One thing we’ve learned: The search for high-quality data is bound by no border, no distance, no ocean. In this far-flung episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman travels to the heart of Oceania to sit down with the American Samoa Department of Education’s Herbert Boat and Jessica Tuu for a chat about challenges, triumphs, and their own unique journey toward becoming data-quality influencers.
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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.
00:00:24.91 >> Welcome to today's episode of "A Date With Data." I am so fortunate to be continuing to explore the topic of what it means to be a data quality influencer in the world of IDEA data. And I'm thrilled to be joined by Dr. Herbert Boat, Assistant Director, and Jessica Tu, Data Manager, both from the American Samoa Department of Education Special Education Division. So, welcome.
00:00:52.43 >> Mm-hmm.
00:00:53.37 >> Let's start out. If you could just say a little bit about who you are and your role with the SEA ...
00:00:59.58 >> All right. Hello, I'm Herbert Boat Jr. from American Samoa. I'm the Assistant Director for Special Education under the umbrella of the Department of Education here in American Samoa. And I have served as an AD, Assistant Director, for about 2 years now. I've been a ... teacher for, I'll say, 13 years, and I became a program director for the same division for 5 years. So as of now, to this year, marks 3 years of service ...
00:01:38.60 >> Wow.
00:01:39.00 >> ... with the Department of Education.
00:01:40.80 >> Oh, my gosh. And, yeah, it's an honor to be on this program on this podcast, so hopefully we'll do good with this interview, and hope to see you guys sometime soon. Thank you.
00:01:52.75 >> Thanks. How about you, Jessica?
00:01:55.39 >> Hi. My name is Jessica Tu. I'm the Part B Data Manager for Special Education Division, again, under the American Samoa Department of Education. My whole role and responsibility is to make sure that students with disabilities are accounted for in the student count for ASDOE. And as of this year, we're looking at 14,000-plus students within ASDOE, and we have about 535 students with disabilities, give or take. We have some transferring, some coming in. And like our assistant director, I have also started off working as a special education teacher since 2006, and now I work as an ES supervisory position to oversee the program in two high schools, and now I am actually working data to make sure that the data is of quality and that we share it with our department, our inner agencies as well as our public.
00:02:53.44 >> Great, so you both have had varied experiences in the world of special education and data and been in the field and been for so long at the Department of Ed, so you have a lot of experiences and knowledge, I'm sure, to share with us. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel like you influence the quality of American Samoa's SEA data just with so much going on, DMS and getting ready for the next SPP/APR, changes to EDFacts reporting, all of it? How do you feel in your role that you're influencing the quality of your data?
00:03:32.87 >> Part of my responsibility as a Part B Data Manager is also being part of our subgroups within our Department of Education. I am also part of the Data Governance Committee and also the Accountability Committee, and for me to go back into these committees and share with them the data that we have from special ed, the services that are needed and what assessments look like for students with disabilities, we're able to come back to the drawing board. And our team lead for the subcommittees is able to come back to the committee that our AD is part of, which is the leadership team for ASDOE, and to share and say, "Hey, just because we're a whole DOE doesn't mean we can't cater to our students that are actually struggling or actually in need of that service." And so part of this data quality that we keep talking about, I would like to echo what our compliance officers ... Over the years, it was always results, results, results, compliance, compliance, compliance. But what are we actually doing? And so for the past 3 years under the supervision of AD Boat, Dr. Boat, and our previous assistant director, we've been able to come in and have a voice within the subcommittees, being able to be part of these committees and make decisions for ASDOE as a whole. And so if you see the programs that are going on now with feedback from our AD, but then the leadership team, you see the whole of DOE coming together. It's full inclusion, and the Director for DOE wants to make sure that everybody is fully included even though you're from these interagencies within DOE.
00:05:12.73 >> I just want to add on that what just was mentioned about the inner agencies and the support from our director and deputies. Yeah, it's been at full support from them, and we've been meeting as leadership, and our director and deputies always support what we have to come up with. It's all for the students, the academics and especially our students with disabilities.
00:05:37.07 >> Wow. That's great, so trying to break down those silos and really move beyond just streamlined focusing, it sounds like, on just students with disabilities or students without but bridging those gaps and really trying to full impact across the board. So that's ...
00:05:55.71 >> Exactly.
