Another Year With FirstClass

I’m getting angry emails from folks telling me that CPS is going to go with the much-loathed FirstClass email system for another year, despite the need for (and apparent availability of) free Google versions of the same services.  Here’s what’s purported to be an email from the folks at IT about the situation:

From: Information & Technology Services 

Sent: Friday, July 22, 2011 2:07 PMTo: Information & Technology Services

Subject: Email Replacement on Hold for New RFP

Dear CPS Colleagues:

We know you’ve been waiting a long time to hear what’s going on with Google@CPS, and we apologize for the delay. However, we will be issuing a new request for proposals (RFP) that will allow other interested vendors to participate in the process.

What this means to you is:
·         We will continue to use FirstClass and Exchange for the 2011-2012 school year.
·         We will reevaluate the qualifying email and collaboration services.
·         We will likely begin using a new email system (TBD) in 2012-2013.

We know that many of you put a lot of your time and effort into the previous evaluation process, and we are grateful for your participation. Yet, we are confident that when the new process is complete and a decision is made, it will be the right one for the district.

We pledge to keep you informed throughout the new process, and we thank you for your patience and your interest.


Arshele Stevens, CIO
Chicago Public Schools

Here’s an email from Eric Skalinder about the confused and frustrating situation (reprinted with permission):

I am sorry to say that, once again, CPS has wasted not only its money but the time and effort of its employees and students through its poor communication, ever-changing policies, inadequate planning, and careless decision making.

Earlier this year employees were informed that CPS would switch from its current outdated communication and collaboration system (FirstClass) to CPS@Google. After several months of evaluations, presentations, testing and approvals, CPS made the official announcement in February. 80% of volunteer evaluators – including high school and elementary teachers, central office staff, and citywide employees – chose GoogleApps over Windows Live. The CEO himself, Terry Mazany, sent out an email to every employee announcing the April switch as “a huge next step toward connecting each of you, whether you are a principal, teacher, student, or parent through low-cost access to 21st century educational tools”. According to a CPS survey, 90% of employees thought Google@CPS was a step in the right direction. CPS even encouraged teachers to sign up for the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle to receive training in Google technologies. The last communication on this matter came in April.

And now, as July closes, CPS has announced a cancellation of this improvement in communications and collaboration to “allow other interested vendors to participate in the process”. Forgive my cynicism but I can’t help but wonder who on the current Board of Education is connected to these “other interested vendors”.

When the move to Google@CPS was announced I took steps to lay the groundwork for that change. In addition to my belief that it is part of my professional duty to stay up to date on district supported technology integration, I also know that preparation and planning are essential to effective teaching and learning. As a proactive education professional who uses technology regularly in my coursework, I began the process of training myself in and prepping my returning students for the use of Google Docs and other Google tools. This prep work continued through the spring and summer. (Incidentally, my students love it.) I even purchased a netbook in anticipation of this switch to cloud computing, something I would not have otherwise done. I feel incredibly frustrated and disrespected as a professional by this whole ordeal.

CPS should not have announced the switch to Google@CPS unless they intended to follow through with these much needed improvements. They should have publicized the move away from Google@CPS long ago out of professional courtesy to their employees who often plan ahead months in advance. Given 90% employee approval of the switch, CPS should share publicly its rationale for its deselection of Google@CPS. And, CPS should apologize to not only its teachers, staff, and employees for wasting their time and effort but also to the city’s taxpayers for wasting their money.


Eric Skalinder



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  • Any thoughts on how much this year-long process, now abandoned, has cost CPS and taxpayers?

  • Argh! I can't believe this! What happened? Ms. Stevens owes us a better explanation that that. Why take the time and spend the money, announce the change, and then back out? Was there a problem with Google? I was SO looking forward to this, and First Class is totally dysfunctional.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    "and First Class is totally dysfunctional"

    How so? It seems an adequate e-mail system to me, although I've never used any google applications other than their search engine.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    When I use First Class on my desktop in my classroom, it is fine. It is when I need to access it from home or remotely from my laptop that I run into trouble. It just doesn't work - when I try to start a new message, it won't allow me to type in the message field. I usually end up having to use my gmail account, which I have set up to send messages using my address as the sender.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I probably use FC more often from home than from school, and I've never had a problem with accessing it. (Granted, service is unavailable Thursday evenings for maintenance.)

