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Philadelphia-Based Frontier Virtual Charter High School Surrenders Charter, Agrees to Terminate Operations

AscentiveTech news from the Ascentive team

Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis has announced that the Board of Trustees of Philadelphia-based Frontier Virtual Charter High School has voted to voluntarily surrender its charter.

An extensive investigation by the Department of Education revealed that the school failed to adhere to the conditions of its charter by not delivering core educational programs to students.

“Today’s action is in the best interest of students and provides families sufficient time to make other arrangements for the upcoming school year,” Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said today.

“Over the past year, Frontier fell short in providing its students with the core academic programs parents and students expect of our public schools,” Tomalis said. “These issues were not just the normal difficulties typically experienced by a first-year organization, but they go to the heart of Frontier’s ability to provide quality educational opportunities to students within the confines of its charter, as well as the Charter School Law.

“Charter schools serve as quality alternatives to traditional public schools and meet the academic needs of more than 105,000 students across Pennsylvania,” Tomalis added.  “For the past 15 years, charter schools have not only become a valuable fixture of Pennsylvania’s public education system, but they have made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of students.

“The department is ultimately responsible to students, parents and taxpayers for ensuring that Pennsylvania’s students have access to quality cyber charter programs,” Tomalis said.  “It is of the utmost importance that all charter schools – brick-and-mortar and cyber – adhere to the conditions of their charter and the requirements of the Charter School Law to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used to provide students with high-quality academic programs.”

Pursuant to the Charter School Law – Article 17-A of the Public School Code – the department is responsible for granting a charter to a cyber charter school and revoking a cyber school’s charter if, after a thorough investigation, it is determined that further operation of the school would be detrimental to students.

In January 2012, the department notified Frontier’s administration that it would conduct a routine site visit in March to determine whether the school was meeting the goals of its charter and if it was in compliance with applicable laws.

During the March visit, department staff was unable to complete their onsite review due to not being provided access to the school’s records and not being permitted to interview school personnel. Following that visit, the department made repeated requests to Frontier for access to its records and instructional materials, as well as student and staff records.

During this process and without prior notice to the department, Frontier abruptly terminated its principal and teaching staff, further inhibiting the department from completing its assessment of the school.

Through its investigation, the department discovered that student records, which Frontier is required by law to maintain, were not in Frontier’s possession.

After a thorough review of the materials and information obtained during the review process, the department decided to seek termination of Frontier’s charter for the following reasons:

Failure to provide or reimburse students for all equipment, technology and services necessary for the online delivery of curriculum and instruction;

Failure to properly monitor student attendance, work progress, truancy and grades;

Failure to maintain the financial ability to provide services required by the Charter School Law;

One or more material violations of the conditions, standards or procedures contained in its written charter;

Failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management or audit requirements; and

Blatant violation of the Charter School Law.

This action by Frontier’s Board of Trustees puts an end to the department’s plan to seek revocation of the school’s charter.

On its website, the Department of Education maintains lists of all brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools authorized to operate in Pennsylvania.  These lists can be accessed by visiting www.education.state.pa.us, clicking on “Programs” and then selecting “Charter Schools” in the drop-down menu.

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Federal-Mogul and Philadelphia University announce winners of 2nd annual student innovation competition

AscentiveTech News from the Ascentive team

An interdisciplinary team of seven students in Philadelphia University’s College of Design, Engineering and Commerce have been named winners of the second annual student innovation competition sponsored by Federal-Mogul Corporation.  The students were challenged to develop an innovative and commercially viable product using the company’s QuietShield noise suppression material.

The winning team designed a new acoustic application of QuietShield GRN for the industrial sector.  The team, which received a $5,000 cash prize, included senior business students Marissa Freilich, an accounting major, Dana Mazzella, a marketing major, and Lauren Timko, a marketing major; engineering seniors Jeffrey Kopczynski and Brad Krohl; and industrial design graduate student John Pickard and junior Michael Shannon.

“We were pleased to work with Federal-Mogul again this year on this innovation competition that showcases the strengths of our College of Design, Engineering and Commerce,” said Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli Jr.  “Innovative learning projects such as this one reinforce Philadelphia University’s signature Nexus learning approach — active, collaborative, connected to the real world and infused with the liberal arts — which gives our students a competitive edge in the real world.”

