By Betsy Dolan
Poor project management, unrealistic goals and questionable record keeping highlighted a less than flattering report of Fort Bend ISD’s $16 million iAchieve program.
The first phase of the controversial iAchieve initiative was launched in February 2012 as a way to deliver interactive science curriculum to elementary and middle school students at 14 schools using 6,300 iPads.
Concerns about the program, its implementation and cost were raised by the Fort Bend ISD Board members and Superintendent Charles Dupre. Dupre asked Gibson Consulting, Inc. to prepare a comprehensive report documenting the history of iAchieve. The results of Gibson’s report were presented at the September 9 regular board meeting.
The report showed a series of problems with iAchieve starting with an unrealistic timeline that overly stressed teachers charged with writing the science curriculum. Constant changes to the iAchieve’s software program, or platform, and inconsistencies in curriculum standards meant “the goal lines were always being moved” resulting in a lackluster launch that never gave the program solid footing.
“Most of the schools show a real underutilization of the iPads in the course of a typical day,” said Lon Heuer with Gibson Consulting Group.
In addition, the report suggested that the district should have hired an iAchieve manager with skills in project management and instructional technology to take charge of the large-scale project. The report mentioned 12 special project coordinators who were hired to help teachers navigate iAchieve, did not have the right skill set to do properly do the job.
“The former CIO (Robert Calvert) served as the project manager but being a CIO is a full time job,” said Heuer “(iAchieve) was hindered by the fact that it didn’t have a dedicated project manager with skills in project management and a background in instructional technology.”
Gibson’s report also detailed a series of poor contract management practices involving Curriculum Ventures, a company hired by the district to oversee the instructional technology. Whether Curriculum Ventures had any prior experience implementing a large scale project such as iAchieve is murky, the report says. Furthermore, the district lacked documentation showing the progress and status of iAchieve and there was little or no accountability as the program progressed.
“It appeared the company was doing work but Fort Bend ISD had no idea what was being done and how the project was moving forward,” Heuer said.
Trustees called the report “distressing” and “disappointing”.
“When we drill a $16 million dollar dry hole as we did with this, these post mortems are used to learn. I’d like to consider this a teachable moment.” said Trustee Dave Rosenthal.
“We’re sitting here with egg on our face because we haven’t had any information for a year and a half,” said Trustee Bruce Albright. “It is not that we haven’t asked for it–we haven’t gotten it.”
Dupre vowed to investigate the data presented in the report and to find a way for the district to salvage the iAchieve equipment and curriculum.
“We will follow up on those questions as appropriate including engaging legal council when needed to determine whether any unethical or illegal activity may have taken place,” Dupre said. “We will re-deploy those resources in a manner that allows them to be used in a district classroom to support academic achievement.”