical behaviors that are rewarded by others with similar initials placed behind their names.

The facts ma'am, nothing but the facts:

SOURCE> Twitter 9/19/11 @9:13AM

Vince Scheivert About @vscheivert

317 Tweets
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Mr. Scheivert is CIO for ACPS.

@Dave, please delete the Teresa Sullivan entry. It's apparently a student "parody."


Can the Hook put some of the more relevant documents from the FOIA request online? I know many many in Albemarle, parents, teachers, taxpayers, would appreciate it!

This is an important story which deserves wide attention in Albemarle County. School board members need to carefully consider their loyalty to the superintendent because AC education is at risk here. In these difficult economic times, this sort of fiasco makes it difficult to justify the local education budget, even for those of us who believe in the importance of supporting education.

A few questions for folks and the author:

1) It seems that Schoolnet and Gradespeed are different programs both owned by Schoolnet Inc. It would be like writing about Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office for Windows and alluding to them being the same product.

2) how much did Schoolnet cost in 2006, and Gradespeed last year - Separately, not together? How much would a comparable program have cost? It seems that ACPS has always had something (SASI XP???) and so they needed to purchase something to keep track of what Gradespeed did and Powerschool does? What are the costs associated with that - the only fair way to evaluate the cost of gradespeed, it's not a 2 million or 0 proposition I assume.

3) Is there any evidence of benefits for Dr Haun, Mr. Scheivert, Dr. Benson, or were their names and salaries included to sensationalize the article and make it sound widespread?

4) Did Dr. Brown or Dr. Moran get paid for their appearances at conferences or for promotional materials?

5) Did Dr. Brown pay for his own "night out" in Va Beach? If so, I don't think going out with a business partner is illegal?

Teachers do seem to be overwhelmed when talking to them, but I wonder how that varies across localities, or if this is a State and Federal Issue - compliance with larger systems is causing stress, and individual teachers are being held accountable for the failure of a national system and unreasonable job performance expectations.Gradespeed lasted one year, it seems all found out it was a mistake.

I might also say that the same people on here airing any issue they have with ACPS are the same ones indicating the public sector needs to be more like the private sector. I assume that there are mutually beneficial business partnerships out there? We are all so deluded that we pick on folks making $150K for POSSIBLY having conflicts of interest, when millionaires everyday manipulate our entire economy while we scream that the government is too regulatory. The middle and lower class have been turned against each other. We fight over tens of thousands of dollars while enron executives, wall street middlemen, and CEOs of companies find loopholes for tens of billions of dollars and we are convinced that those are the saviors of the economy, their profits are up and some of us can't even find a job...sad really.

Go to the Sept 22, 2011 School Board Work session and politely let them know that the Superintendent’s' emails should not be protected if she has nothing to hide. Have an independent source redact the emails when sensitive student or personnel matters are discussed and show everything related to SchoolNet and Gradespeed. Also, show everything related to online classes and the latest technology spending proposals.

Read this blog by Pam Moran
"Natural Leadership: the Power of We" from May, 2011 on Edurati Review. It is important to note that she writes about “what Dr. Canterbury describes as important for leaders to consider when making changes of significant magnitude in the work that occurs inside an organization.” It appears that Pam Moran has adopted many of these ideas especially these four tenets:
 Begin with Steven Covey’s “end in mind” and decide where you’re going and continue along that path. If you have moves from side to side in direction it should be because there’s a reason to move that way.

 You’ll find hundreds of research studies on change process. There seems to be two types of change when it comes to ways you can change a big system. One is a gradual and transitional change in which you move things a little bit at a time and eventually you can get there, but it’s asymptotic. This doesn’t work so well in large systems. The other is a disruptive or transformational change that occurs with agility. When faced with the need to make radical changes, moving quickly gets ahead of resisters.

 Leadership support for change is essential “from the top.” Responsibility “from the top” also is critical. That means if a key team member doesn’t make the needed transition, the leader owns that. At the same time, the message must be that nobody is important enough to stop the team from making changes they need to make. Have backup systems for how you will get the work done. No one can hold you hostage then.

 Tear down silos and get people working in teams. But, remember silos love to form. It’s amazing to see one of those things sitting out in a field someplace. You think that must have taken a lot of work to build those silos, but then they just drop out of the sky and there they are. You have to keep fighting against silos getting built.

