A Date with Data
Busy as a Beehive: Utah Addresses General Supervision, Part Two
February 22, 2024
Utah: land of bees! In our last episode, we learned more about how the state is prioritizing general supervision as part of Differentiated Monitoring and Support or DMS 2.0. On this episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman brings it all home with Leah Voorhies, assistant superintendent of student support and state director of special education, and LauraLee Gillespie, special education coordinator of the Utah Program Improvement Planning System (UPIPS). They’re talking about monitoring, support, and compliance with federal and state requirements. Don’t miss the conclusion of this buzzy back-and-forth.
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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.

00:00:24.62  >> Hello. Welcome to "A Date With Data." On this episode, we are continuing our conversation with Leah Voorhies, who is the State Director Special Education, and LauraLee Gillespie, who's the Special Education Coordinator of the Utah Program Improvement Planning System, and they're both with the Utah State Board of Education. On the last episode, they started their story about their state's general supervision system, and on this episode, we are going to hear more about some of the challenges that you've experienced, how they've addressed them and some of the areas they're really proud of, so thanks for joining us. So what are some of the challenges that you've encountered, and how have you tackled them to make these improvements and put these great processes in place?

00:01:12.60  >> Well, I'll speak to a few challenges that I see. Bridging the gap between compliance and program improvement, again, we know from the Supreme Court that we look at benefit. We look at procedure, and we ... That's been the requirement in special ed for decades. But sometimes procedure gets a little more focus, and although it's important, we want to ensure that those procedures are actually leading to outcomes for students and program improvement for schools, and that, I think, is a huge challenge that I personally feel it's not ... It's easy to just look at a file and say, "Here's the issue," but it's much more difficult to look at a file and, again, look at it over time and really see what we're doing to improve outcomes for students, so I would say that, in talking to staff in LEAs, in talking to individuals here at the state and talking to parents, that that is probably the largest challenge, and so trying to bridge that gap between the importance of compliance, and I do have a place for compliance in my heart because of my legal background, but I ... But it is important to really understand the why behind it, why it's important and why I will say honestly there's lots of conversations I have with local education agencies in particular, helping them to see why it matters from the parent point of view, from the stakeholder point of view because that's kind of where my background is, and so that piece, I think, is one of the most challenging obstacles that I think we face in our processes. There's lots of logistical issues that are involved, but I would say if I was going to pick one thing, that would be it.

00:03:17.16  >> Mm, yeah, that is a big challenge for sure.

00:03:20.74  >> Leah, would you ...

00:03:24.01  >> I think another challenge we identified last year and the way we addressed it possibly unique ... We're still not sure if it made a difference or not, but when the monitoring team sits and reviews files, they give the teacher of that student, the file, an opportunity to sit with them, and so they talk through the process if the teacher is available and really listen to the teacher talk about what they were trying to accomplish for the student and help the teacher understand the compliance issues. And we recognized that, because we don't have a statewide IEP system in Utah ... There are 16 different IEPs, IEP systems, and then lots of LEAs use our model forms, just paper-pencil model forms, and we recognized that teachers struggle with understanding how to fill out the forms. Teachers struggle with understanding the why of filling out the forms. They struggle to understand the why related to the rule, but they also struggle like LauraLee was just talking about to understand the why of what the relationship to student outcomes is, and sometimes it doesn't really look like there is an outcome, so then they're just frustrated.

00:04:44.57  >> Yeah.

00:04:44.76  >> Right? So we have a statewide institute on special education law, basically a law conference, every year. We've been doing it for 35 years or something, and every summer we spend 2 days. We bring in attorneys from around the country to talk about important issues related to our state and to our general supervision system, and we did something different the first time in our, however, 35 years. LauraLee and her team did a session with almost 2,000 people who attended our conference. It did 3-hour session just going through a file with the whole state line by line by line. They made up a student. And they just had 2,000 people in the room and online that did a file review together so that she could have that conversation that she likes to have and her team likes to have with individual teachers with the whole state.

00:05:55.69  >> Wow.

