April 18, 2006

eSchoolware gets assistance from Digital Corridor

Sheila Watson  /  CRBJ

When Elaina Ezelle, president and founder of eSchoolware, restructured her company earlier this year, she found herself in a dilemma. Her company's growth showed a need for larger space, but she needed the space now.

"We found office space on Daniel Island, but because we expanded so rapidly, we needed something immediately," she said, noting that outgrowing space is not a bad problem to have, but it is still a problem nonetheless. Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, offered eSchoolware a quick solution–-space in his office until the Daniel Island office was ready.

"We can't say enough about what Ernest has done for us," said Lenna Macdonald, chief executive officer of eSchoolware. "We're getting ready for a full nationwide launch of our product, and we needed somewhere to get organized before our space was available." Macdonald said Andrade's offer of his office was generous and resourceful. "We like the Digital Corridor's ability to solve a problem today when you need the help."

Andrade offered further assistance by introducing Ezelle and Macdonald to Sean Ryan, a software developer who is one of the Digital Corridor's "roundtable of experts." Ryan came on board as technology officer with the task of developing and supporting the suite of Web-based products designed to improve education. The suite, a diagnostic tool measuring the achievement of proficiency for teachers and students, is presented in a goal-based, learning-plan format. The application provides tools and processes for accessing educational resources and training, including virtual learning.

"We have professional development tools for teachers," Ryan said. "We also have an assessment product that allows districts to provide assessments of teachers along with prescriptions for what they should do."

The prescription involves directing the individual to training resources. Other features include assessments for students and an online portfolio area where information can be stored and reviewed.

"We also have a reporting function to show progress among populations over time," said Macdonald. "So at the district level, it can show whether teachers are getting better over the course of the year."

Ezelle, whose background is in technology, has been developing the product since 2001. "I've been working with the Charleston County School District to help them provide technology proficiency," Ezelle said. "As we worked on providing those solutions, we saw the ability to provide a method of assessment for the standards."She incorporated as eSchoolware in February and began marketing the products nationally.

"Elaina was doing the proof-of-concept and research, and then I came on board as CEO in January because we needed to get to the next level," Macdonald said. "We took the bits and pieces from the previous efforts, and we rebranded and reincorporated. And now we have a product that's proven and tested. We're gearing up for nationwide exposure, and now that we have a proven product, we feel very comfortable with the roll-out."

"We do have something of a national footprint already," Ezelle said. "Along with most districts in South Carolina, we're working with a district in Michigan and doing professional development in Tennessee."

The company is also negotiating several contracts in three other states. "We're trying to help education by helping produce higher quality teachers," said Ezelle. "It's exciting because this gives them the tools to let them know where they are, where they need to go and how to get there."

The company presented its products before 11,000 attendees at the recent education technology conference in Florida and will be attending the national conference in San Diego in May. The products also address the national "No Child Left Behind" school proficiency mandate.

"The message is launching nationwide that we're an award-winning concept that works and is valuable," said Macdonald. "Five years ago, education wasn't ready for this. And the teachers weren't trained to use it. For us, it's perfect timing. The tools are ready just as the client is ready."

Macdonald applauds the Digital Corridor for stepping up when eSchoolware needed assistance. "Part of the appeal is how the (Digital) Corridor helps small companies get what is needed when it's needed," she said. "We're a Charleston-grown company. We're not huge-not yet-but we're growing, and we want to stay here. That's what the (Digital) Corridor understands."