A Date with Data
Data Swap: From State Data Manager to IDC Technical Assistance Provider
March 13, 2024
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Three former state data managers walk into a U.S. Department of Education-funded data center. Not ringing a bell? Relax. It’s no joke; it’s this week’s episode of A Date with Data. Join host Amy Bitterman as she sits down with former data managers-turned-IDC’s own Kelley Blas, Kristen DeSalvatore, and Austen Ferrier. They’re discussing how they made the transition from working for states to working with states building their capacity to improve the quality of their IDEA data.
Reach out to us if you want to access Podcast resources, submit questions related to episodes, or share ideas for future topics. We’d love to hear from you!
You can contact us via the Podcast page on the IDC website at https://ideadata.org/.
### Episode Transcript ###

00:00:01.52  >> You're listening to "A Date With Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.

00:00:07.34  >> Hey. It's Amy, and I'm so excited to be hosting "A Date With Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA data every day.

00:00:19.50  >> "A Date With Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.

00:00:24.61  >> Welcome to another episode of "A Date With Data." I am joined by several former data managers who are now IDC technical assistance providers. Austin Ferrier, Kelley Blas and Kristen DeSalvatore were all data managers up until a few months ago, and they're going to share with us their unique experience of going from being a data manager to now working to build the capacity of data managers and other state staff to improve the quality of their IDEA data. Welcome to all three of you. And I think, to get things going, it would be great if each of you could just briefly introduce yourselves, say a little bit about how long you were in the role as a data manager and what you're doing now. And, Kelley, do you want to start us off?

00:01:09.05  >> Sure. Thank you, Amy. Again, my name is Kelley Blas, and I was a data manager at the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina. I was there for 17 years as the data manager and the last few years as the SPP/APR coordinator, and I'm very happy to have joined IDC as a state liaison and technical assistance provider, just love working with states.

00:01:35.64  >> Great. Thanks, Kelley. Kristen, do you want to say hello?

00:01:39.35  >> Hello, everyone. I am Kristen DeSalvatore, and I was the data manager at the New York State Education Department for about 11 years. In that role, I also served as [Indistinct] coordinator. In my role at IDC now, I'm working to provide technical assistance and support to states and LEAs related to the collection and reporting of education data and especially the special ed IDA data.

00:02:08.19  >> Wonderful. Austin?

00:02:10.19  >> Yes, thank you for that introduction, Amy. Afternoon, everybody. My name is Austin Ferrier. I am the former IDEA Part B data manager for the Florida Department of Education. I was actually in that role for about a year and 6 or 7 months, and as I transitioned to IDC, I have been focusing on CA specialists and 618 data.

00:02:36.26  >> Great. Thank you. So it's wonderful to have all three of you, and I'm so excited to now be able to work with you on the IDC and technical-assistance side of things. I was fortunate enough to get to know all of you when you were data managers so really thrilled to have you now onboard with IDC. And to get things going, I'm wondering if you all could reflect a little bit on your time as a data manager, if there is advice that you might want to provide, if there are newer data managers. Austin, you were in that role much more recently, so it's a newer kind of experience for you, just thinking about things you would've maybe wanted to know as a new data manager. Kelley, do you want to kick things off?

00:03:21.54  >> Sure. So when I was reflecting on advice for new data managers, one of the first things that came to me was to utilize all of the technical-assistance resources that are available to you. I know that when I started 17 years ago, I wasn't really aware of what technical-assistance resources were available to me. Felt like there were times where I couldn't find exactly what I needed, but now in this day and age and especially with having IDC, there's a website that's super filled with resources. There are technical-assistance resources, such as state liaisons. I would definitely encourage folks, especially newer folks, to invite their state liaison to walk them through all of the resources that are available on the website. Also, the other thing is just having a plan in mind for what your year is going to look like around data collection, when it's being collected, when analysis needs to happen, when submissions are due and just having that calendar planned out that's kind of unique to your state. Not every state collects things at the same time, but we know that it's all kind of due at the ... It is due at the same time to OSEP, so having that calendar planned out for the year really helped me know when I was supposed to take leave if I wanted to take a vacation or make plans and when I was going to need to be really, really focused on my data-analysis activities.