Also be aware that Pam Moran is the Vice Chair of the "Implement Innovation and Cost Containment" Committee of the Governor’s Committee on Higher Education.
Higher Education Commission - Implement Innovation and Cost Containment Committee

Committee Goals:
• Model for higher education funding and service delivery that embodies a long-term commitment to high-quality instruction and affordable access, and that incorporates the degree attainment goals set out in (1) above;
• Rigorous cost-benefit analysis to identify and phase out low-demand programs and reduce/prevent wasteful central office administrative spending and eliminate redundancy within and across higher educational institutions;
• Optimal development and utilization of private and federal resources;
• Increased collaboration among high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions, and private providers to reduce the time and cost of obtaining a college degree;
• Use of new technology for delivering instruction, including course re-design for online learning, use of electronic instructional materials in lieu of textbooks, etc.; and
• Analysis of the principles and objectives of the Higher Education Restructuring Act of 2005, and enhancements thereto.

Mr. Todd Stottlemyer, Executive Vice-President, Inova Health System
Vice Chairman
Dr. Pamela Moran, Superintendent, Albemarle County Public Schools
Delegate Rosalyn Dance
Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.,
Dr. Rachel Fowlkes
Mr. Heywood Fralin
Mr. Paul Nardo
Senator Steve Newman
Senator Tommy Norment
Delegate Beverly J. Sherwood
President Paul Trible
Mr. John O. “Dubby” Wynne

Draw your own conclusions and demand that the ACPS Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, Billy Haun tell us the "end in mind" proposal that they have for ACPS students, teachers, taxpayers and themselves.

Also not that if you send any email to the entire school board using this link that Pam Moran and Jennifer Johnston are recipients as well but the ACPS website is silent on this.
To contact the entire School Board by e-mail, click here, or e-mail . (goes to Pam Moran, Jenifer Johnston and SB members)

"Schoolnet appears to have been a boon for school administrators. While there's no evidence that Moran or anyone else in her office was paid directly by Schoolnet, the relationship with the high-powered edu-tech company appears to have paid other dividends."

That's a pretty sweeping allegation, but the actual quid pro quo being alleged is that the county spent $2 million on this software and in return county administrators enjoyed a catered meal at ash-lawn.


Unless, of course, the Hook is somehow alleging that all the school administration salaries being paid by albemarle county are somehow tied to the purchase of the schoolnet software? Otherwise, what's the point of mentioning them? 15 administration positions were eliminated and maybe more could be. It's weird to shoehorn these facts into this article, unless the point is to simply hurl facts onto the page to give the appearance that all these facts are somehow related.

This is like the water "scandal" story printed last month. Alot of words, alot of huffing and puffing, alot of innuendo, not much actual meat.

Whether or not this software purchase was a good decision, it's pretty hard to read the actual allegations in this article and conclude that ACPS administration officials are actually corrupt, as some commenters appear to be doing. Being wrong about something does not mean therefore that you are a crook.

Forget the innuendo and stick to the facts. They spent $2+ million and have an IT train wreck on their hands. Given the financial situation the County is in . . . back up, given that they are spending OUR hard-earned money, someone should be held ACCOUNTABLE. That's the issue, and what will be done to prevent a recurrence.

If Moran needs to go, FINE!
If the School Board did not provide appropriate oversight and they need to go, FINE!

Watching bureaucrats and politicians get a pass on a screw up of this size won't fly.

That's the tweet and nothing but the whole tweet!

The entire Schoolnet debacle (including the insistence to use that company for the SIS and gradebook) has been a superintendent-driven decision, often over objections by principals, IT staff, other school division leaders, teachers, etc. Check out the "Key Performance Indicators" adopted by ACPS and the School Board from 2009-2011. Their measure of "preparing all students to compete in a global economy and participate in a global community" was the number of lesson plans that were uploaded into the Schoolnet system. The concerns about "self-justification" of the project are right on. Decisions of this import are the responsibility of an organization's chief executive, in this case, Dr. Moran.

That said, "visionary" leaders sometimes have "visions" or "legacy projects" that do not succeed. Leaders know when to cut their losses and re-vision. Perhaps that is going on now. The "troops", though, the employees, parents and citizens, may well have lost their ability to rally behind this leader and her board, however. They are battle weary, starving, and too often "shot down". This is the time when boards of corporations step in and evaluate leadership. School board? Apparently not concerned.

