Dateline Arkansas, the Natural State: As a member of Cohort 1, Arkansas is among the first in the nation to complete the first two phases of OSEP’s Differentiated Monitoring and Support (DMS) 2.0. Naturally, Arkansas education officials have stories to tell and insights to share, and naturally, they sat down with host Amy Bitterman to discuss the crucial steps of their DMS 2.0 experience. This included pulling together an effective team, updating state procedures (and online information), and working with technical assistance (TA) experts to ensure the most successful possible outcomes. It’s an insider’s look you’ll only find on this episode of A Date with Data, naturally enough.
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### 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.
00:00:24.85 >> Welcome to "A Date with Data." Today, I am joined by Matt Sewell, Director of Special Programs; Yvonne Greene, Administrator of Monitoring and Program Effectiveness; and Jody Fields, the Part B Data Manager, who are all with the Arkansas Department of Education. Arkansas is one of the first states who have now gone through Phases I and II of OSEP's differentiated monitoring and support, or DMS, 2.0 system. Just as a refresher, Phase I is when states are providing relevant information in response to OSEP's request for documentation, and then in Phase II is when the states are interviewed, and there's also an on-site or virtual visit, and we're going to hear all about Arkansas' DMS experience so far.
00:01:14.01 So to kick things off, could each of you just say a little bit about yourselves? Matt, do you mind starting us off?
00:01:20.99 >> I would be glad to. My name is Matt Sewell. As she said, I'm the State Director of Special Programs. Prior to coming to the Department of Education, I spent almost 20 years in the public school system in a variety of roles, ranging from classroom teacher, school-bus driver, coach, director of finance, athletic director, special education director, building principal prior to coming to the department to fill the role of Special Education Director, and now, I'm in my fifth year here at the department.
00:01:58.53 >> Wow. You've really done everything.
00:02:00.82 >> I've done a little bit of a lot of stuff, and I've never been really good at any of it, in fact.
00:02:08.00 >> I'm sure that's not true. Oh, my gosh. Okay. Jody, how about you?
00:02:14.54 >> Hi. I'm Jody Fields, and I have been the Part B Data Manager for Arkansas since December of 2003. So that is 19 years and 20 child counts.
00:02:29.25 >> But who's counting, right?
00:02:30.45 >> Who's counting, right? So I am actually housed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a grant through the Special Education Office to handle the special education data management, and my office basically handles all of it in regards to the APR and the 618 Data.
00:02:50.95 >> Great. Thank you. Yvonne?
00:02:53.52 >> Hi. I'm Yvonne Greene, and I am the Administrator for Monitoring and Program Effectiveness. I've been with the Department here for about 10 years in a variety of roles, and prior to coming to the state of Arkansas, I was an educator in Texas. My experience is in special education and general education in a variety of settings, resource, self-contained and inclusive settings. And I was also an early childhood coordinator.
00:03:24.49 >> Great. Thank you, all. So to get things going, we'll start kind of at the beginning, and if you could just tell us how you got ready for DMS, what you did to prepare for that first phase of sort of documentation and pulling together all that information that OSEP requested? And then also moving into that second phase of your interviews and your virtual visit.
00:03:49.68 >> Great. I don't mind to kick us off there. So we started this process actually in the fall of 2019, when this was first launched, and at that time, what we did and what I would most likely recommend others do is, first and foremost, look at what it is that OSEP is going to want. Those, the protocols are available for everyone to look at, and after you get a hold of those protocols, really think about and strategically think about, who are the people that need to be involved? Is it ... Do you have an administrator of monitoring? Do you have people who wear multiple hats? Who are the people that you would like to speak on behalf of your agency? Those are all pieces of that thought process when you begin, trying to determine how you're going to navigate everything that there is to collect because there's a lot of stuff there. Once you identify your team, you need to start pulling your team together and meeting with them, making sure that whoever is going to be responsible for each part has exactly what they need to move forward and start collecting that data, and I would, at this time, I'd really like to invite Yvonne and Jody to speak in to some of this part of the process too because they really did the in-the-weeds piece. You've got kind of the overview part of thinking through who your team is, what do you need? But then there's a lot of in-the-weeds work that you're going to need your team member to dig in to.
00:05:30.74 >> Yeah.
