Keystones of Improvement: A Pennsylvania SSIP Story, Part 2
Release Date: November 10, 2022
Guests: Barbara Mozina, Special Education Adviser for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education and Dr. Laura Moran, Ph.D., Educational Consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network
Collaboration. Communication. Continuation. These are just a few keystones of improvement. In this second part of our deep dive into Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts to increase the state's graduation rate and reduce its drop-out rate, guests Dr. Laura Moran and Barbara Mozina share how they helped develop the ability of stakeholders—especially families and students—to provide feedback by creating and maintaining a continuous flow of information and hosting focus groups. It’s the culmination of our double date in the Keystone State, so don’t miss out.
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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.
00:00:24.84 >> Welcome to the second episode of our two-part series with Dr. Laura Moran, Educational Consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, and Barbara Mozina, Special Education Advisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. If you missed part one, make sure to listen to the last episode and hear the beginning of our conversation about their SSIP, which is focused on increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates for students with disabilities.
00:00:53.97 >> So you talked about how you embedded that stakeholder engagement, the parent and family-involvement aspect as well as equity in this second iteration throughout all of the work. So can you talk a little bit about, really, how you've been able to engage stakeholders, especially parents, and those diverse stakeholders in your SSIP efforts. And are there ways that you've helped to build their capacity to contribute and collaborate in the work?
00:01:21.58 >> So initially, our stakeholder group was really the Special Ed Advisory Panel, which is our governor-appointed members that are required through IDEA, and so we would meet with them regularly. Laura would come. I would be there. We would present almost monthly throughout the school year, but moving into the second iteration, as we all know that the new package required more diverse and ongoing stakeholder input, and so we decided we would reach out to more people than just the Special Ed Advisory Panel. So we built capacity with diverse groups and stakeholders, such as our parent centers. We work with families and youth, with students with disabilities. We work with advocacy and family involvement, conferences. I presented almost every conference national ... not nationally, within our state that we offer. Laura presents at them.
00:02:12.13 >> Mm-hmm. But nationally too, nationally too, Barbara.
00:02:14.90 >> Yup, that's true, actually. We have a Pennsylvania State Task Force, and so we started presenting to them on a regular basis. So what we're doing is, and as I explained to many of the folks now, I want to present it in bits and pieces because we know how complex the state performance plan, annual performance report is, and then to add on to it, the state systemic improvement plan, so we know how complex these things are. So in order to build capacity and allow us to have advocates, parents, school personnel who understand this work, we're trying to feed it to them regularly in bits and pieces, just like we would scaffold and teach children. So we're doing that so that people are able to contribute to the process. So when we present, we ask for input, and then in addition, I have that comes to me ... It's called the SPP/APR engagement, and it's an e-mail that is just for that, so anybody can e-mail me. They can ask questions. They can make suggestions. They can give us improvement strategies, whatever they want. They can actually use that to ask to come and present at one of their conferences, and so we have that. That works all year round, and then in addition to that, I'm building a website that's an SPP/APR SSIP engagement website, where just a ton of information is in there. Plus, they can go in and make comments on stuff. So that's kind of how we grew our two-way communication so that we could get feedback from stakeholders as well as we could provide information to them on an ongoing basis, so ...
00:03:50.55 >> The other thing we've done and what Barbara is talking about too is, how could we get student voice?
00:03:57.49 >> Mm-hmm.