@Betty -

If taxpayers are the boss, you are the worst boss in history. Think what it would be like to be in a company where everytime a mistake was made that cost money, heads had to roll...

$2 million is a ghost figure from this article. We don't know how much until all options are evaluated for cost. how much would the schools have had to pay for another option? $2 million since 2006 is also about .33% of the overall budget..

All these taxpayers who contribute their "hard earned money" need to get off their high horse, I'm sure you've made some booboos in your life when it came to money either at work or at home.

@Dave How did you verify the $2 million figure?

@Value How many tweets do you have?

@Value It's not a question of spending $2 million. You're right, something was going to be spent in any event. It's a question of getting value received. If value was not received, why? Who should have known the project was going awry?, etc. Lots of unanswered questions . . . and the Superintendent won't release emails.

Apparent screw up + lack of transparency = interesting reading

If everything has been handled properly, then why stonewall?

And it is my very hard-earned money. Also I have no dog in this fight -- no kids in school. As far as being the School Board's boss, I can only wish that were the case. Certainly didn't vote for the member from my district. Certainly would suggest he/she look for employment elsewhere.

I've made my share of booboos and have NEVER stonewalled, NEVER covered up, NEVER deflected, so it is possible to be honorable even when you screw up.

Just the tweet, nothing but the whole tweet!

@Betty -do you have a problem with Twitter? I don't really like it either, but you seem to be building some kind of case against anyone who tweets. As if it is indicative of character flaw - and incompetence.

I don't know why Dr. Moran chooses to tweet so much according to your earlier stats - but it does seem as though she is competent at her job - allegations in this article withstanding until there is a bit more evidence of some kind of corruption.

@Betty- I would agree with ValueWhatWeHave. Your comments about Twitter have nothing to do with the larger issue, and simply come across as petty. If you are interested in productive discourse, then you would be better served to stop posting Twitter statistics and ending your comments with silly, trite phrases.

@an educator and parent

Connect the dots!

The big problems that emerge from this article by Dave McNair are certainly not the number of tweets the superintendent is capable of (although it's clearly a lot, and tweeting onstage during graduation ceremonies is more than a little disrespectful). And while one commenter notes that $2 million is a small portion of the overall budget, it's still $2 million that could have been more prudently spent elsewhere, especially considering the ample and timely warnings about SchoolNet's "glitches" that were repeatedly ignored.

Several commenters have gotten at the larger issues with the county schools "leadership": there is a very serious lack of communication, there's well-practiced deception and hypocrisy, and there's been a climate created –– a culture –– that seems to be permeated with fear, distrust, disrespect, and top-down authoritarianism.

One commenter noted the superintendent's column in Edurati Review (there are a bunch of them, almost all metaphorical gag pieces) in which she discusses "natural" leadership. In it she says a "leader" should "smile and wave" and use words like "we and ours." But she also advocates topdown "leadership" that tries to co-opt critics and questioners with platitudes, or get rid of them. And always figure out a way to get around obstacles (she calls them "silos"), even if they happen to be inconvenient truths. She seems to be quite well-practiced at that.

And that's part of the larger problem. Both the Board and the superintendent seem disinclined to practice what the publicly preach. The superintendent hired a PR specialist some years back to enhance internal and external communications. The Board, faced with numerous teacher complaints about poor communication, went on a "listening tour" of schools. And then came the 4 x 4 schedule change debacle (central office cited a ream of poor-quality "research" to support it). Students, parents and teachers were not consulted. The Board chair now admits that the Board acted hastily, "without adequate planning and insufficient stakeholder input."

In the switch to the 4 x4 high school teachers were given an extra class to teach, a 20 percent overload. The switch was cancelled because of the outcry and outrage it created, but the overload remains. Teachers at all schools were forced to use SchoolNet even though it was incredibly time-consuming, problematic and instructionally useless. Yet, the superintendent writes and metaphorizes that "educators have little time to play in the sandbox," and "educators need more unencumbered professional time," and it's important to nurture "creative and inventive ideas in the.. sandbox," and "the time to think" is critical to learning. Big words are nice, but the policies and practices (and purchases like SchoolNet) of the superintendent and the Board undermine much of what they say they value (see my comment above related to the county's life-long learners standards).

Actions do in fact speak louder than words.

Take a look and judge for yourself. Would you classify this as promotion of a vendor's product or not?

