Quest to build a better data system lands teacher in hot water

A teacher who left the system to peddle a program he created to make up for shortcomings in the education department’s data system was fined this month by the city’s ethics board.

In 2009, Jesse Olsen was a teacher at Validus Preparatory Academy in the Bronx when he realized the school wasn’t accurately recording students’ attendance patterns. Realizing that the city’s school data clearinghouse, ARIS, couldn’t help, Olsen created a data system of his own, called Impact Solutions. The data system was one of several created around the same time by educators who were frustrated with ARIS.

By September 2010, Impact Solutions had already been picked up for use in 21 city schools, which were paying between $10 and $25 per student per year for the program, and Teach for America had started using it as well, we reported at the time.

Collecting those fees violated city ethics rules, the city’s Conflict of Interest Board ruled this month. The rules prohibit public employees from owning a business that contracts with their agencies and from using their positions to boost their business interests. Olsen violated both regulations when he began selling Impact Solutions to schools throughout the city, COIB ruled.

According to COIB’s report, Olsen didn’t learn that his business ran afoul of city rules until “in or around October 2010.” He resigned from the Department of Education in November — “at great personal sacrifice, financial and otherwise,” he testified — to focus on Impact Solutions. But he continued to work with the schools that had contracted with his company — another violation of city rules. Employees who leave the city payroll are not allowed to work with their former agencies until a year after their departure.

In his disposition, Olsen also reports that the iZone, a technology-centered division of the Department of Education, reached out to Impact Solutions in March 2011, less than four months after Olsen had resigned from the DOE.

Taking into account Olsen’s attempts to follow the rules once he learned about them, the board fined Olsen $4,000.

Source: Philissa Cramer