00:03:57.74 >> That's something we really wanted to focus in on, and so we've done some surveys with students asking them how interventions are going or supports. Or are they getting what they need? We've also had some students create some videos that we've posted on our website, but one of the things we really wanted to do, again, is going back to that attendance behavior and course performance. And so we wanted to create a publication on, just a one-pager, what are some things I could do as a student to make sure that I am coming to school? I am making sure that I'm engaged and involved and my behavior is on track, and I'm passing all my classes. So we get focus groups of students, and they helped us to create a publication. We call it CAPS. That's our logo: Completion for All Pennsylvania Students. And they helped us to say, what are some things I can do as a student to help with my attendance? What can I do if my behavior is interfering with my school success or for my grades? And I remember, for example, they said, "Ask a friend to help you study for tests or quizzes." That was one of the things they came up with to help you around course performance. And I have to say, when I was thinking of some ideas or concepts around how to help with student ... around course performance, that's not something I would have thought of. But that's the importance of getting that stakeholders engagement, and that's just one example with students. We found the student publication was so successful, we then did the same thing for our families, and we had focus groups of families, again, to help us ... How can you help your student graduate? And, again, we focused in around the areas of attendance, behavior and course performance, and they gave us some really insightful information, and then finally, just last spring, we came out with a publication on the ABCs of Equity, and our questions that we asked are things like for attendance, do you students feel welcome? So how are your policies or practices, are they pushing students out? Or do they encourage students to come and stay in school with regards to behavior, and then for course performance, are you really looking at having high expectations for all of your students? So there's just been really many creative ways we try to think about engaging families and students and then, as a result, having these wonderful resources that we can share. The other thing I really want to thank IDC for is, this summer, members of our state group team attended a conference, and this summer, it focused in on how to be a data influencer, but also, how does your data tell a story? And I know, Barbara and I have been working, as we're meeting with our various groups like our Special Ed Advisory Panel or parent-family groups and others, we're trying to make our PowerPoints and different things to tell a story, and so I think that was just ... Again, I really want thank IDC for helping us think about, yes, you have the numbers, but there's a person. There's a student behind that number. And I think we're just trying to think of more ways that we can make our information more relatable and tell the story for audiences.
00:07:29.55 >> Great. Well, I'm glad to hear that you got a lot out of the Interactive Institute. That's wonderful, and I definitely left feeling the same way, that I really need to do a better job of making my PowerPoints more interesting and just attention-grabbing so that that message really sticks. And also the resources that you mentioned that you developed are wonderful, and we'll put links in the notes to those resources for others to check out.
00:07:54.71 >> The whole IDC thing, Amy, it was funny because our ... Carole Clancy, our Bureau Director, was with us in Nashville. So she raised the bar immediately for all of us, and she'd say, "Ah! there's too many words in this PowerPoint!" and would have to fix it. And at first, I embraced the idea like Laura did and you, and it was wonderful, but honestly, it was within 2 weeks, I was putting together a PowerPoint, utilizing some of those recommendations that we learned, and now, it's a little bit more of second nature, but it wasn't at first, but, yeah. It does make it more visible for our audience.
00:08:34.17 >> Yeah. It takes some practice, but I think being an audience member, you can see the difference yourself, so you know that it's really important to try to make things as exciting and make it resonate, that storytelling, connecting with your audience. Everything you're doing sounds amazing, and I know looking at your SSIP from your last SPP/APR, you've made some amazing strides and accomplishments. So what are you working on now? What plans do you have for the future, related to keeping that momentum going and continuing to improve graduation rates?
00:09:12.61 >> Well, we were really lucky going into the second iteration that we were able to keep the momentum from the first to the second because we had pretty decent success in the first, so when we needed to appeal to the Bureau of Director, the Department of Ed Leadership, the directors of the training and technical centers, we were able to continue to do that. We were allowed the same level of funding because we provide funding to offset any of the extra hoops that we're asking these school districts to jump through to data collection and working with students with disabilities, so we were really lucky that we were able to get and maintain this level, but even ratcheted up because we moved into the school improvement aspect, where we're working with the school improvement folks, and like I said, the funding is a big factor. Even though there's a considerable amount of funding out there right now because of having to go through the pandemic ...
00:10:06.54 >> Right.
00:10:06.72 >> ... school districts were embracing that, and we just keep an eye on them using it. So that was something that we weren't sure that we were going to be able to maintain it the way we did. That was a really big success and something we were happy about.