Lauren Timko, a senior marketing major, said it was challenging but rewarding to work with students in different disciplines, and that is just the kind of collaborative approach she expects to find in the work place once she graduates.  “This was definitely a learning experience, with a real goal and something that can be implemented for a real client, in this case Federal Mogul,” she said.  “It has absolutely prepared me for the work place.”

In all, a total of 56 students working in eight teams tackled the challenge of using an existing Federal-Mogul material to develop a new product while following a set of specific customer requirements.  Each team submitted a comprehensive business case that clearly presented their proposed offering, a detailed market analysis and supporting financial details.

“Although only one winning team could be chosen, we were very impressed by all of the students’ efforts,” said Janice Maiden, vice president and business director, Federal-Mogul Systems Protection. “Each team displayed leadership, creativity and problem solving that we strive to promote through the innovation competition.”

Brad Krohl, an engineering major on the winning team, said the project added insights into how large corporations work and designing with a commercial goal in mind.  “Federal-Mogul was helpful and informative during the project and gave us a great look at how real companies operate,” he said.  “And our professors put a lot of time and effort guiding us throughout the semester.”

Once again, this year’s competition promoted interdisciplinary collaboration, creative thinking, leadership development and innovative problem solving–all key themes in the University’s College of Design, Engineering and Commerce.

“By immersing students in multi-disciplinary projects for sponsors such as Federal Mogul, we are able to show the real power of our Nexus Learning approach,” said Michael Leonard, academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering in the College of DEC.  “The students acted as extensions of the Federal-Mogul team, sharing their disciplinary training to innovate, and worked at a pace similar to that which they will experience in the working world.”

Federal-Mogul, recognizing the importance of fostering product innovation in a commercial context with industrial leaders of tomorrow, has had a long and productive relationship with Philadelphia University that includes technology knowledge sharing, co-development projects, internships and employee recruitment.  In addition to the cash prize, winning students will have the opportunity to present their business case to Federal-Mogul senior executives at the company’s world headquarters in Southfield, Mich.

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Growing Security Threats Trigger M&A Increases in M&A in Global Cyber Security Market

AscentiveGlobal cyber security spending is expected to reach$60 billion in 2011 and is forecast to grow at 10 percent every year during the next three to five years.  The U.S. accounts for more than half of all deals globally, triggered by growing cyber threats and increasing awareness among both organizations and consumers of accelerating breaches and attacks, according to a new report from PwC titled, Cyber Security M&A: Decoding deals in the global Cyber Security industry.

Total deal activity since 2008 has exceeded $22 billion globally.  In the first half of 2011, there were 37 deals accounting for over$10 billion in deal value, representing a 70 percent increase compared to full year 2010.  Since 2008, the total investment in global cyber security deals has exceeded $22 billion, an average of over $6 billion in each year.

“Deal activity in cyber security is expected to continue to grow given the fragmentation of the market and the attractive growth outlook,” said Barry Jaber, PwC’s security industry leader. “Technology and IT companies are making acquisitions to differentiate their offerings while defense firms continue to do deals to diversify away from shrinking defense budgets.”

“Against the backdrop of heightened awareness of hacks and deliberate attacks on institutions by semi-organized groups, the cyber security market is undergoing significant change and attracting investment from sectors that span technology, telecommunications, defense, professional services and financial investors,” said Rob Fisher, PwC’s U.S. technology leader for transaction services.

In most regions, the private sector accounts for the majority of cyber security spending, while the U.S. is the notable exception where government spending is almost equal to the private sector.  The strong U.S. technology industry combined with the fact that the U.S. defense and intelligence budgets are significantly larger than in any other country are key market drivers.

“The U.S. is a unique market with significant cyber security spending in the public sector, particularly by intelligence and defense agencies,” said PwC’s Jaber.

The U.S. market leads in value with the majority of deals (over 50 percent) involving acquirers or targets based in North America.  By comparison, Europe accounted for approximately a quarter of deal value and a third of deal volume over the same period.

“Growing threats and awareness, and changes in technology such as mobile devices and cloud computing are key drivers of spending growth in the cyber security market,” added PwC’s Jaber.

