The GradeNation Story

Dave Nelsen, GradeNation LLC co-founder and Managing Partner.On May 26, 2009, Lou Piconi, then CEO of Apangea, and Dave Nelsen, President of Dialog Consulting Group (that’s me), met for lunch in downtown Pittsburgh. Lou described his vision for a system that could help parents access the best resources and right products when they want to help their kids do better in school (K-12). Indeed, parents spend roughly $10B annually on such services, but they’re spending the money based on marketing messages and based on what might have worked for their friends’ kids, independent of fit. In other words, parents are spending money randomly and not getting the best results.

What if a system could analyze each student’s unique situation using available state test scores, the child’s dominant learning style (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), parent and teacher observations, and parental constraints (location, budget, desired level of involvement, etc.)? And what if that system could also analyze literally thousands of education support products based on a set of fit characteristics? If dating sites can match people, and Netflix and Pandora can predict what you’ll like to watch and listen to, why can’t a preference engine (that’s what I call these things, although maybe you call them Big Data) figure out which tools and resources will be most likely to help a student succeed? The answer is that it can… and that’s the BIG idea behind GradeNation.

Not long after that lunch (specifically in August 2009), I became insanely busy as a professional speaker and consultant. Who knew that you could get paid handsomely for talking? I was hired to do more than 500 events all over the US, Canada, and the UK. It’s only slightly off topic to mention that my talks are about how to use social media and mobile technology in business. That will become more relevant to GradeNation in the years ahead, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

From 2009 to 2012, I mostly just thought about GradeNation as I traveled the world. During that period a third “founder”, Todd Lamb, joined the team and GradeNation was officially incorporated.

On July 16, 2012, I met Dr. Jerry Zahorchak for the first time. He had led the PA Department of Education under the previous Administration and was now Superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District. Dr. Zahorchak was intrigued by the GradeNation concept in that it could increase parent engagement in children’s education success, and help kids show up in the classroom more prepared to learn. Everybody wins!

Dr. Zahorchak had a brilliant suggestion. Before students show academic performance problems, they typically exhibit behavior problems. And before students exhibit behavior problems, they usually have attendance issues. If GradeNation could track and report on attendance, behavior, and academic performance, it would be a full-scale early warning system that could actually prevent problems before they occur. And so the current concept of GradeNation came to be. And then I got busy again winning all sorts of awards as a professional speaker.

On November 11, 2013, I first met Dr. Stanley Thompson, Program Director of The Heinz Endowments Education Initiatives. I was looking for funding and for an initial application of the GradeNation app. Dr. Thompson pointed the way to both.

Dr. Thompson suggested that an initial version of the GradeNation app could do reporting on just attendance and grade point average (GPA) for Pittsburgh Public High School students. While The Pittsburgh Promise provides the opportunity for every Pittsburgh Public School student to earn a $40,000 scholarship, there is no proactive way for them or their parents to see how they’re tracking on the 90% attendance and 2.5 (out of 4.00) GPA qualification metrics.

So now there will be: GradeNation Version 1.0.

As I write this, it’s almost exactly mid-2014. GradeNation LLC has partnered with Truefit Solutions to build the app. It will be available initially for Android, and with a little luck (and a platform called Xamarin), available for iOS (Apple iPhones) shortly thereafter. 100% of The Heinz Endowment funding is going into coding and promotion as the GradeNation team is operating virtually… and drawing no salary.

Be sure to watch this space for further updates. The potential value of the GradeNation app for improving student success in school is virtually limitless.