    Impact, OTOH, is entirely a different story.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    No comment! Your technology knowledge is rated an F!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Who the heck are you to rate my technology knowledge? If you haven't got the good sense to make an argument on the merits of topic, please refrain from making ad hominem attacks.

  • This is classic CPS.

    Invest a year's worth of time, effort, resources, collaboration and money into a project and then piss it all away.

    Extra credit: who on the new Board of Ed is connected to the winners of the next year-long RFP and evaluation/selection process?

    Follow the money. And not the considerable money that's already been wasted on this fiasco. Follow the money that's spent on repeating this entire decision making process all over again.

  • Brizard, you need to get your IT department in order! Was it you or Ms. Stevens ( are you a female Runcie incompetent?) that stopped the modernization of communication system wide in CPS? I do want to know. Google Apps is a web 2.0 web service used by the private, government and educational sectors in droves. It was free to CPS! WTF!!!

    First Class is a product of the Last Century! We are in the year 2011! I thought after Runcie was out as director of IT things would improve in IT. Ms. Stevens act like know something about technology!

    List of obsolete and fourth rate web services.

    CPS University: F Unusable. Common knowledge a debacle. To find an activity you have to go through eight to ten clicks of a mouse! Flunks any usability test. Why are they are using a 2005 version as well of PeopleSoft? Though paying a mint to use the application. WTF!
    First Class : Was okay for the last century but obsolete now. Interface and usability the worst. Again ten clicks to get anything done.
    Gradebook and SIM: The fourth rung offerings by their respective providers. The versions used by CPS are in maintenance mode or life support. The top tier versions no where in site.

    Electronic IEPS: If I got a dollar for every time this IEP web service hung up or froze, I would be a very rich person!

    Rahm, get your CPS IT house in order.

  • Arshele Stevens, CIO of CPS? Where did they get her from? She reminds me of Mr. Runcie. My staff and I were looking forward to Google Apps to build the collaboration necessary to improve our communication in terms of building our capacity in meeting the new Common Core Standards integration into our school curriculum. This is a big let down!

    Mr. Brizard needs to look into this like yesterday. I do not look forward to my school staff and tell them they have been kicked to the curb again.

  • Students First? I don't think so! Mr. Brizard and Ms. Arshele Stevens, the usability of the CPS web applications in general are the pits. My students work with Google Apps to collaborate on group projects but that is NOT legal under CPS rules. These are the applications that real world company teams use to collaborate. I told my students they were getting Google Apps. They were looking forward to collaborating, building, sharing and publishing presentations and projects online. This is totally not acceptable!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    My students were as excited as yours. They actually wanted to start learning how to use Google Apps back in February when the announcement was made. So I started teaching them. They literally love it!
    Alas, you're right. We should not continue to use Google Apps. That would be a clear violation of the current Acceptable Use Policy and open us up to possible termination.

    You said "These are the applications that real world company teams use to collaborate." That statement alone should have been enough for us to realize that CPS would never actually go through with the deal.


  • In reply to Anonymous:

    My students wanted to start learning about Google Apps back in February when the announcement was initially made. So I started helping them through it. They LOVE it! We must not work with them on this, though. To do so is a clear violation of the Acceptable Use Policy and opens us up to possible termination.

    You said "These are the applications that real world company teams use to collaborate." That statement alone should have been enough for us to realize that CPS would never actually go through with it. That would make no sense - it's not like other school districts and universities have gone this route. Oh. Wait. Yes they have.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Apologies for the pseudo-double post. The first one appeared to have not gone through. Apparently there's a delay long enough that I didn't account for it.

  • This is classic CPS.

    Invest a year's worth of time, effort, resources, collaboration and money into a project and then piss it all away.

    Extra credit: who on the new Board of Ed is connected to the winners of the next year-long RFP and evaluation/selection process?