Other key drivers underpinning growth in cyber security spending include:

  • Increasing cyber threats, both from new actors and new threat vectors (the paths that attacks can take).
  • Greater vulnerabilities due to the more pervasive use of technology, particularly mobile devices and cloud computing.
  • Increasing awareness by organizations and consumers of the threats and potential threats.
  • Changes in technology driving product and service innovation of security solutions.
  • Increasing regulation, particularly those enforcing the requirement to secure personal data.
  • Changes in outsourcing; some organizations are increasingly relying on partners for security, while others are growing internal security spending to maintain greater levels of control.

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Collections: 5 Tips on Getting Your Money

It’s about the passion, about the freedom, and about the variety of working with many different clients. But working at home is also about the money! And because you might be a one-man or one-woman operation, each chunk of money owed to you can be very significant, especially when you’re first starting out and cash flow is problematic.

Here are five guidelines to follow when you put on your collection agent hat, particularly when you have slow-paying or no-paying clients that need a kick in the pants.

•Reduce the need for collections altogether! – By using an online service and escrowing funds prior to work starting, you’re assured that funds are available. Also consider asking for upfront payments for larger jobs. Splitting the payment up and getting money at the start can help stave off any cash flow crisis.

•Prep the client for invoicing – If you send a quick note to the client along the lines of, “I anticipate completing the job on Tuesday and will invoice then, let me know if that’s a problem,” you’re laying the groundwork for the expectation of payment.

•Invoice promptly and accurately – Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by delaying invoicing. Send invoice as soon as is reasonable and appropriate. Invoices should normally indicate “Due upon receipt” for completed work. And especially if you’re using an old invoice or template, there’s a chance to make a mistake in the billing. Don’t fall into this trap! An employer may rightly call you on the mistake and ask you to resubmit, delaying the payment. And less scrupulous employers may use your mistake as an excuse to sit on the invoice even longer.

•Establish an invoice spreadsheet – Smaller work from home operations unfortunately have to be their own accounting departments. And it’s easy to lose track of invoices, particularly if you have numerous clients with smaller totals. Make a spreadsheet indicating dates submitted, amounts, summary of work completed, and employers. Create follow-up schedules for slow-paying employers. This spreadsheet will also come in very handy for tax time.

•Kill with kindness – Only for the most egregious payment delays do you want to try to thump employers with the nasty stick or try to shame them into paying. You’re a professional, and your first collection attempts should be entirely polite. You should also keep your vocabulary in check. “Let me know the status of the outstanding invoice” is a much better phrase then “Didn’t receive payment today. What’s the deal?”

Today’s economy has definitely made slow and no payments a spreading epidemic.  What have your experiences been with difficult employers? Let us know how you you were able to secure your payments.

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Use the “Wow Gift” to Change Your Customer’s Outlook

There are a few reasons why you want to go out of your way in a customer service environment to “turn around” unsatisfied customers. Remember that only a fraction of your customer base uses conventional customer service. When customers are mad/disappointed/confused enough to contact you and air their grievances, chances are they’re also likely to share their bad experience with others. A customer service truism is that bad news travels much faster and farther than good news. And in a world of permanent chat forums where bad feedback is there—forever—for prospective customers to see, your business needs to be especially alert to disgruntled customers.

Enter the concept of the “Wow Gift.” The Wow Gift is some sort of freebie offered to disgruntled customers that represents your best weapon for turning a mad customer into a glad customer. The secret is in the degree of the freebie. The trick is to offer a gift that significantly outstrips the perceived grievance, to the point the pleasantly surprised customer says, “Wow!”

Offering a gift does several things, the benefits of which FAR outweigh the actual cost to you of the gift. The Wow Gift is: a) a proactive gesture that shows a forward-thinking, engaged service approach; b) a clear acknowledgment of and restitution for your customer’s perceived pain and inconvenience; and c) a way to turn lead into gold, so to speak, and to turn a negative experience not just into a neutral experience, but into a positive one. So instead of complaining to friends, family, or the world, customers will be bragging about you.

