John Nelson III
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Chula Vista Elementary School District’s former assistant superintendent for instructional services, John Nelson III, retired last summer. As many predicted, he’s already found a new career as a consultant for a large for-profit district client.

Education has become a rich vein for entrepreneurs, as Fortune magazine pointed out in an article last year: “In 2014, venture funding for education technology reached 1.87 billion dollars. It’s expected to hit $2 billion this year.”

Within weeks after retiring from Chula Vista Elementary, Nelson went to work for the K–12 online reading program Achieve3000. In addition to the United States, the company’s website touts business in Morocco, Kuwait, Mexico, and British Columbia. The company’s revenue, according to Zoominfo, is $50–$100 million.

On June 10, 2015, only days before Nelson retired, Chula Vista Elementary approved a $2,074,267 deal with Achieve3000.

The night the Achieve3000 contract was approved, Nelson’s department, Instructional Services and Support, provided background information for the trustees: “Students will be able to read informational articles, answer comprehension questions, and respond to thought questions which are similar to the demands on the California Assessment for Student Performances and Progress constructed response questions.”

The agenda goes on to say that additional information data would be available for review in the Office of the Assistant Superintendent for instructional Services and Support. The money for the program came from Local Control and Accountability Plan funds.

In February 2016, at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalu, Hawaii, Nelson told a group of principals and assistant superintendents at an Achieve3000 conference:

“I retired from Chula Vista Elementary as the assistant superintendent of instructional services in June, but my retirement only lasted about six weeks, just enough to get rested. Then I was asked by Saki Dodelson, CEO of Achieve3000, to come and be a consultant for this company because of the work I had done in Chula Vista…”

John Nelson

John Nelson

Aside from being a consultant for Achieve3000, Nelson is listed on the company’s website as a member of the Education Leadership Cabinet.

It seems CEO Saki Dodelson had her eye on Nelson long before she tapped him to work for Achieve3000.

According to Nelson’s conflict-of-interest forms, in 2012 Achieve3000 paid him $40 for a dinner and a speech on the company’s behalf. Then, in 2013, the company paid Nelson $1100 as a keynote speaker. In 2014, Achieve3000 bought Nelson a $50 dinner and $190 for two nights’ lodging.

Eduardo Reyes

Eduardo Reyes

In an interview, Chula Vista Elementary board president Eduardo Reyes said he was surprised to hear about Nelson’s consultant work for Achieve3000. Reyes said he and other boardmembers voted for the Achieve3000 item in June of last year because they were concerned about equity across the district. Prior to the vote, only some schools could afford the software program.

Reyes expressed concern about Nelson’s consultant job with Achieve3000.

“It leaves the door open to negative interpretations. We must have more transparency. I intend to look into the need for a cooling-off period [whereby an individual leaving the district would be required to wait before working for a client of the district]….

“At the last board meeting,” Reyes continued, “several trustees also discussed the need to see more data from software companies such as Achieve3000 or Imagination. We don’t want to see research that is paid for by the companies; we want to see research that demonstrates progress for our students.”

Disclosure: The author’s daughter holds an unpaid position on the bargaining team for the Chula Vista Educators.

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eastlaker April 1, 2016 @ 2:50 p.m.

What should the cooling off period be? One year?

This does look like a very comfortable arrangement, if not overly convenient.

Is there any information available regarding the efficacy of Achieve3000?

What are students and teachers saying about it--or is it too early for opinions to have coalesced?


PamelaSusann April 3, 2016 @ 7 p.m.

Achieve 3000 popped up in my middle schoolers cirriculumn. I was impressed with the topics and quality of the "news articles" presented for reading and comprehension practice. However, a majority were outdated (dated 2003, 2007, etc). The comprehension quizzes had a predictable pattern. Helps students without regular access to community newspapers or industry periodicals, I suppose.


eastlaker April 2, 2016 @ 2:20 p.m.

Thanks for posting this. I took a look and these restrictions seem to mostly refer to members of state legislatures. After looking at this, it does appear that a one year cooling off period would make sense.


PamelaSusann April 3, 2016 @ 7:09 p.m.

I felt they were for state leg. as well. The fact that Nelson stumped for Achieve 3000 BEFORE he retired just doesn't sit well. I realize his compensation was peanuts and he was there as a "current consumer", I suppose. A 2mil deal for Achieve 3000 and then a cozy job before his seat cools off... seems funky.


Sjtorres April 2, 2016 @ 11:13 a.m.

NOTE: the author of this article fails to disclose conflict of interest. The author has many family members that are current for former teachers union officers. The teachers unions have been fighting what they see as "outsourcing their jobs" to firms like Achieve3000.

This is another serious breach of ethics by this author in failing to disclose the conflict of interest.