  • "Email Replacement on Hold for New RFP" That subject line shows you know much The CPS CIO knows about what was at stake. Google Apps is a modern collaboration suite, not just an email app.

    uggggggg. Mental midgets run CPS!

  • Rahm's Children nor Obama's have to deal with this in their schools.

    Rahm, Google Apps for education is FREE! NO Taxpayer money! WTF

  • Rahm and Brizard! Google Apps was NO COST TO Taxpayer?

  • We try to go paperless and use email for over 100 faculty members. When they reply to me, firstclass does not show the original message I sent. So when individual faculty email me yes, no or maybe so, etc., I have no idea what they are giving me an answer to anymore, since firstclss does not send the string. waste.

  • This is a common problem on the discussion boards as well.

    In FirstClass users must highlight whatever portion of the original e-mail they want to include before clicking 'Reply' if they want it to be part of their response.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Uh, you have to click Reply with Quote.
    Then, you have the contents. As much as I want Google, I was on the committee to evaluate it, I also want to defend FirstClass. FirstClass is only poor for people who don't know how to use it. For example, you can make an icon on your home desktop just like the one you have at school. It only takes a few moments by clicking the links on the FirstClass website. Sure, FirstClass doesn't have all the great apps as Google does, but it is all in how much you know how to use it. Take the time, you will be amazed at what it can do. I even created a website from FirstClass. Stop acting like it is useless. It isn't. It is operator error for the most part.

  • In reply to judgejury81:

    Judgejur81 you are guilty of ignorance of the highest order! That is being nice! Dear judge, you must not use technology much or never. Is that you Mr. Runcie? Is that you Ms Stevens? Ask any student in CPS about First Class. It sucks! You can't defend that. ha ha. Judgejur81 is a CPS admin troll! Note that folks!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Wow, nasty, nasty. No, I am NOT a CPS admin troll. I am a teacher who, in response to the anonymous poster below as well, is VERY tech savvy. I AM the person most go to at my school to help them figure out how to use a program. I am tired of people blaming a program for their own inabilities. Now, in response to the person below, I just checked out my way of getting the body of the original email in my reply. It is just as I said, you click the Reply button on the top left hand corner of the email, click the Reply with Quote in the drop down menu, and viola-the email you are responding to is right there. It is not difficult. I also checked the web program. It also puts the body of the email into the one you are composing. Do you have the FirstClass icon on your home computer desktop? If not, go to and scroll past the log in. There is a link to download the program and icon so you can have the same exact FirstClass that you access at school. Pretty simple, even for me, the Highest Order Idiot. :)

  • In reply to judgejury81:

    And, to further clarify, since you chose to only read what you wanted to read, I was an evaluater for IT to determine which was better: Google or Live. I CHOSE Google because of its simplistic platform. I figured if people were having trouble with FirstClass, they would definitely have trouble with Live. So, I AM on your side. Unless, of course, you don't want to have a Highest Order Idiot stand with you. :)

  • In reply to judgejury81:

    Usability not simplistic. If you actually use Google apps outside of the short evaluation period, you would not use simplistic to describe them. It is a powerful productivity and collaboration tool.

    Regarding First Class: Drop the white elephant. We need something useful and up to the times. First Class fails badly on both counts. Apologists for First Class is beyond the pale.

  • In reply to judgejury81:

    Actually, the necessary steps to reply with full quotation on FirstClass are as follows:

    First you select the e-mail to which you wish to respond. Then you click on the body of the e-mail itself to place the cursor within it. (Anywhere will do.) Then you click the arrow next to Reply to get to the pull down menu. And then you click Reply with Quote.

    But, uh, yeah.

    I agree FirstClass isn't totally useless. I think the discussion boards are fairly easy to use once people understand they are different from personal e-mail.

    But for any meaningful website development? Collaborative document work? Interactive discussion? Multimedia sharing of any sort? Blog interaction? Embedded audio or video? Storage beyond 200MB? Flash functionality?

    Pretty damn useless.

  • I think FirstClass blows. But that's not the point. I'll make do with whatever CPS provides.