00:05:56.01 >> That's amazing.
00:05:58.29 >> Also, Amy ...
00:06:00.44 >> Yeah.
00:06:00.68 >> With the preparation with our DMS decision next year, yeah, so now we've been meeting with our state lead, Dr. Rhonda Santino and our leaders here at our state office, even our data manager, which is, it's getting there. But we still need a lot of data and a lot of documentations that we need to come up before the reasons come up. And for our data manager, yeah, I've seen the way she works. She's under my supervision, and it's a lot of work, and she still does school visits to make sure the data is on top with the ESes and make sure that the data matches our IDEA system.
00:06:46.55 >> Yeah, the DMS, I know, is a big undertaking for everybody, and you still have to do your regular job and everything you've been doing ...
00:06:54.27 >> Right.
00:06:55.27 >> ... apart from that and then adding that on top of it, so I really commend you, and I know that it can be tough. But it sounds like you're getting ... You're laying the groundwork and doing a lot of preparation so that I'm sure when the time comes, you'll be ready.
00:07:11.15 >> Right, just keeping our fingers crossed.
00:07:14.66 >> Yes.
00:07:15.29 >> [Indistinct].
00:07:16.71 >> Yeah, I know you still have some time, and that's great, that you have that. And having these conversations, ongoing conversations, with Department of Ed, too, must be really helping to kind of set the expectations and get everyone on the same page. Have you found the tools that I know are available, the templates, those lists of questions they're going to ask and the documentation and evidence? Is that sort of what you're following to gather information, or are you doing something different?
00:07:47.88 >> Exactly.
00:07:48.39 >> Yeah.
00:07:48.52 >> That's what they're trying to help us with, yeah, with what they're going to be looking at and what we need to be prepared for.
00:07:54.93 >> Yeah.
00:07:55.02 >> So as of right now, we still have a lot of work to do.
00:07:59.25 >> Yeah, your [Indistinct] from all SCAs that are going through it. You're not alone, and so it's good. Some are even, I know, deep in the process right now with having their site visits and those sorts of things. So we at IDC at least are going to try to learn as much as we can from them and be able to share out with other SCAs like you all who maybe have a little bit more time, so hopefully that will also kind of help everybody with this. Can you talk about any challenges that you encounter being a data quality influencer and what you do to try to address them?
00:08:32.80 >> Part of the challenge is trying to be consistent with the data input from the school because I just oversee the system from a special education point of view.
00:08:42.55 >> Yeah.
00:08:43.06 >> And we still have our mother department to go through, which is our IDS office, Integrated Data System office.
00:08:49.66 >> Okay.
00:08:49.91 >> And another challenge is, because the SIS, which is the Student Informational System, it's fairly new to DOE right now, before, it used to be SMS. So the educational specialists, which is the ESes, are slowly now beginning to get the gist of the features of the system and how detailed it is because actually now we're able to go in. Do the input. Print out a draft. Carry it to the meeting. Come back. Make the changes. Finalize it, and then print it out for a final folder. Previous years, it was a little bit more. We had to come write it. Go to the meeting. Do the input. Upload files, so it was like a ... working backwards, but now that's the major challenge, though, is to make sure that whatever information is going on the system is consistent with the hard copy file and to make sure that the numbers match what we have in the system with the count we have out in the schools because we currently cater to 29 schools, which is six high schools and 23 elementary schools, but we're not just in one major island. We have four schools on the outer islands, and for us, compared to stateside, we're considered a regional district. We're not broken up into individual districts ...
00:10:11.03 >> Mm-hmm.
00:10:11.24 >> ... like it is stateside.
00:10:12.50 >> Mm-hmm.
00:10:13.37 >> That's another challenge for us as data quality influencers, because sometimes when they come out to our meetings, our data collaborative meetings that we have every month, hearing them talk about how it is, well, in this district, we have this, and we have to go through a superintendent. And for me, I would like to be in the meeting how we had our Pacific collaborative where we all relate to one another because we're just all one district.
00:10:37.02 >> Yeah.
00:10:37.52 >> We oversee ... rules and we look at, so that's kind of another thing. But all in all, it's good being the Part B Data Manager, and again, being part of the subcommittees has been a positive grasp for us here at Special Education.