00:04:50.06  >> Yeah. Kristen, do you want to give us some advice?

00:04:53.72  >> Sure, so I'm going to echo what Kelley said about the IDC resources and really advise folks to make the time to really investigate the IDC resources that are available to you and to reach out to your state liaison on a regular basis. Like Kelley, I didn't really realize the depth of support that is available and really wish that I had. I would also tell people to network and collaborate with others in your agency and really try to find allies in the Office of Special Ed or data shop that you can work with and count on to help you get the work done that you need to get done. And lastly, I would say don't be afraid of OSEP. They're not out to get you, that a lot of times folks feel like, "We're going to get dinged. We're going to have a big problem with OSEP." So keep in mind really that OSEP has rules and regulations that they must follow, right? So they are pretty scripted by what's in the IDEA law. And also keep in mind that we all have the same goals in mind, right? We want to improve the landscape for students with disabilities. That should really be the underpinning of all of the work that you're doing.

00:06:21.45  >> That's great to keep in mind and especially for newer folks who might be intimidated by OSEP, but know that they're there to support states in any way really that they can, so they're a resource and a partner. Austin, what advice do you have?

00:06:38.69  >> I do have to echo some of the sentiments that both Kelley and Kristen expressed, especially what Kristen mentioned about, regardless of what we do, it does all come back to the students. We might be looking at data timelines inundated with messages from OSEP and emails, but one of the biggest things that really clicked with me as a new data manager, that this all comes back to fate, providing free and public education for kids and those support. So each time you see a number in an Excel sheet, any type of visualization you make, just try to keep in mind that that's a real student, a real person and that we are trying to do our best to support those groups. Another thing I would really advise new data managers to do, if you get the chance, please, please, I highly advise to attend one of the IDC Interactive Institutes summits or any type of project or presentation that IDC puts on. I know when I first made my initial trip for the SPP/APR summit, it opened up a whole new world outside the lens of Florida in terms of the level of collaboration, the level of support available, and it just really helped encapsulate what we are trying to do in our positions and in our positions as Part B data managers in support of LEAs. If your state allows you, highly advise to take the trip to any of those Interactive Institutes or summits. And then just finally, just as Kelley was saying, IDC has data manager connection groups, data quality peer groups. The level of collaboration you can achieve in those specific safe spaces is amazing. I know the conversation ... I've had conversation with Kristen herself when we were both in that role in meetings where we were talking about some very sensitive topics, but that collaboration really allowed us to build our own state's capacity and just kind of build that knowledge base.

00:08:56.86  >> Yeah, so it sounds like what I'm hearing as a theme from all of you is really the collaboration, the relationship building because often in the state you might be a little isolated, the only one really doing a lot of the work that's kind of in your head and the importance of working across your SEA, and then also just reaching out and tapping other data managers is such an important piece of the role. So now that you've transitioned out of the role of being a data manager, Kristen, what's something that you're really going to miss about being a data manager?

00:09:33.63  >> I'm really going to miss the collaboration with my immediate colleagues in the data shop at NISED as well as with the staff in the Office of Special Education. As a data manager, I really was the bridge between the two separate offices in the department, and I worked very hard to bring the data and build the data literacy in the Office of Special Education and did reap a lot of rewards from that and made some good connections with colleagues, so I will definitely miss that part of it. I'll also miss working with the data, and as Austin said, it's numbers on a spreadsheet, but the work that a data manager does, does have the potential to influence directly things for kids, right? So you do have the ability to influence practices and policies that do have that potential to make a difference really even in an individual kid's life, so that to me is something I will miss.

00:10:50.73  >> Thanks. Austin, what about you?