    Two things that bother me:
    1) CPS wasted an entire year and now plans to go through the exact same process again. That's costly. And irresponsible in a time of fiscal crisis.
    2) The CPS AUP prohibits the use of external tools for collaboration with students. Ridiculous.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Sorry, but why do Rahm's children and Obama's children have access to technology tools and our students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools are given obsolete technology tools to use!

    Rahm get your house in order. Amateurs are running CPS! Get a clue about your hires! Chicago is getting to know how CPS rolls! It is not pretty!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    You need to get out of teaching! Students don't need slackers like you who won't defend their right to use the best technology tools to prepare themselves for a career! You showed your *ss! Adios!

  • I would love to know what price the selected vendor will charge that will beat free.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Ha ha ha! Yep.

    Still, there are costs involved, especially going through the year long selection process again. According to the CIO Arshele Stevens CPS will begin the RFP process anew. So...

    CPS will now embark on the same selection process they just completed to implement the same type of technology improvements they have already agreed to which they have formally announced and planned for but have just recently retracted.

    Brilliant. Only in CPS.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    The taxpayers should be furious.

  • Rahm, you look dumb hiring or keeping these high paying folks employed at CPS! ITS needs a real leader in technology. Was Ms. Stevens a Daley appointee? You know how the game is played. Cut your losses! Hire a real CIO for CPS! Chicago will understand!

  • Rahm, we need Google Apps! Rahm, you have the last word!

  • The RFP was not IT's decision.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Can you tell us who made the decision?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Whose decision was it?

  • Just a few things to clear up here:

    1) While the GoogleApps platform itself is technically free, the roadmap to implement it, support it and maintain it (especially for CPS, which would functionally have an email system as large as nearly any private company in the world) would be far from free and incur huge costs over the life of the solution if GoogleApps is selected.

    2) There are many functionality deficiencies in the GoogleApps platform that would at best make the transition difficult and at worst potentially entertain long term implementation problems. Take a look around, the "large" GoogleApps implementations are on the scale of 20,000-30,000 email account. If all CPS (student and staff) email is moved to GoogleApps it would be in the 300,000 range. If you do not have an existing email system or you are a small implementation, GoogleApps is a perfectly fine option. On larger scales it runs into a bevy of issues. And before you go and embrace it, make sure to observe the issues places like the City of Los Angeles has had with their ongoing implementation. Just take a gander at the GoogleApps forums. There are many, many practical considerations that Google cannot assist with because they don't actively support the platform

    3) As for the IT "house...." There is no house. There's a tiny core group that attempts to keep everything going at the central office with duct tape and chicken wire. For the size and scope of the enterprise that CPS is, you'd be flatly shocked at how few people are tasked with maintaining the infrastructure for all of CPS.

  • In reply to jtcps1:

    Thanks jtcps1. Good info.

    But why would CPS go through a year-long process including RFPs, evaluations, selections, announcements, and initial informal trainings only to stop and do it all over again?

  • In reply to jtcps1:

    Thank you for your post. What is not explained is the reason for the original RFP. Did someone understand that we were in need for a serious upgrade. We are presently paying for an outdated enterprise system. It will have to be replaced. Did not the CPS employees in charge of the original RFP do some research before even choosing the finalists? Some research would have noted the need for authorized third party integrators. Hindsight is 20/20. It would be important to know the whole story on how this process came to an end. What was learned from the process since a new RFP is coming out.

    I do appreciate the work of your small but vital group. Sorry that IT has to suffer the lack of strong and knowledgable leadership by CEO's and CIO's.

  • In reply to jtcps1:

    Hi jtcps1,

    I am a software engineer and (hopefully) a future music teacher (I will get my certificate in May 2012). Given that, I am probably more knowledgeable about tech stuff than the average non-tech CPS employee, but I know nothing about the current CPS infrastructure and software other than what I have read here (which seems like a somewhat biased view of things). Please accept that what I ask here is said not asked in criticism of CPS or its probably super-hero-like and over-worked IT staff, but rather out of genuine curiosity for the tech-related environment and decision-making processes that I will (again, hopefully) be dealing with in the near future. Please correct me if I am mistaken in anything that I say! If there is a document(s) that is publicly accessible that has this kind of detailed technical information on this decision, I would love to see it.