AlexClarke April 2, 2016 @ 11:59 a.m.

You never hear about a teacher 'retiring' to take a lucrative teaching job. Only overpaid administrators take their fat retirements and then go to work against the very system that they used to fatten their wallets.


shirleyberan April 2, 2016 @ 6:15 p.m.

Sjtorres - you're a conflict of interest. You know you're repeating that craycray fibbing thing you always do. Still untrue and still weird. What about the lost revenue to so many schools?


Visduh April 2, 2016 @ 8:49 p.m.

shirley, the best thing to do with Sjt is to ignore him/her.


Susan Luzzaro April 3, 2016 @ 10:02 a.m.

Here is an interesting study of the other software program mentioned at the last board meeting--Imagine Learning, also heavily invested by the district.

"Results of the t-tests from this within-subjects design showed no treatment differences on outcome measures (PPVT-4 for receptive vocabulary and DIBELS Next for early literacy) between students when they participated in the ILE program and when they participated in "other" classroom activities, regardless of amount of time spent on this CAI program."


Susan Luzzaro April 3, 2016 @ 10:05 a.m.


Interesting point, I had thought of the comparison.


Susan Luzzaro April 3, 2016 @ 7:49 p.m.

PamelaSusann, I agree, the question for some people is not whether this is a good program, but is it obligatory, or beneficial that kids access it 3 or 4 times a week and should that take the part of fiction or fill-in-the-blank? What are the stats? No doubt kids connect to computer software and it should obviously be part of their curriculum, but what else?


PamelaSusann April 3, 2016 @ 11:10 p.m.

As a parent, my opinion is Achieve 3000 is appropriate for middle school level, not K-6. Overall, most of the school provided software (reading K-3rd , K-6 math- IXL, middle school Spanish, etc) for my children have NOT impressed me. I helped 1st-3rd students as a parent volunteer, complete their computer based reading comprehension tests (can't remember the name). This was a joyless process. Students were restricted to library books designated by the software, even if they were interested in books of greater detail or subject matter. My daughter and classmates were assigned "minutes" and "percentage goals" with the IXL math program. The percentage goals were frustrating as the math program subjectively lowers percentage(ie. 95% becomes 87% after 1st missed question, 87% drops to 75% at 2nd miss). The reference section on IXL was VERY helpful, but I found it by searching the program on my own. My son's middle school used Spanish Language software, which was awful. How they think anyone can learn a language by reading, but not speaking is beyond me. Computer software and the way it is implemented doesn't sit well with me. In closing, though, I can't stand the Margaret Hillard Learn to Read books either!


anniej April 3, 2016 @ 8:10 p.m.

I understand the need for progress as it rekates to Programs addressing Education, however what I have difficulty with are PROGRAM CHANGE DECISIONS that are NOT based on the facts that show they are worth the millions we spend on them.

No matter how much money you throw at a Program - ITS NOT GOING TO WORK UNLESS PARENTS ARE WILLING TO TAKE ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ASSISTING WITH THEIR CHILDS EDUCATION. Sending Martha off to school with expectations Ms. Crosby can do it all is INSANITY!!!!

*Ms. Crosby, the best retired Kindergarten teacher I ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was a blessing to all of my children!!!!!!!


PamelaSusann April 3, 2016 @ 11:18 p.m.

That is so true anniej. I was lucky to have the time (being on campus so much) and I was in the minority! Teachers have so much thrown at them. I can't imagine not being able to communicate with a teacher about math assignments or Eng. Language essays, but plenty of parents don't.


Elevation April 3, 2016 @ 9:16 p.m.

I have the stats for Achieve 3000 Susan :-)))). But I'm not the investigative reporter, you are! Figured since you're the investigative reporter you would have access and share it with the public. Maybe you do but won't share them? I don't know.

So......what would the regular responders think about the program if they knew the stats?


shirleyberan April 4, 2016 @ 12:31 p.m.

The last new and better re-invention of the wheel of education cost a bundle and disappointed many. Seems like educational materials is a relatively new money making scam.


eastlaker April 4, 2016 @ 2:35 p.m.

The scam part is relatively new--the field of educational material really used to be populated by people who were there to bring enlightenment and education to the world. Now many corporations seem to exist purely to extract public funds, with education being a distant second.


PamelaSusann April 8, 2016 @ 4:26 p.m.

I wonder what kind of positives Nelson presented when stumping for achieve 3000. That link above to the study of student use of the imagine software is rather telling.


VigilantinCV April 7, 2016 @ 11:52 a.m.

The City of Chula Vista says that a former Council member cannot represent a developer for one year after leaving office. Greg Cox got his hand slapped for violating this. He had to turn over his consulting business to Cheryl Cox.


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