Two years after leaving office, West Virginia schools Superintendent Steve Paine is using his connections with public school officials here and across the country to help sell a computer program.
Paine took a job this year as chief academic officer at California-based Engrade. The company sells a program to track students' grades, attendance, discipline and assignments.
Engrade, which started as a free program for teachers, has won applause from educators and contracts with large school districts, including New York City's.
With Paine's help, a paid version of Engrade has spread into a number of West Virginia counties this year.
The first West Virginia county school district to bite on Engrade is Randolph County, where Paine's son, Jonathan Paine, is the county school system's director of technology.
The son helped make sure Engrade worked well with the state Department of Education's 20-year-old student information database. The older, state-run program is considered hard to use and isn't easy to integrate with newer computer programs.
Steve Paine, Engrade CEO Zach Posner and Randolph County Superintendent Jim Phares said the father-son relationship had nothing to do with the county's decision to buy Engrade at the initial price of $2 per student.
"I think you know me well enough that any kind of family connection - I will promise you - never entered into my decision to go do business with them," the elder Paine said.
Phares is among the candidates who may become the next state schools superintendent. He said a teacher brought Engrade to his attention in fall 2011.
That's before Paine joined Engrade in January 2012. Before that, Paine spent a year as a vice president at CTB/McGraw-Hill, the New York-based test maker and education software giant.
A high school student in Sacramento founded Engrade a decade ago to help his math teacher post grades. Now, the product has 5.5 million users worldwide, including teachers, students, parents and school administrators.
Engrade lets teachers share grades and assignments with students and parents. It also helps teachers and principals keep tabs on students.
The company offers a free service and paid versions. Teachers across the country and in West Virginia have been using the free version for several years. About 24,000 West Virginians used the free version in the past month, Posner said last week.
Recently, Engrade has been looking to grow its paid services, which are designed for use by schools and school districts.
Besides being the former top education official in West Virginia, Paine is also the former president of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
"I used to work with state superintendents of schools, so that's why they hired me, primarily," Paine said.
Paine's walk through the revolving door from the public sector to private sector is not unusual.
His predecessor, former state schools Superintendent Dave Stewart, left the superintendent's office in 2005 and soon took a job with Charleston architectural firm ZMM. The firm did millions of dollars of business with the public education system during Stewart's tenure.
During Paine's tenure, the state also did millions of dollars in business with McGraw-Hill. Paine said that business was done before he ever thought about retiring.
Paine said his decision to go to McGraw-Hill happened quickly. He received a waiver from the state's Ethics Commission to seek private sector employment. Paine said he did not do business with the state while at McGraw-Hill.
Paine left McGraw-Hill after getting a good look at Engrade, which is sleek, modern and appears easy to use. The program replaces paper grade books and also helps teachers manage their classrooms. It links with other programs that offer online lessons and tests.
Paine has long been keen on the power of classroom technology.
"He basically saw what we were doing and said, 'You guys have nailed it,' " Posner said of Paine's initial interest in Engrade.
Posner said Paine suggested a key feature: at the press of a button, principals can see a list of students who are at risk of dropping out of school based on information Engrade collects about them.
Posner said enthusiastic users - not Paine - were Engrade's biggest salesmen.
"He had a recognized face, but conceptually a lot of the traction has been building up in West Virginia," Posner said.
Paine had a strategy to help get Engrade's foot in the door. To do that in West Virginia, he visited counties and the regional education service agencies, or RESAs.
Paine said his job at Engrade is to make introductions and open doors. He said he does not sell the software.
The work brings Paine into contact with numerous officials he once worked with - and supervised - as the head of the state's public school system.
"The kind of thing I would do would be to contact the RESA director or contact the superintendent and say, 'We have Engrade, would you have any interest in taking a look at us?' " Paine said.
Engrade is now being used in Randolph, Wayne, Mason and Logan counties and in parts of Kanawha, Putnam and Boone counties, among others.
Engrade has donated its software to McDowell County, where the American Federation of Teachers union is trying to spur a turnaround with public and private partnerships.