00:05:30.83 >> I found that the protocols that were adapted by the TA centers were especially helpful because they added columns for you to talk about who was responsible for particular sets of information, where documentation is to support whatever the question is asking, and there was a way on those adapted tools to really answer whatever the protocols questions were. I found it very helpful to go really deep, understanding that there was a lot of repetition in some of the potential subquestions because they're really trying to seek clarification and understanding of what your procedures and processes are. And so if you've written solid answers, sometimes, your solid answer may apply to multiple questions because, again, they're trying to go deep. But at the same time, you have to hold the overarching question from the protocol in mind so that you don't go down extra rabbit holes. So what is it that they are looking for in this particular question? If they're looking at the integrated monitoring questions that keep the conversation around how your team truly integrates, they're monitoring protocols and procedures across all of the areas within their office.
00:06:59.71 >> So one of the things I think we all did was look at our actual internal procedure manuals, finance, monitoring, data, dispute resolution on how we ... what we had in place, what could've been missing, whether there's things that we haven't updated. So when it came to data, we had done the Data Process Toolkit from IDC 5 years ago, and in the spring of '21, we started to update all of those. So going through and updating them and making sure we had things in place that we knew what our procedures were, especially since there was new staff. You hadn't been here for only a year at the time as we were getting into this, once it kicked back off the second time around.
00:07:48.09 >> Mm-hmm.
00:07:48.81 >> But really is making sure you know where everything is, and one of the other things we went digging into was our website and making sure the website was up to date, that we had the most recent information out there. So as OSEP went out looking for things, we could tell them exactly where it was and that it was the most current information.
00:08:11.90 >> And I think that really helped with the documentation request because we were able to have so much available on our website that it limited what extra information we needed to go find because we have so much available publicly.
00:08:28.85 >> And, Amy, I would add that as you develop your team, your team of individuals, one of the first topics of conversation, once you get past, "What documents do we need to identify? Where they are on our website, what about our process guides?" is, what TA centers need to be part of this team? And who are those individuals from those TA centers that you should immediately involve? Not wait until you've begun the process, but allow them to be part of your team from the beginning, from the onset of the process until the completion of the process? Because the questions that they'll ask you, the things that they'll take a look at for you, just being your teammates and coaching you at times through it was invaluable to us.
00:09:18.24 >> Yeah, I'm sure as more states are going through this, also having TA centers who have been through it with others states, will be helpful because they'll know the experience, know what types of questions might be asked.
00:09:29.11 >> One of the other things, I would say, is even if they're meeting on finance, have everybody there because they're going to bring up finance. And so for data, they'll bring up the MOE CEIS reporting, so your data manager may need to be there, or we're looking at: If someone was noncompliant in something, monitoring still needs to be there. So while you're thinking it's just this particular topic, it all is integrated, and it all overlaps. And so you think, "I don't need to have somebody on this call," and then in the end, you're going, "We should've had so and so on the call with us."
00:10:05.72 >> Mm-hmm.
00:10:06.63 >> Because it does overlap across, and that's what they're really looking for, to see how we are integrated and that we all work together.
00:10:16.12 >> Yup, and that everyone, it's not just one person and very siloed, but it's a team effort, and it all comes together, all the pieces, like you mentioned. Yvonne, were you going to say something?
00:10:28.17 >> Yeah. We used the TA centers to review our protocol guides or any procedure manuals that we have just to help them help us. They were reading it as somebody with a fresh set of eyes and were able to provide feedback, which helped us clarify and actually have a stronger procedure manual process guide in whatever particular area that is. So they really ... The TA centers really helped us identify some holes that we were able to fill in prior to jumping into Phase II.
00:11:02.48 >> It sounds like you took those protocols, and did you actually kind of, like Matt was talking about, assign different people to their protocol that fit in their work? And then kind of went through and actually drafted responses or kind of jotted, put down, "Here's the evidence we have to support each of these items"? Was that part of the process?
00:11:22.84 >> Yes.
00:11:22.94 >> It was absolutely part of the process. Each person went through their protocol individually, and then we would meet collectively to go through those protocols to discuss what examples you had, where those things were located, and just to re-emphasize what Jody said, when you meet, meet together. There's some work that can be done individually, but then come back together for those discussions because as Yvonne shared about whether it was her process guide, where things were located, items that she found needed to be updated, it sparked either other questions or comments from other team members that these were connected. Here's how we can connect them, or, "Oh, yeah, we need to do that for this area as well." And it allowed for also some questions that you may also get from OSEP or from your TA centers. It's opportunities for Yvonne to ask Jody questions or me to ask Yvonne questions that just reinforces that collaboration and organization of your system, which is extremely important to OSEP, and Jody said this, how is all of it integrated? Because you can't work in these silos within your state. You've got to be more connected for the process to work.