What is the Wow Gift? Naturally it depends on your business, what goods or services the customer has purchased, and the severity of the perceived grievance. Here’s a list of freebies to consider:

• Discount on the present purchase
• Discount on a future purchase
• Offering one or more months of subscription-type service at no charge
• Offering free products
• Making the present purchase free of charge
• Adding to the quantity of the present purchase
• Free upgrades of products or services, present or future

Remember, the goal is to overcompensate, to offer a gift that has a “Wow” factor in relation to the customer service issue. By using the Wow Gift, you will completely undermine the customer’s position. In fact, a natural reaction for the customer is a gentle rejection of the gift: “Well, I never expected THAT.” That’s when you know you’ve won the customer over.

Have any other tips for defusing angry situations and getting customers back to your side? Let us know!

 

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Help Find Lauren Spierer

Lauren Spierer, a junior at Indiana University, was last seen on June 3rd at approximately 4:30 am and has been missing for 18 days.  Her family and friends have asked that anyone who has an online presence, whether large or small, help in the search for her.  Today, the Ascentive team is joining the cause.  For updates on the search efforts you can follow @NewsOnLaurenS or visit http://twitter.com/#!/NewsOnLaurenS.  Lauren in 4’11” and 95 lbs.  She has blond hair and blue eyes (as seen below).

LaurenS

LaurenS

Volunteers are desperately needed to continue the day in and day out search for Lauren.  For info on developments over  the past 18 days, please visit: http://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=81967

If you are a local resident of Bloomington, Indiana or within a reasonable distance and would like to give your time,  you can find more information about helping in the search for Lauren here:  http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/will-you-become-find-lauren-search.html

If you are unable to volunteer your time, donations are greatly appreciated as well.  You can help fund the search for Lauren here: http://www.iuhillel.org/lauren_donate.php

Anyone can hold the key to find her.  If you have ANY information regarding Lauren please call 1-800-CRIME TV and you can leave your tip anonymously.  The current reward is $100,000.

The key is to spread the word and keep her story alive.  We encourage everyone to help in anyway possible.


5 Brainstorming Techniques for Project Managers

Project ManagementAs we all know, sometimes the solution to a project management problem isn’t obvious. There may be many moving parts: clashes of personalities, supply problems, technology limitations, personnel shortages, or any number of other challenges. That’s why it’s often useful to sit down in a room with key staff members, throw things at the proverbial wall, and see what sticks.

Here are five brainstorming techniques that are specifically useful in a project management environment. They can be used in a meeting of any number of people, and in a variety of industries. The key is structuring the meeting properly, including introducing each technique effectively, and leaving criticism at the door (that is, at least until you actually get down to evaluating the ideas everyone has generated).

Examining Parallels – How have others in your field tackled the same problem you are tackling? What successes did other organizations have, and where did they fall down? The “others” you are examining could be direct competitors, but it also might be a related but distinct industry. This technique is all about emulating success while at the same time learning from others’ mistakes and making corrections. A brainstorm session using this technique might lead to some competitor research, which can then spur new ideas.

The Mind Map – The mind map is analogous to a tree, with a central trunk (the end project goal) branching off into broad and then more specific sub-categories. For example, if your goal is a “successful acquisition,” you might list “information technology,” “personnel,” and “facilities” as sub-topics and then riff into more sub-topics.

Survival of the Fittest – Do some brainstorming in a freeform, “anything goes” style. After an initial round, knock out the least viable ideas and concentrate on the ones most people feel are promising. Then, do a second round of brainstorming, but with ideation triggered by the “survivor” ideas of the first round. With a third and even fourth round, you’ll likely arrive at brainstorming gold.

Devil’s Advocate – Yes, in this method you get to tear down ideas. But it’s actually much more productive than a first glance would tell you. In Devil’s Advocate, you challenge some basic premises of the goal itself. If the project schedule is three weeks, why? Can it be four? If the goal involves the entire company, could it involve just a few departments? These are broad questions, but Devil’s Advocate can get quite specific as to your individual goal. By challenging assumptions, you’ll arrive at new ideas.

Wall Siege – In this technique, you switch from the project goal to the impediments in the way of that goal. Which of the “moving parts” I talked about in the introduction are in the way of a successful project? And how can these obstacles be reduced or eliminated?

Are there any brainstorming techniques we missed that you’ve found particularly helpful in the boardroom? I’m always up for trying new techniques so please share them in the comments!

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