00:05:56.55  >> And so that's one of the ways, one of the challenges that we found and that we've addressed, and the other big challenge, which we try the same way every other state tries, is that we have staff shortages. Our LEA directors are overwhelmed. Our teachers are overwhelmed. Our parent educators are coming and going. It's like a rotating door.

00:06:19.52  >> Mm-hmm.

00:06:20.49  >> And so there's always a need for professional learning. There's always a need for technical assistance. There's a need to provide emotional support to special-education providers, and so we have ... We've created synchronous, on-demand and asynchronous available at 2 o'clock in the morning professional learning and technical assistance so that our seriously overstretched educators and administrators can access information whenever wherever from us with a consistent message. We all say exactly the same thing, and to LauraLee's point about compliance supporting practice and practice supporting compliance, we have one message. We all say exactly the same thing, and you could get it from our mouths. You could get it from recordings from us and just to try to address that particular barrier.

00:07:30.21  >> Sounds like you've come up with a lot of unique and creative strategies to try to handle these challenges, and that's really fascinating and good for you all. And one last question, you mentioned the 2301 memo, the OSEP General Supervision Q and A that came out. Can you talk about how that has impacted, if at all, Utah, your system, kind of things you might be changing potentially, what kind of your reaction was to it?

00:08:03.34  >> Yeah, so my reaction was probably not as dramatic or concerned as some other state directors because we had already moved to a mostly cyclical monitoring cycle. We had already put in place a lot of the requirements in the memo. A couple that we needed to address, one, the transfer issue, ensuring correction once a student transfers across LEAs and across states, and then another one. We have a statewide education complaint hotline, and so anyone anywhere anytime can submit a complaint to the state board of education about anything that's happening in their school, and we have a system internally to be able to route the complaints related to special education to our Special Education Dispute Resolution team so that people that submit hotline complaints can get the information they need about IDEA dispute resolution and submit IDEA complaints that way or request mediation or a due-process hearing. So one of the things that we had to put in place was a process to move from that complaint-hotline procedure that we already have in place in our state to address the credible-allegation issue in the 2301 memo. So I asked directors, and we have about 160 LEAs in our state, so I asked the directors to nominate one another to participate on a work group to be able to address the issues and come up with policy ... recommended policy that I could take to the state board of education related to those two issues, the credible-allegation issue and the transfer issue. About 17 directors nominated themselves or someone else to participate with me, and we had several meetings. We all reviewed the guidance together front to back. LauraLee and I went through and made a PowerPoint that hit all of the key issues in the guidance, so we reviewed all of the guidance, and then I had the two questions that this work group needed to address at the end, and in the almost 14 years that I have been at the state board of education, that work group did, I think, the best, the quickest work that I have experienced at the state board. They all agreed to just drop their defensive about the fact that this ... The whole credible-allegation issue was going to be more work for them because we have a statewide hotline-complaint system, so I get allegations all the time.

00:11:18.79  >> Yeah.

00:11:19.57  >> And so we just got to work. We probably spent 3 hours together over two and a half different meeting times, and they came up with a decision tree that I then took to the state board of education as a recommendation for how we would proceed, and they all agreed. They asked great questions. I was just so proud of them. And the state board accepted it, and we are moving forward with putting together a database for tracking the procedure that they outlined and that the state board accepted, so we are ... we're beginning the implementation of that system now.

00:12:11.04  >> Wow, that is fast. That's amazing, and, yeah, what you went through to come to that and bringing in the directors to really formulate your plan makes so much sense since they're going to be the ones involved as well and their buy-in, so that's really smart. Well ...

00:12:31.02  >> It was amazingly smooth. I'm really proud of them.

00:12:34.37  >> Yeah, that's just a testament, I think, to the relationship like we've been talking about that you've built with them and other stakeholders over the years that you can tap them in that way and that it is such a successful activity. Great. Well, I want to just thank you both so much for your time and talking to us about all of the great work that you're doing and the general supervision elements that you already have in place and what you're working on. It's so good to hear from both of you. Thank you so much.

00:13:08.87  >> Thank you, Amy.

00:13:10.03  >> Thanks.

00:13:12.23  >> 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.