00:12:45.04 >> Yeah. As you're talking about it, it's interesting because it's sort of almost like an unintended consequence of going through this, similar to kind of the IDEA Data processes where, part of it is being able to come together and collaborate and hear what each other are doing and how you work together and being able to ask each other those questions. It's sort of ... Really, even just going through it strengthens that relationship and your collaboration. Are there other resources? You mentioned the protocols and the TA, modified templates are something things you used when you were preparing. Are there other resources you use that you found helpful?
00:13:24.10 >> This isn't a written resource, but building off of what Matt said about utilizing the TA centers. We had a team from the TA centers we use most frequently come in and sit with us for a day and a half or 2 days and actually coach us through what the experience of OSEP being on-site might be like, and again, all of our team member who could be available and needed for the interviews were available for part of that process, and that really helped us, again, hear different ways of saying things or building that cohesion between our different groups to make sure that we really are all on the same page and have that integrated piece.
00:14:11.71 >> For the business ...
00:14:12.81 >> And there were some things that we needed to update from 1920 into '22, '23, and we had a new ... One of our team member was brand-new, so just being able to go back and review where we were then, where we are now was very beneficial. And again, don't ... When you think about resources, you have your protocols. You've got your TA centers, but your team, your staff, there's a lot of resource right there. Looking at some historical pieces, Dr. Fields has been with us for, as she said, 20 child counts, and that's how from, moving forward, how I'm going to refer to how long she's been here, by child counts, not year.
00:14:57.67 >> Yeah.
00:14:58.65 >> But just looking at some of those historical pieces too, where you've been and connecting them to where you are is a very beneficial resource to have also.
00:15:08.75 >> Yeah, because I'm sure if there's questions that OSEP has like, "Why did you change this?" or, "They are going to go back potentially up to 3 years," I think, right, in the questions and document? And having that context and background and perspective is so critical.
00:15:25.40 >> Yes. Yes.
00:15:26.49 >> I think the other resource you have to remember is the rest of the department.
00:15:31.57 >> Oh, I'm glad you said that.
00:15:32.86 >> Mm-hmm. Yeah, say more about that.
00:15:34.13 >> Because, well, so for Arkansas, we have a single student management system, and all the districts use it, and so some of the documentation I was providing is the documentation for the entire student management system, not just special education, because it's not a standalone system and such. And the same with when were talking finance and audits, it's about, how do you handle this? Well, that comes from over there, or our allocations come from the department finance office, not special education's finance office. So sometimes, your team member needs to be on standby throughout this process.
00:16:13.49 >> Yeah.
00:16:13.86 >> Or other folks outside of the agencies or in another section of the agencies, and by outside the agencies, I mean our mediation center, which is funded by a grant over at the Bowen School of Law that we had to have calls with them, and we had them on standby if we needed them during the visit.
00:16:34.78 >> Yeah, I would say, thinking through each area, what tentacles does it have? Because as Jody said, with finance, we needed to pull in the greater ADE finance and their procedures. We needed to bring in legislative audit because our school districts in our state are required yearly to have some type of audit, and legislative audit, sometimes, does audit findings, and if those around the area of special education, what is your notification process? And then what kind of actions do you take? So really thinking through the resources that are outside of the Office of Special Education and the other folks that you work with just outside of the doors in the offices that you sit in every day, and, Jody, thank you for bringing that up, because like she's saying, Rick would dispute. Needing to connect with Bowen School of Law, who handles all of our mediation and facilitation processes. It's very valuable.
00:17:32.37 >> Yeah. That's a great tip for states that are still getting ready for their visit that they have to definitely think beyond just special education and, like, you said, those tentacles and where they reach and having those early conversations with them to make sure they're onboard and understand what this looks like and what they need to contribute. In terms of that, so you all had a virtual visit, I know. Can you talk about that experience? And what were the kinds of questions that OSEP was asking? Just kind of share with us what that was like.
00:18:03.80 >> So I would say that the virtual visit was very similar, and my team, they may have a totally different take on this, but I would say that the virtual visit was very similar to the calls that we had scheduled in Phase I. We had many 2-hour calls scheduled in Phase I where we were going through protocols or going through documents that had been submitted or looking at things from the website, and the virtual visit was very similar, except for, it was all day.