00:10:54.26 >> Yeah, and to hear and just be more in the know of what's going on and when changes are happening and what's coming up and to be able to, like you said, have your voice heard through all of it, too, that seems really key, for sure.
00:11:07.46 >> Can I add on?
00:11:09.89 >> Of course.
00:11:10.57 >> One of the challenges is the RE/SSR Educational Specialists out in the schools.
00:11:16.72 >> Okay.
00:11:17.00 >> It's that inputting the data on the system because most of them ... They wait for the last minute.
00:11:23.23 >> Mm-hmm.
00:11:23.47 >> So just, yeah, e-mailing them, making sure, and she also does the visit out in schools to make sure that they match the system and what they have on file. Yeah, so she's always on top of that, trying to make sure because I know. I even see the e-mails myself because I see most of the e-mails, and that's one of the challenges, is the ESes and teachers out in the schools. And, plus, also with the new features with the IDS service, the data service online right now is ... Everything is on there concerning the IEP files and stuff. But it's just that I guess through the time of the COVID, most of the instructions was put on hold.
00:12:11.79 >> Mm-hmm.
00:12:12.23 >> So all the teachers that ESes now is trying to get back on top of their data system and make sure that they enter everything on the system, so that's one of the challenges, I guess because during the COVID shutdown and also with the Internet connection.
00:12:28.31 >> Mm-hmm.
00:12:28.87 >> Yeah, like Jessica was saying, we have four schools in our neighboring islands.
00:12:33.82 >> Mm-hmm.
00:12:34.03 >> So if the Internet is down, it's hard for them to connect with us.
00:12:37.99 >> Yeah.
00:12:38.09 >> And they even have a hard time to go on the system to update their data.
00:12:42.83 >> Wow, and also maybe is there still kind of a learning curve? You said the SIS ... It's a newer system ...
00:12:49.75 >> Correct.
00:12:49.91 >> ... maybe for them and still kind of trying to work out the kinks and ...
00:12:52.74 >> Yeah.
00:12:53.15 >> So it sounds like, yeah, there's a lot going on. But it sounds like you're doing a lot of really personalized TA and really walking through individually and doing all of that great checking. Is it student-level files, even, that you're getting down to where you're making sure that that, like you said, is matching what they're entering in the system? That's pretty down-in-the-weeds there with them, so ... And are you traveling out to the four schools, too, that are off the island more?
00:13:23.39 >> Yeah, going out the ending of this month, right after Thanksgiving ...
00:13:27.17 >> Yeah.
00:13:27.57 >> The last time we visited the four schools in Manu'a, it as about 2 years ago, I will say.
00:13:33.24 >> Okay.
00:13:33.46 >> We were supposed to go last year, but then the COVID shutdown ...
00:13:37.23 >> Okay, yeah.
00:13:38.71 >> And we didn't have the chance to visit the schools.
00:13:42.30 >> Jessica, it sounded like COVID sort of impacted you all a little bit later maybe than ...
00:13:47.38 >> Right, right.
00:13:47.97 >> ... stateside, so you're even feeling the brunt of it even harder still than ...
00:13:54.79 >> Exactly.
00:13:55.22 >> Yeah.
00:13:55.79 >> I think when it hit our shores, it was completely dying out.
00:13:59.69 >> Yeah. So you're still ...
00:14:02.06 >> We didn't ...
00:14:02.36 >> ... in the throes of it.
00:14:03.85 >> Right. Got you.
00:14:04.23 >> Yeah. Well, tell me. What do you have coming up next? What plans do you have? What are you really kind of focusing on now that you hope will kind of move you even to the next level in terms of your data quality?
00:14:17.73 >> Actually, right now, we are looking forward to our DNS monitoring this year.
00:14:22.37 >> Mm-hmm.
00:14:22.89 >> So we are trying to ... Our leadership and our staff here at SPP, we're trying to get everything done before submission, which is in April.
00:14:32.53 >> April.
00:14:33.55 >> So that's the phase one.
00:14:34.66 >> Mmm.
00:14:35.01 >> Mm-hmm.
00:14:35.25 >> Mm-hmm.
00:14:35.86 >> So we are looking forward to this big, shocking visitation next year.
00:14:42.73 >> Mm-hmm.
00:14:43.21 >> But I believe we can manage, and I know I have a good team here, and we are working very hard as of right now to try to prepare for this decision next year.