00:10:20.55 >> The other thing is, our Department of Education, we are really committed to attract, prepare and retain school personnel because I'm sure, as in not just in Pennsylvania, but all across the country, we're seeing teacher shortages, but particularly, in the areas of special education, but also at the administrative level. And I think about Bain's & C research where the researcher indicated that teachers are more likely to leave teaching, or they indicated an intent to leave in the absence of having adequate support for administrators and their colleagues, but particularly special educators and general educators who reported higher levels of principal support were less likely to be stressed, and they were more committed and more satisfied in their job. So with that, we want to make sure, are we supporting the administrators who then can support the teachers? And so one of the things we're doing this year, we're just starting it is, we're creating an administrator community, a professional learning community with our administrators who are involved in our learning sites. And so we're focusing in on how we can best support them, so then they can best support their teachers. We also are doing this because Pennsylvania received a State Personnel Development Grant, or SPDG. It also focused in on increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates at the middle-school level for our students with emotional behavior disorder. And one of the things they implemented was this administrative professional learning community. And so we took that same concept and idea and now are utilizing that in our second iteration for our learning site, so we're doing our kickoff in October, at the end of October for our administrators. We're really excited about it. We'll have different topics that we're going to capitalize on, and it's just really been a really great way for us to say, how can we best support our administrators? So then we can continue to attract, prepare and retain some of our other personnel that may otherwise may leave for various reasons.
00:12:31.97 >> I really like how you were kind of digging into the root causes of things and trying to address those. That shows a lot of thought and consideration for really the best way to handle, for example, the teacher retention issue. Finally, can you share a success story or something that you're really proud of related to your SSIP?
00:12:51.71 >> Well, I mean, implementation science says it takes 3 to 5 years to move the needle.
00:12:56.37 >> Mm-hmm.
00:12:58.28 >> That seems so daunting when you're looking at it from that micro level, but we've had some of those small victories of students who may not have graduated, but they do. And I remember, there's several, but I do remember one of our sites. They had a student who was just not very engaged in school, not doing very well, but they created an internship opportunity for them to have during school, so they had their coursework, but then they also networked with the local business and created this internship opportunity during school time, and the student was so excited, they came to school because of the internship opportunity. So not only did the student graduate, but they got this work-related experience, and then after the student graduated, the local business offered them a job to work with them. And again, they were looking creatively where the student was dropping out or on the verge of dropping out, but they interviewed the student and just found out, they really weren't engaged. What were some of their interests? Looked into creating a secondary transition plan and were able to do that. We had another school that really wanted just to improve their school climate. Again, let's get students really excited just to come to school to be part of a school community. And so they had students design a T-shirt, and it has an outline of a graduate, and they put in some of their characteristics that they're utilizing with their character education program around integrity and perseverance, and they are having the students share those T-shirts, and they're all going to wear them for a pep rally, and they're having a club fair because they found when students are more engaged, they're more likely to come to school.
00:14:47.48 >> Mm-hmm.
00:14:48.25 >> And everybody just comes to school for the academics. So they were looking at ways in which, just to build up positive school climate, but again, getting the students involved in that way. They're just doing some really wonderful things. So I think it's just really, again, being engaged and really getting that student and family voice that has made such a difference in what we're doing.
00:15:14.39 >> Barbara, what about you?
00:15:16.41 >> Well, I kind of got ahead of myself earlier, but in addition to some of those that Laura talked about, one of the things that I really think is a big success going into the second year of the second iteration is that we were able to communicate the wholesale to teams, school teams, that, yeah, we're collecting a lot of data, but it's not just data because we have people that input data: data managers for school districts, data managers for our intermediate units, data managers for the state. And to them, it's just a bunch of numbers, but through a lot of collaboration ... When I would jump on a meeting with the school district with Dr. Moran, we were able to keep reminding them, yeah, it's a bunch of numbers, but you know what it really is? It's a bunch of kids.
00:16:01.85 >> Mm-hmm.
00:16:02.06 >> The students that we are trying to work to graduate, to make them successful, to fulfill what IDEA promised, right? To graduate these kids to move on to a successful life after school. So that, to me, was a huge success, and we continue to do that because sometimes, we lose sight of it.
00:16:21.97 >> Mm-hmm.
00:16:22.63 >> I'm not in a school district. Very rarely am I in a school district, so I never want to forget, why do I have the work ... Why do I do this? Why do I have a job? Maybe I'm sitting at a desk, but it should matter to a kid. It should matter to a student. And so that's a big success for us is to just change those numbers to a face.
00:16:42.45 >> Yeah. Communicate that and get others out there to see that too. Well, thank you, both, so much for joining today. You've shared some really rich information, and we'll put resources, links to the resources that you've developed in our notes, and thank you so much for being on. We really appreciate it.
00:17:02.07 >> You're welcome. Thanks for having us.
00:17:04.16 >> Thank you for this opportunity.
00:17:07.29 >> 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.