Further, does it not bother you that any email addressed to the School Board as a whole is also copied to Moran? Does it not concern you that any conversation you may wish to have with your elected officials, possibly even about the performance of your Superintendent, shows up in her email, without DISCLOSURE of this fact to you in advance?

The employee/employer relationship between the School Board and the Superintendent has been turned on its head.

SomethingStinkyIsAfoot cites several links that lay bare the superintendent's superlative assessment of SchoolNet.
Here are excerpts of what the superintendent said:

* “We are especially pleased with our results, as NCLB targets increase annually and our student performance continues to meet and exceed those targets.”

* “We are especially pleased that we can now obtain all our data tracking and analysis needs through one partner, Schoolnet.”

* “In tandem with Schoolnet’s Instructional Management System, GradeSpeed SIS supports our work with a comprehensive and dynamic performance management system."

* "I believe that Schoolnet and GradeSpeed SIS will add significant performance value to any school district looking to enhance learning results through more informed data-driven decision making."

* Teachers "are able to access, understand and apply real-time student assessment data through our information management system, Schoolnet.”

SchoolNet has been a disaster in the county. It is likely only the superintendent who is "especially pleased" with its "significant performance value." Even the School Board chair now admits that SchoolNet was "unable to deliver on their promises."

SomethingStinkyisAfoot says that "The employee/employer relationship between the School Board and the Superintendent has been turned on its head." Not exactly. But it has been perverted. The previous superintendent, who also excelled at control and deception, had the superintendent's and School Board's evaluations melded and welded (by way of analogy, think big bank CEOs and boards of directors). It remains that way today. Perhaps that's why the Board chair continues to say that the superintendent has the "full confidence of the Board."

While we are examining costs and unproductive teacher loads, let's eliminate KPIs--Key Performance Indicators. If teachers are made to spend precious time on SchoolNet so that someone in Central office can create statistics for pointless KPIs then the county can save lots of money by getting rid of the KPIs. Who benefits from these statistics? Who evaluates these statistics? Show me the value.

People work long hours creating and monitoring KPIs. School Board meeting time is eaten up by KPI discussions. Now we see that by measuring how well the SchoolNet software is performing or how useful it is for the purposes of KPI reporting, that we are instead, wasting valuable teacher resources—their time creativity and energy which could otherwise go towards benefits for students. And we didn't see the problem because it was artificially covered up.

The public needs to put the brakes on the Superintendent’s plan of technology spending without transparency. She need to account for every dime of spending for technology in the CIP and operating budgets because it adds up to millions of dollars and the line item descriptions are vague. Tell us what will be gained.

How much other busywork can we eliminate so teachers can teach? It is time to get out of the way of the teachers, lose the hollow KPIs, teach parents how to be advocates for their children’s learning opportunities and remove the tasks and things that clutter the education landscape and all of our minds. Treat teachers with more real respect—let them teach and let them be heard without concern for retribution.

For the record, I participated in the WAHS graduation in the gym in 2009. In our pre-ceremony exercises , we were instructed to turn off our cell phones, and spit out our gum. Imagine our surprise when we saw Dr. Moran tweeting and chewing gum. She violated the first rule of being there, she wasn't "there". But perhaps the best part was when Dr. Bruce Benson addressed us as Albemarle High School. Usually, that would not be remarkable, except that his own daughter graduated that night, from WAHS. We are all still chuckling over that slip. For us, all of them, the BOS, Benson and especially Dr Benson, and Dr Moran came across as phony. We had a nice graduation anyway, but now we fell as apathetic as them. It's funny that they sold us down the river for what???

as Col. Jessup would say......."you can't handle the truth!"

All of the money spent over the past 40 years on education has not done a damn thing to improve the status of American students in the global community. You think friggin' "tablets" are going to help? I DON'T THINK SO!

Trinkets like these are used to enable the "educators" to say- "look what I did for you!"

For once, I wish that the "educators" of this Country would get it!

It is what happens at home that prepares the students to take on the daily grind of education- it would help the teachers (not the same as "educators") immensly if parents would take charge and contribute to their childrens education. Take an interest in what their kids are doing instead of playing video games and watching cartoons while their kids struggle with homework- hoping to make the grade..........

In response to an earlier comment... powerschool does not drop the student and the grades when the student drops a class. It automatically filters it into a list of students for that class called "dropped". I think this is quite ingenious and the default mode is to show only students "active" in your class which makes it seem like the student disappeared. Many teachers in several buildings (including myself) had a moment of panic until we toyed with the software and found this filter.

