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…”
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.
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.