00:10:53.98  >> I just have to echo kind of what Kristen was saying in terms of that level of collaboration, but I will say probably one of the biggest aspects I'll miss, especially at the SEA state level, was the interaction I had with LEA exceptional education directors. I was a phone call away with almost every special director in every district in Florida, and having that connection and having that bridge really felt like the distance between the state and the LEA was lessened, and the trust was strengthened, so knowing that they could call me at any moment if they had a question regarding their data specifically, even at the school level, just building that trust and those relationships and having that direct assistance and seeing that have a direct effect in real time, one of the biggest things I'll miss. Second biggest thing I'll miss, I worked with some amazing individuals at the state level who, even outside of their career and job, were still focused on community outreach programs, were still going to school-board meetings after work. The passion was there, and it was evident, and I fed off of that, and I'll truly miss some of the individuals I ... They were superstars, rock stars.

00:12:21.34  >> Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, Kelley, what things are you going to miss?

00:12:26.55  >> It's funny. We're all kind of missing the same thing, but definitely for me, I'll definitely miss the friends that I made at the Department of Public Instruction across the agency, but the main relationship that I'll miss is, after 17 years and being involved in building our state special education data system, you develop some really strong connections and supportive relationships with our LEAs, and again, they knew that they could contact me, and I would know a little trick to get their data to go in just right or what the workaround was for our system, and so those kinds of phone calls, they're always so gratifying because they know that they can call you, and you'll figure it out for them. So those things I'll miss and definitely, definitely the data. I am a data geek at heart, I think, and so being able to look at those big data sets and knowing the rules of our state and how everything's supposed to fit together and how to present that visually where it makes sense when we're talking to our districts about their data, those are the top three things, I think, for all three of us that I'll miss.

00:13:41.01  >> Mm-hmm. Yeah, lot of similarities. I think as you get more into the role, the states that you're working with will sort of become like your districts were, and they'll be calling you, and you'll be calling them and build up that same type of relationship, so I think you'll still see that in somewhat different ways. And we touched on this a little bit already, but are there things that you want to mention that you as a data manager wished you had known more specifically about IDC and what IDC does and the services and the other TA centers as well? Austin, is there anything you want to mention?

00:14:18.98  >> Yes, yes, definitely I want to re-emphasize the area of safe space that IDC creates. I really do want to just express and emphasize IDC is not a punitive organization. They are not looking to ding you on any of your data pieces. It's a holistic examination of state processes as a whole in a ... It's pure assistance, so always keep that in mind. Come at it with a positive attitude and come at it as if we know where you're coming from, and Kelley and Kristen, they will agree. We've been in their shoes. So just having that empathy and knowing that we do try to create a safe space, and I really do hope states understand that.

00:15:16.08  >> Yeah, absolutely. Kelley, what are some things that you want to mention about IDC or other TA centers?

00:15:25.34  >> I think one of the things that I didn't realize about IDC that I know now just from my own experience as a state liaison is the multitude of ways that IDC and other TA centers can really come in and support states when it comes to the work that they're doing around data. For example, I'll be going to a state next month and helping facilitate a stakeholder meeting around some changes that they're making to their Indicator 4 methodology, and I wish that I had known that those kinds of supports were available to me as a data manager and to our team in general at the Department of Public Instruction because we could've utilized those supports in a way that would've made those meetings just richer and so just understanding the true depth of support. And I'll say it again because I didn't ... I definitely didn't understand this, but safe space, safe space, safe space. I think for a long time I felt like if I shared too much information with our TA centers that maybe I was airing my state's dirty laundry, and I didn't want it to be known that we were doing things wrong. I just wanted to help correct it. But knowing that these TA centers are here specifically to support us in improvement efforts and making things ... making our data stronger, it changes the whole understanding of what technical assistance really is, and I just ... I had some misconceptions for sure.

00:17:06.18  >> Great. And, Kristen, anything you want to add?

