A couple weeks ago, I tried to determine whether the awarding of a major contract to Amplify Education had anything to do with Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green’s connection to Peter Gorman, former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Although some Board of Education members were surprised (and a little concerned) to hear about that connection, no one believed that the company had an unfair advantage in getting the contract for the digital tablets middle school students will start using next year.
In late April I requested a few months’ worth of district emails that included Amplify Education and Peter Gorman as subject matter, sender or receiver. I also requested the scoring sheets for the vendors that responded to the district’s request for qualifications. (I did get a summary scoring sheet, but not the notes of each project team member. I was told that some of those notes had been thrown away.)
I got those documents this week and this is what I found:
• The emails did not indicate anything untoward between the district and Amplify. Moreover, I did not find any correspondence between Gorman and district employees between Dec. 1, 2012 and April 25. That doesn’t mean he didn’t speak to anyone by phone; I just can’t prove that.
• Amplify also out-scored the other vendors, according to the scoring summary sheet, and the company also may have been more responsive to the district (or hungrier for the contract?). Amplify earned 84 points out of 100 from the project team members. For context, view the sample scoring sheet, the district's PACE grant site, and the April 11 board presentation.
The second-highest scorers were Pearson/Samsung and Pearson/Dell with 35 points each. Amplify had the lowest lease price of any of the companies at $199 per device (without the extras). The next lowest cost was $272 per device from Pearson/HP. Logical Choice Technology quoted the highest price at $1,238.72 per device.
Also, chief information officer Terrence Young wrote in an email that when he called to schedule in-person interviews, an Amplify employee picked up on the second ring and located all the appropriate people within 15 minutes. Young had to leave voice mail messages when he called Apple and Pearson.
• Amplify in general seemed to be very responsive in answering questions from district employees. When board member Linda Welborn submitted a long list of questions about Amplify, Young followed up with detailed responses from an Amplify employee. I have a print copy of the email; I'll try to upload it when I get the chance.
• The district’s PACE grant focuses on middle schools, but there are some high schools that want to purchase the devices, according to a district email. One email states that Greensboro College Middle College inquired about purchasing 40 to 120 devices next year (I’m assuming with their own funds). The Middle College at UNCG, the Middle College at N.C. A&T, and an unidentified elementary school also expressed interest. Chief curriculum officer Jocelyn Becoats followed up with Amplify representatives in mid-April to find out what content and applications were available for elementary and high school students. John O’Connell, the vice president of sales, responded with a long list of items.
• State Superintendent June Atkinson cautioned school superintendents about purchasing technology services as the state switches over it its new PowerSchool student data system.
She wrote in January: "While many of these groups and vendors are extremely reputable and offer reliable services, I hope you and your staff realize that some of the specific functionality within PowerSchool as North Carolina purchased it is still being defined and finalized. That may present some unique issues for your implementation if third-party vendors become involved with you and don't know about North Carolina's specific requirements. Buyer beware is a good reminder."
The district says the Amplify tablets are compatible with PowerSchool.