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Deasy planning to hire his own liaison for MiSiS project

Vanessa Romo | August 21, 2014

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Superintendent John Deasy

As LA Unified teachers continue their complaints about the district’s new student data management program, MiSiS, Superintendent John Deasy said today he plans to hire an independent liaison to  keep him informed of corrective actions.

“This is not my area of expertise so I have to be sure, when I think something is not optimal, that I have my own person working on this to tell me if we are doing this smartly,” Deasy told LA School Report. “I want a third party who is knowledgeable about changing student informations systems, to give insight into are we making enough changes, are we making our changes correctly.”

Deasy said the person he will hire — within a week or so — will report directly to him and will not require board approval. He also said he intends to meet next week with a new court-appointed monitor charged with overseeing the development of a district-wide student tracking system. The previous person serving in that role died.

Since 2012, the person directly in charge of MiSiS is Bria Jones, according to Bria Jones. On her LinkedIn profile, she identifies herself as head of a small Arizona company hired by the district as “IT Project Director.” She claims she “Provide[s] day-to-day project direction and management of the MiSiS team.”

How she came to the district as the only candidate for the job was among questions that board member Tamar Galatzan included last week in a written request to Ken Bramlett, the district’s Inspector General, seeking an examination of the MiSiS program.

Efforts to reach Jones through the district and her LinkedIn account drew no response.

In an eight-minute telephone interview today about Jones’s role in the MiSiS launch and subsequent problems, Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler told LA School Report that “there are several project managers on the project…her role is to oversee different parts of the development of specifications and code development.”

Chandler confirmed that Jones is involved in district’s efforts to fix glitches in the program that have left thousands of LA Unified students without school or class assignments and access to other school services. District officials say “99 percent” of students are unaffected by the problems.

“She’s leading part of the team and she’s done a great job,” Chandler said, but he declined to identify others among the “several” involved.

A spokeswoman who was on the call cut it short, saying Chandler had to leave to attend a meeting.

Jones was recommended to oversee the MiSiS project at an annual salary of $280,800 after district officials determined there were no other viable experts to handle the complexities of the program, according to a district procurement official, George Silva.

Silva told LA School Report that Chandler’s office sought multiple candidates for the position, and finding no others to meet the complexity and urgency of the project, solicited opinions from experts in the IT field, and that led the district to Jones.

“You can’t run a project of that complexity without the right manager,” he said, adding that sole-source contracting, while rare, is sometimes required when the needs are specific.

The district Inspector General’s Annual report to the board for the 2013 fiscal year, wrote that Jones’s proposed rate of $135 per hour as Project Manager “is not supported and not reasonable.” It recommended that the procurement office justify why it should award a single-source contract to Jones’s company “without competitive procurement, which is normally required for a professional services contract of this size.”

At the time, school board president Richard Vladovic was alone in raising concerns over the deal.

In her LinkedIn profile, Jones describes herself as someone who is “known for transformational leadership, cutting-edge technology deployments, business enablement services, company strategy optimization, and business benefits realization.” She boasted that her contributions to the MiSiS project include “restoring trust in the project outcomes and on-time deliveries.”

Her self-evaluation notwithstanding, the MiSiS project has caused any number of problems for teachers and principals across the district, drawing particular fire from the teachers union, UTLA, which prompted Galatzan to ask the Inspector General to examine why the system was launched despite its flaws.

“I demand to know what happened and how this got so messed up,” she told LA School Report last week. “Because until it happened, the board had no inkling that the system wasn’t ready to go live.”

Jones has had a long career in IT, based on information she included on LinkedIn. She has worked on projects in a variety of industries including insurance, pharmacy, video rentals and education. She says: “She tackles thorny project issues and shows IT professionals how to motivate their teams toward new levels of achievement.”

Yet her work for LA Unified has not played out perhaps as smoothly as with previous clients.

MiSiS is an extension of previous computer programs used by schools to track student information. As the latest iteration, it is more complex than its predecessors, requiring more understanding and training for users.

Within six months of Jones’s hiring, problems were apparent, according to contemporary notes of a working committee that oversaw the project development. They were given to LA School Report unsolicited.

The notes show that in a series of meetings over the next six months that included the principals union, AALA; the teachers union and the district, various logistical, technical and financial were cited for disrupting a smooth development schedule.

Another document included in the notes, an AALA Update in March of this year, included the headline, “ADMINISTRATORS APPREHENSIVE ABOUT MiSiS PROJECT.” It referred to a February letter from AALA President Judith Perez and AALA Administrator Dan Isaacs to Chandler, warning that the software for MiSiS “is not ready for rollout and that we are at high risk of a failed implementation . . .”

They further said AALA members “felt that in a rush to meet deadlines, insufficient attention was given to the functionality that end users require.”

The letter also expressed concern that the MiSiS project had “become shrouded in secrecy.”

Chandler wrote back a month later, according to the AALA Update, which was in the notes, and apologized for any perception of exclusivity and assured the AALA officers that budgets and timelines are being met.

As manager of the project, Jones noted in her profile that in the first two years that she contributed to “maximizing the orchestration of team resources,” to “promoting persistence and project discipline” and  to “coaching and mentoring Technical Project Managers by giving constant feedback and advice.”

The feedback she might not have contemplated is the criticism from teachers and officials who say they are still struggling to get the new system up and running.

Previous Posts: LA Unified computer problems hampering special ed teachers; Teachers union blasts Deasy again for new computer system; Teachers union says computer glitch cost students first day

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