00:17:11.04  >> So, Kelley and Austin, you did a great job of taking the words right out of my mouth. I do ... One thing that I really didn't understand was how important it was or is to get to the conferences and institutes that IDC offers and pays for folks to attend. In New York, we had a hard time with travel, and we were finally allowed to go to ii23, Interactive Institute 23, and it was just mind-blowing for us. We were like, "Oh, my goodness, we have really missed out on a lot of in-person technical assistance and information and the collaboration and the networking and that piece of it," so that is one thing that I would highly, highly recommend is that all data managers but especially new data managers really work hard to be able to attend the in-person events that are offered.

00:18:19.61  >> Yeah, between all the data centers, all the TA centers, there really is such a wealth of expertise and knowledge and resources that we need to make sure all the states and staff and especially newer staff are aware of and can utilize. So kind of looking forward now, we talk a lot at IDC about what it means to be a data quality influencer and how everybody is a data quality influencer in different ways. You all as data managers were definitely, of course, data quality influencers in that role. Can you talk a little bit about some things you're excited about in your new role in terms of being a data quality influencer? And, Kelley, do you want to start us off?

00:19:09.72  >> So my mind is always whirling on what I could've used during my time as a data manager, and now that I'm with IDC and I know that part of the focus at IDC is creating tools and resources to help data managers and states have better tools to analyze and display their data and make meaningful change in their daily work and efforts, it's really just exciting to me to be able to think about what I could've used and how I can present those ideas and potentially create these tools to assist LEAs, for example, significant disproportionality or the indicators, just tools that will help them analyze and display data better.

00:19:53.13  >> Thanks, and really who better than the three of you and other former data managers to come on and help put those ideas and dreams you might have had as a data manager like, "It would be great if this existed, but I just don't have the time or the capacity to create it," and now can really be devoted to that and helping other data managers create those for them. Kristen, tell me a little bit about what you're envisioning in your role as a data quality influencer with IDC.

00:20:25.65  >> Well, Amy, as you said, the state will kind of become our LEAs or district, so I am looking forward to working with the individual states to provide one-on-one technical assistance as well as being thoughtful about updating existing resources to reflect new guidance, new practices and new perspectives and create new resources, knowing, as Kelley said, what I thought I might ... would be super helpful when I was in that role as a data manager. I am really excited to now be on the other side of the aisle with the deep understanding that I have of what data managers are going through, what their workload is like, how much information there is for them to process and get right, right ... There is very high-stakes data, this IDEA data ... and how important the work is. So if there is one data role, I think, in a state agency that you want to be a data quality influencer, it is around the IDEA Special Education data, right? It's super high-stakes, and I'm just very excited to be on the train.

00:21:50.25  >> Great. Yeah, we need a whole army of data quality influencers for this IDEA data. So, Austin, what ... How do you see yourself being a data quality influencer now?

00:22:02.51  >> Yes, Amy. When I think about this question, the word empathy keeps popping in my head. We ... Kristen and Kelley, we've been into EMAPS. We've had to submit our SPP/APRs on February. We've seen those emails from our bosses' bosses asking for updates or asking for some type of information that you have to put together quickly and translate it into something they can digest quickly. Having that empathy and having gone through the data-submission process, it really helps me understand what state SEA data managers are going through, and just knowing those feelings that they have, those crunch-time deadlines and just navigating your OSEP guidelines and then your state, federal ... your state guidelines and state legislation, just being able to ... Having that in the back of my head when I have conversations with states, just making sure that they know that we've been in those positions before. We know how you feel, and we're going to try to the best of our ability to help you in your data submissions.

00:23:26.18  >> Yeah, that makes so much sense. It is such value that you bring having had those experiences and gone through everything they're going through, and, like you said, having the empathy, that really adds so much to what you all bring. So thank you all so much for sharing with me and all of us your experiences as a data manager and now transitioning into this new role, what that looks like and what you're looking forward to and so happy and thankful to have you on.

00:23:59.55  >> To access podcast resources, submit questions related to today's episode or if you have ideas for future topics, we'd love to hear from you. The links are in the episode content, or connect with us via the podcast page on the IDC website at ideadata.org.