Here are my questions:
Why does Pearson have competing programs such as gradespeed/schoolnet and powerschool? Why did the county invest in the terrible one? Why does the county send an e-mail telling us the Division Compass is posted in schoolnet when we actually read it when it was sent by e-mail? Why is schoolnet the only software I've ever had trouble navigating in my life? Why haven't I logged into schoolnet in 14 days? Why did my principal and I have the most superficial conversation about this situation? Why was schoolnet not updated in August with test information and student history when placing students in the right class is most critical? Why won't Pam disclose her e-mail?

The rhetorical and serious questions could go on but the list is infinite.

It appears from the article and other commentators that it is being alleged that ACPS did the following possibly questionable practices in their zeal to partner with and endorse Schoolnet:

1. Hosted Schoolnet's conference in 2009, using county taxpayer dollars to provide transportation, meals, IT services, etc. for the conference at no charge to Schoolnet (including customary facilities charge for using Monticello High School), while also paying registration fees for dozens of ACPS officials to attend. {Would FOIA reveal cost expenditures to host conference and fees paid?}
2. Spent taxpayer-funds for travel expenses for Dr. Moran, Dr. Luvelle Brown and others over multiple years to multiple Schoolnet conferences for the purpose of endorsing Schoolnet products.
3. Made decisions based not on the effectiveness of instruction or in the best interests of students and their learning, but in the interest of increasing the use and justification of an IT system, Schoolnet, that was purchased and floridly endorsed (KPIs, required use and login by teachers, migration of services from effective system to Schoolnet's less effective system, requiring teachers to spend time jumping through Schoolnet hoops rather than effectively delivering instruction or engaging with students, etc);
4. Hijacked the backbone of the School Division, its Student Information System, which maintains all student records, by going with an undeveloped, untested and unusable product for the purpose of bolstering ACPS's relationship with Schoolnet. ACPS bought a system that was not in use anywhere in the nation, and was not even fully developed, making themselves the guinea pig, without running a parallel, functioning system to ensure operations continued effectively. Dr. Moran also endorsed the product as being wonderful (see links by other commentators) prior to it being implemented in the Division, ostensibly to help Schoolnet with sales of the system. For 2010-11, mandatory state reports could not be generated, attendance could not be enforced, and report cards and transcripts had to be created manually, resulting in errors, overtime, cost and frustration. In addition, the product was/is not on the state-approved vendor list for Student Information Systems.
5. The ultimate cost for PowerSchool to replace Schoolnet's SIS a year later was higher than the cost ACPS would have received in 2009 when they originally intended to go with PowerSchool, but decided, at superintendent directive, to use Schoolnet's phantom product. Schoolnet has since been sold to Pearson at great profit to the company's founders, close friends of Dr. Moran and Dr. Luvelle Brown (McNair appears to insinuate that there may be personal gain to Moran and Luvelle Brown, but evidence is circumstantial).
6. Maintained a commitment to and annual cost for a software (Schoolnet minus the SIS/Gradespeed product no longer in use) that is duplicative and/or ineffective, according to ACPS employees, begging the question of the justification of the expense. Are there other, cheaper, more effective solutions to accomplish the same goals? Does the School Division need Schoolnet? What about other "toys" gathering dust or other systems that duplicate each other? -- Didn't the School Board state that a technology audit would be performed?

I like googling things...

my favorite line is "schoolnet's own Dr. Pam Moran"
Where is Albemarle County's own Dr. Pam Moran?
That is an addendum to my previous list of questions.

Here is another gem if you are still reading the comments:

Dave should file a FOIA request to see how the reorganization in IT came about after the new CIO was hired. What's interesting is the date the SB approved funding for a position that seemingly would assist with implementing the newest SIS and the date the position was finally advertised. (they can't blame Dr. Luvelle Brown for this one) It would have made sense to have a person in that position during the summer but it wasn't advertised until after school started. This is indicative of yet another high-ranking official not considering the issue as critical or moving quickly to provide staff with support.

Another interesting thing to note is the number of positions advertised recently in the assessment office. Assessment = the "A" in D.A.R.T. Does this mean more positions were approved by the SB and they sat idle-unfilled all summer or is there a management or administration issue causing turnover? Or could it mean the new CIO was charged with cleaning-house, while it is the executive house that really needs cleaning.