00:14:55.49 >> Yeah. I think what it is now, Amy, is we're looking at ... American Samoa is now the go-to for the Pacific Islands ...
00:15:05.12 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:05.46 >> ... because we are the first out of the Pacific Islands ...
00:15:07.79 >> Right.
00:15:07.88 >> ... to be visited.
00:15:09.79 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:10.12 >> And we're placed in cohort two. The other islands or based in cohort three ...
00:15:13.72 >> Right.
00:15:13.81 >> ... and cohort seven, I think. And so now our hope is the big island is looking up to American Samoa to see how the visit goes and ...
00:15:21.47 >> Right.
00:15:21.75 >> ... what needs to be done and improved in their system stateside. But that's the biggest event for us ...
00:15:27.76 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:28.00 >> ... is our visitation in September. They referred to it as ... We're a month late because we were supposed to be in October, but they moved it forward to September.
00:15:36.76 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:37.33 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:38.38 >> But that's not stopping American Samoa from doing what we need to do ...
00:15:41.32 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:42.03 >> ... as a program, and ...
00:15:43.43 >> Mm-hmm.
00:15:44.76 >> You know, to be a data quality influencer, and the big event is to be able to grab all this data and go back to our leaders and say, "Hey, look at us. This is what we need. It's not only going to work for students with disabilities but for all people with disabilities on the island."
00:16:01.08 >> Mm-hmm.
00:16:01.86 >> There is a need. If I were to place it within what we have for OSEP in regards to, where do we place that? It's still at that, needs assistance, for American Samoa. It's because we don't have all the available resources ...
00:16:17.86 >> Resources.
00:16:18.75 >> ... for us here.
00:16:19.39 >> Mm-hmm.
00:16:19.91 >> So a lot of things are Amy, and her leadership team is ... Don't mind my jargon, but, you know ...
00:16:26.19 >> Yes.
00:16:26.30 >> ... gung-ho in trying to make that our students are provided for and the services are reaching our students that live in very difficult geographical areas on the island.
00:16:38.61 >> Yeah. If Internet access is an issue places, that's huge. We saw during COVID, distance learning and how much that came into play and how, if families and kids couldn't get online, that really has a big impact, and being able to enter the data is going to impact accuracy and all of that. So, yeah, you definitely have those things to deal with, too. But I think, yeah, it sounds like you're doing all you can, and I know we'll be in great shape when it comes time. And then you'll also ... You have your processes kind of documented, and you'll have your evidence, and all of that is great for you as an SCA to have in your hands moving forward, too, so you kind of get something out of it, I think, as well. And it really forces you to kind of think through your processes, right, and see maybe where there are gaps and where we need to make improvements and all of that. So I think it's a learning experience, for sure.
00:17:36.37 >> Yeah, during our meeting last month in Guam ...
00:17:40.44 >> Mm-hmm.
00:17:41.03 >> So what Jessica mentioned, all of the Pacific entities are all looking at us, and they're waiting for that moment for us to be done ...
00:17:51.73 >> Uh-huh.
00:17:52.81 >> ... get the feedback ...
00:17:54.11 >> Yeah.
00:17:54.30 >> ... of what was going on. And so we were like, "Yeah, just be patient. We are praying for ourselves, too, as well, to make a good thing out of it."
00:18:04.04 >> Mm-hmm.
00:18:04.43 >> So hopefully, yeah, we'll do good. But we'll share the information with them, as well. We like to help them out, too.
00:18:12.01 >> Right. Yeah, definitely. Maybe afterwards, you can come back on the podcast and talk about ...
00:18:17.73 >> Most of ...
00:18:18.11 >> ... talk about how it went. Yeah. And I'd like to kind of wrap up, asking if there's something you're really proud of, a success story or something you want to highlight related to your IDEA data.
00:18:31.79 >> I think we have a lot to be thankful for and to be proud of, especially for the special education program here in American Samoa. It's come a long way from stereotyping and the stigma from the community and the culture and traditions because, I guess, American Samoa, even though we're a territory, we're still culturally and traditionally rooted into our system. And so fast-forwarding now, we've been able to send people to get educated in regards to special education. We've been able to put teachers through school to get their BEDs, to get their master's to help provide services for students with disabilities here in American Samoa. But data-wise, we're able to be accountable for students with disabilities because then we can look at the numbers, and we can look at what services are provided, and it's here that we're looking at that there's a large turnover rate of teachers, and that's the one thing that we really need here on the island. But I'll let Dr. Boat elaborate more on the services for American Samoa and the big wow factor for us here.