    In section 1 of your post, you mention the costs of implementing, supporting, and maintaining the Google Apps platform. Can you give break these costs down in some more detail (additional support staff needed, support contracts, additional hardware, hardware upgrades, etc)? Specifically, can you talk more about how these costs compare to the curent costs of implementing, supporting and maintaining the First Class platform? I would assume that CPS would save a non-trivial amount of money on liscensing costs by switching from First Class to a platform with zero liscencing costs. How much would these cost savings contribute to the costs of implementing Google Apps?

    In section 2 or your post, you mention technical deficiencies of the Google Apps platform that would make Google Apps difficult to implement and unsustainable after implementation. Can you go into some more detail about these technical problems for me, a more tech-savy person? 300,000 is quite a lot of accounts; it seems like it would be very very difficult to migrate that many accounts to any system. How much of the technical challenge that you describe has to do with the sheer size of the migration, rather than technical details of the platform to which you would be migrating? Further, how much of the technical challenge has to do with just getting data OUT of First Class (a task that does not seem easy based on my admittedly shallow internet researching), rather than getting that data IN to another system?

    Regarding the City of LA migration, weren't the majority of their implementation issues related to security requirements that (Google says) weren't specified in the original contract(;jsessionid=mYReMi4gYrl7VFTN65ojFQ**.ecappj01)? Does the Google Apps platform not meet the security requirements for CPS data? What are the technical issues that the City of LA are facing with their migration?

    Can you talk some more about the support that Google would provide for CPS? I assume that Google would offer CPS some kind of support contract to help with the technical issues of the Google Apps platform, is this not the case? You mention the Google support forums; which forums are you talking about? Are there forums specifically for large implementations such as the City of LA and CPS, or are you referring to the the general support forums meant for end-users who use the generally available version of Google Apps free for personal use? When you say that Google does not actively support the platform, does that mean that they would really not provide any support options to CPS other than the ones that they provide (or don't provide) for personal users of the generally available apps?

    Finally, in regards to section 3 of your post, I am amazed by the incredible effort that this small team probably puts forth every single day to serve this huge district. Kudos to them for keeping these massive systems functioning at all!

    Dan Fuchs

  • We get it Erik, since you posted it on every CPS megaphone site listed. Get over it and get a life. Or better yet, go march around the BOE building with the rest of CoRE in protest, cause that's all you folks seem to be able to do.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Thank you for sharing your sage insights. Really, it's like a breath of fresh air when compared to the staleness of facts and reasoned debate.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Fact: not one teacher that was fired last year got their job back due to core.

    Fact: teachers are not getting their 4% raise.

    All the marches and protesting Core wants teachers to do has not helped at all. So there are your facts.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Dear Troll,

    Don't hate. Seems you need to vent in a more constructive way and at the right folks who are making life very bad in CPS.

  • If you want to know why Google Apps was not implemented . . . ask the Legal Dept. They're the ones holding up the process. (My guess is that it has something to do with their interpretation of Google's Privacy Policy
    They are probably worried that all CPS correspondence would be on Google's servers.)

    What if I registered my own school with Google Apps and told my students and faculty to get accounts, would the lawyers come after me.?!

    Once again CPS manages to let lawyers lead (guess what CO dept has had the fewest cuts?)

  • When access to decent technology should be a right, CPS leadership fails at the worst time. With all the talk about access to technology being important for students and teachers, I don't see it as a priority by CPS leaders. The common core standards point to the use of technology by students in a number of standards. Where is the technology? Students lose weeks of time in labs taking online assessments for the district and for our CAO. I can live with Scantron, but the questionable online area tests are not worth the price paid for them. As Mr. Mazany rightly stated, CPS children are over assessed. Brizard should get a clue! Save some money and put it into technology.

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    I think the analogy Mr. Mazany used, which I liked, was "You can't fatten a chicken by weighing it."

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