Unfortunately for teachers and supportive staff members, even the newest administrators are prepped by existing ones. This means all the new-hires are forewarned about squeaky-wheels and the stakeholders are still not taken seriously if they raise an issue.

The SB should seek clarity on all issues from someone other than the executive cabinet for a change. They might be surprised what they find. They have been misled and misinformed for years.

The hook needs a "deep throat" to clarify the facts...

somebody knows what questions need to be asked to whom.

This is tedious, if parents want their kids to get an excellent education take them north. Nothing but hogwash down here. Fortunately I went to school in Skokie Ill. Upon moving down here I was shocked at how schools were so far behind the curve in the south, and still are. Unfortunately Morans efforts only serve to prolong the status quo down here. Just another self serving Type A personality.

Mow- you are correct- but it is still the parents who must make it all happen in conjunction with the teachers contributing to the "day care" with their expertise and dedication to their students.

all in all, something has to be done at home.....................regardless of income or education of the parents- if the parents would work with their kids at home, the parents might learn something too, or at least refresh their knowledge

There is no substitute for parental involvement in a childs education, thats very true. One of the darker aspects of broken homes these days, a one parent home doesn't leave a lot of time for that parent to spend with a child. Sad.

Technology does not facilitate learning. Teachers and their direct interactions with kids are what facilitate learning. Smartboards and netbooks are tools, and they can be useful ones. But when the focus is on the tools, and not the interaction or the content, something is wrong.

Teachers in Albemarle are actually penalized with lower marks on evaluations when they don't use smartboards and netbooks enough--ie, penalized for actually teaching! To get how wrong this is, think: most people have at least one teacher in their lives about whom they think back fondly--for connecting with them, pushing them, inspiring them, or opening doors to new horizons for them. But how many think back to that great pencil they had in 6th grade? How they never would have got through algebra except for that superior blackboard? Tech is blackboards and pencils, that's all. Expensive blackboards and pencils. And yes, kids need to learn to use them, and they can be great tools. So have a computer lab. Let kids take notes and write papers on laptops. But don't mandate that teachers teach through the tech.

Frankly, most kids don't have a problem using technology. Everyone knows that if you want to program your TV, you ask a 12-yr-old. Kids need more positive interactions with adults who are passionate about the subjects they teach--not more facetime with an LCD.

What is totally IRONIC is that with all this emphasis (and spending) on technology, it's not being used in any way that's actually USEFUL--like getting your child's schedule emailed to you before school starts, or being able to download school forms you need to fill out. Documents that ARE available online are several years out of date. Never mind being able to fill them out online, oh no. AND, the absent/tardy tracking system is totally screwy. Starting this year I am tracking myself when my child is sick or otherwise out of school, b/c last year the system showed my child missing dozens of some classes, but none of others.

The tech is being focused on things that are not helpful, rather than in ways that are.

Speaking of technology, just try to find printed School Board Minutes from meetings. I challenge you all!

Now that ACPS is using the Electronic School Board software, let's see what the public gets from it. As of this morning the latest Regular Board meeting minutes are from Dec 9, 2010. Even now, the April 22, 2010 minutes are not available online and this is using the Electronic School Board technology. Can you search podcasts? There are no 2011 Regular Board Meeting or Regular Work Session Minutes online for the public to read. We are now close to the 10th month of the calendar year. Is this the wonder of technology? Or the redirected management of staff time and focus?

Perhaps it is best to make sure the administration can handle the technology they have before throwing more money at new "neat stuff" and requiring teachers to use something that does not help them teach. Listen to the teachers, please, to see what technology truly benefits student learning.. Remember that technology needs updating and maintenance. With that ACPS can incur annual cost increases so maybe the studying and listening to ALL teachers should occur before money is committed for this purpose. "Keep it simple" is usually a good motto to follow.

I could not agree more with the last two comments.

Someone should investigate the discrepency between the what teachers and students have access to and what the administrators from the top down have. I am sure when downtown wants something operable they don't have a long wait because IT is understaffed. Our computers are insufficient for regular class use. There is something so very wrong when our superintedent is honored for her technological successes, and the teachers and students in her own county don't have what they need. Spare us the bells and whistles and get us more computers for class use.

If nothing else comes out of this expose of our dysfunctional "leadership," we should be able to see that leaving teachers out of the equation often results in miscalculations. We are the frontline; we know what we and the students need. No frills before the basics are in place.