00:18:39.55 >> Mm-hmm.
00:18:40.25 >> Which is ... An all-day Zoom ... A 2-hour Zoom is tough. An all-day Zoom is a little tougher, but they were really gracious with it. They scheduled breaks in there, so we could take 15, 20-minute breaks, schedule a lunchtime. Honestly, I probably would've preferred to have people on-site because when you are looking at documents and trying to explain documents, sometimes it's easier to just place them in someone's hand so that they can be reviewed, and maybe sometimes, there's less questions or questioning because they do physically have that document in their hand that they can review.
00:19:22.15 >> I think the virtual experience, I agree, I would've preferred a face-to-face. It just allows for a different level of interaction, but the virtual experience ... I wasn't sure what to expect, but it still ended up being a positive experience. There are multiple people on the team for OSEP, and those team member are assigned specific roles and specific protocols. So the way the question and conversation flows depends on the personality of the person asking the questions, but regardless of who's asking the questions, one thing I would say is to be cognizant of your language and vocabulary so that you're sure we're all talking about the same thing and the definitions we're using are common definitions. Ask for clarification. Pause when you need to pause and ask for a repeated question so that you can really gather your thoughts. Sometimes, there's just an intensity in the questions that we experienced, but be prepared for that and just take a deep breath and move forward. Don't let an intense moment derail what you know you need to say to OSEP. Just ask for that clarification and collect your thoughts and then answer the question. And rely on your team member. One of us doesn't always know every answer. We would ping-pong with our answers when somebody else said, "Hey. This is also applicable to that question."
00:21:04.73 >> Yeah. And for the data piece of this, really kind of ... We had such a good conversation with our meeting prior, and one of the things they requested was to see the student management system. And so I just was able to share the screen and walk them through our training side of the student management system and explain how we collect everything, and it really showed them how the data is all integrated into the bigger system. And by doing it virtually while they have a copy of the documents, and they're asking questions about the documents, one thing we could do, though, is share it back on the screen and show them exactly what we were talking about. And one of the things that you definitely have to remember is, if you're submitting a document for a specific question they're asking the document for, make sure you know exactly what document you sent them. Because I know there was a few times Yvonne was like, "No. I sent you this document to answer this question, not to answer that question."
00:22:10.48 >> Ah.
00:22:11.12 >> Because they're getting confused as to what was being sent.
00:22:14.16 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:14.53 >> So internally, you've got to make sure you know exactly why they ... Why you sent them the document and which question it was being asked for.
00:22:25.29 >> Right.
00:22:26.68 >> Because you're not there together to be able to say, "No. That was this one," and hand them a difficult document. Instead, it's really understanding how everything is and what you sent and know exactly why you sent it.
00:22:45.46 >> And I would re-emphasize what Yvonne was saying, and she didn't say it this way, but don't get frustrated. They're asking questions, and some of the questions are very good questions, and some questions do seem somewhat repetitive, and some questions are about one form that goes with ... or a document you submitted that may go with something else as to why you submitted it, but don't get frustrated. It's like she said: Answer the question. If it's not ... If that document is not the correct document for the question they're asking, clarify what is. And also, remember that they're asking you questions because they don't work in your state. So what you know and what you know you submitted, don't take the attitude that, "Well, it's right there. I submitted it to you." Take the attitude of: They don the really understand what we're doing in Arkansas because they don't work in Arkansas every day. And so being, I guess, respectful, so to say, and treating them like they're your colleagues and not treating them like they're out to get you may help as you progress through the monitoring cycle.
00:23:56.77 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:58.19 >> Yeah, just like you're treating them as new staff.
00:24:01.02 >> Yeah, yeah.
00:24:01.36 >> You're just teaching and explaining, yeah, how everything operates.
00:24:06.45 >> And for me, the protocols were really helpful in filling out the answers and getting the understanding of how repetitive it was because then, I anticipated more repetitiveness during the actual Phase II, and writing down the answers in the protocols also helped me. It was like my teacher lesson plan. Like, "Okay. I've written it. I know what's going to come next."
00:24:31.26 >> Yeah.
00:24:31.40 >> And so that gave me just a more solid internalization, I guess, of what I felt like I needed to say. So that was just another benefit of using the protocols because it did come back in Phase II to help guide through the answers and the clarity they were seeking there.