00:19:43.94 >> Okay. Thank you, Jess. First, I would like to say, so thankful with our director and deputies with the big support from their end. I have a big support system here at the office with my leaders, my program directors, my staff and the best one here with our data manager because, without our data manager, we would never get the data from the schools and here at our office that we need to submit, all that. Also, I have very supportive teachers out in the schools that we always get the information, the data, from them as long as they get the information from the data person or the PDs. So they're good to go. But also, a big thank-you to our TAs, Mr. Cesar, [Indistinct], Ms. Rhonda, Charlie. Yes, they've been so helpful with our being the best TAs for American Samoa. They've been so helpful, and they always make sure that we're on top of our roles and things that we need to ... They always knock on our doors, make sure that we get the e-mails that we need to submit right on time or at 2, 3 days before. So our data manager here is always connecting with them. Even us, too, we connected them to make sure that we need to make sure that everything is okay to go, and that's a big help from our TAs. And even with our DMS visitation next year, so they've been so helpful to us. Thank you so much, Amy.
00:21:16.11 >> Yeah. I also wanted to add in, Amy, with the data that's collected, and we're looking at our students, we begin to notice that over the previous years, most of our students were classified as specific learning disability. We're now moving forward. We've been able to diagnose students with disabilities under SLD. We've been able to diagnose students that have autism, emotional disturbance. We've had multiple disabilities, intellectual disabilities. So we're slowly getting the work done, and again, I would like to say thank you to our leadership team here. Without our AD, without the program directors, we wouldn't be able to push forward in our physical office, or Ms. Elaine Nico, to push forward in contracting our related services part ...
00:21:59.21 >> Mmm.
00:21:59.54 >> ... which is our speech and language and occupational therapy. And I know there were calls from stateside that most of the states are also experiencing this problem, too, that they're trying to find related service providers for students with disabilities, and we're experiencing the same thing maybe not as much but probably twice as hard as what's happening stateside. So we've been able to acquire services through telehealth for occupational therapy and speech and language. We also have Carlo.
00:22:30.21 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:30.69 >> He's also provided assistive tech for us online, as well.
00:22:34.56 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:34.88 >> So I'm proud of the fact that American Samoa is moving forward and providing. I'd also like to do a shout-out for Ms. Mari Shakazumal or Shakazuri ...
00:22:44.75 >> Yeah, Mari.
00:22:45.52 >> ... and Jennifer Wolfsheimer that's also part of our technical assistant ...
00:22:48.73 >> Right.
00:22:49.29 >> ... Chris Stacker and his crew ...
00:22:50.64 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:51.44 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:52.22 >> ... for always being there for us and the segment collaborations that we have for the online system, IDC, NASD ...
00:23:01.07 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:01.77 >> ... everybody that's been awesome for American Samoa because we can't travel like they do stateside.
00:23:07.59 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:07.89 >> You could just jump on a plane and pay a $200 ticket. For us, it's going to be almost $10,000 just to get off the island to go ...
00:23:15.04 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:15.86 >> So we rely so much on the seminars and the webinars that we have being e-mailed out.
00:23:21.35 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:21.82 >> And we make sure that we try to ... Even though it's 3 o'clock in the morning, we try to get online, so ...
00:23:27.42 >> Yeah, I always see you, Jessica, and I think, "Oh, my gosh. What time is it?"
00:23:32.28 >> So everything goes through our AD, and without our AD's approval, we won't be able to ...
00:23:37.67 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:37.99 >> But a lot is moving forward for the program, and I am thankful for that and all our TAs and ...
00:23:42.69 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:43.21 >> ... as such, yourself, as well ...
00:23:44.56 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:44.78 >> ... for always being there for us.
00:23:47.99 >> Right.
00:23:49.66 >> Great. Well, you have some really amazing things happening, and I just can't wait to see what the next few months and few years bring as you keep progressing. And with EMS, I know we'll be great and love to have you back on and hear more about the good work you're doing.
00:24:07.71 >> Thank you.
00:24:08.22 >> So thank you both so much.
00:24:11.49 >> 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.