00:24:51.58 >> So were they kind of generally working their way through the protocols during the in-person?
00:24:57.75 [ Chatter ]
00:24:58.71 >> Yes.
00:24:59.04 >> They were.
00:24:59.84 >> Yeah.
00:25:00.45 >> Yes.
00:25:01.26 >> Yeah, they're working their way through the protocols with some follow-up questions, just really trying to gain, really, very specific clarity on what you do as a state, given a certain scenario or this subset of questions or specific document.
00:25:20.88 >> And the one thing, Amy, for Arkansas, we were not asked to complete the protocols and submit them.
00:25:26.76 >> Mm-hmm.
00:25:28.17 >> So we were completing the protocols for ourselves, not necessarily to submit to OSEP.
00:25:35.48 >> But it sounds like, no matter what, if they're going to ask for them or not, still having them all completed and being able to respond is key.
00:25:44.28 >> Right. Correct.
00:25:44.75 >> You're going to be miles ahead if you will work as a team to complete those protocols and have evidence to support what your answers may be for those questions and determine, who's going to speak about those questions? When it's time to meet with OSEP.
00:26:02.66 >> Right. And some things will overlap, so there's not an actual protocol out there for significant disproportionality, but we were sent questions around significant disproportionality, and while my office handles the identification side, Yvonne's office gets to handle all the compliance side of that, and so as we got into discussions on significant disproportionality, it took both of us to go through it.
00:26:29.00 >> And it took our financial manager, Josh, as well.
00:26:31.51 >> Right.
00:26:31.76 >> Because he handles and lets districts know about where they are fiscally related to the expenditures on CCEIS.
00:26:38.96 >> Right. And that's part of the reason why some of the questions seem to be so redundant. You get from protocol to protocol because they're trying to get it from, here's the monitoring perspective of that question. Here's the finance perspective. Here's the data perspective, and here's the general perspective that they all overlap, and so the same question just seems like it's always coming back, but it's the different components within your general supervision and how it ties together.
00:27:10.75 >> Yeah. That's a really good point, and I think Yvonne made that earlier on. It looks like you're answering the same question, maybe over and over, but you have to think about it from the lens and the perspective of that particular component or overarching question that it's part of. So always kind of keeping that in the back of your mind. Any other tips or recommendations you have after having gone through this that you think would be good for other states to hear as they are in the earlier stages?
00:27:39.33 >> Yeah. My number one tip is: Don't make it up. Either have it, or you don't. You're either doing it, or you're not. Don't make it up. Don't say what we're going to do.
00:27:50.64 >> Mm-hmm.
00:27:51.22 >> Really be very direct on what it is you do, how it is you do it, what kind of collaborative systems you have it in place and how it all informs your integrated monitoring system for your state. You may share with them later what your plans are because as you've gone through the process, you might notice a gap or a hole that you need to fill or a better connection you need to make, and you may create the most beautiful plan to do that, and you may want to share that with them, but don't say you do it if you don't.
00:28:24.32 >> And then have documentation to support whatever it is you say you do.
00:28:29.75 >> And my last thing is, be ready to brag on yourself.
00:28:34.48 >> Yeah.
00:28:35.02 >> They asked us questions that were not related to the monitoring. They even told us ahead, nothing. We had a whole conversation about equity across the state and different state initiatives around that, and they said this really had nothing to do with the monitoring. It's just they wanted information. So be ready to get to brag on yourself, so what you're doing well and what's happening in your state that they may not know about.
00:29:02.62 >> Yeah, highlight the good stuff. Highlight the great work that your teams are doing. Take that opportunity if you have it.
00:29:12.86 >> All right. Anyone have any last thoughts or comments?
00:29:18.12 >> I don't think so. We just thank you for giving us an opportunity to share what happened in our state, what our experiences were, and we just hope that it's able to help someone else prepare for their monitoring, so thank you, Amy, for allowing us to be part of what you're producing to help other states.
00:29:37.55 >> Yeah. Thank you, all, so much. I was just thinking, while you were talking, I've heard a lot ... I haven't been personally involved yet with any states in DMS, but hearing you talk about it, I have the clearest picture I think I've had. It's always been a little fuzzy. It's one of those things, I think, until you've actually done it, you don't really know what it's like, but now I do feel like I have a really good understanding. So thank you for explaining it so clearly and articulately. I think states will appreciate that. Well, thank you, all, again, for your time, and this has been really great.
00:30:10.06 >> 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.