On February 9, 2022, six district teams from across the state came together to focus on their shared aim: accelerating learning for students with disabilities.  These educators from Shasta, San Luis Obispo, West Contra Costa, Sonoma, Irvine, and Clovis are part of a Networked Improvement Community supported by the System Improvement Leads (SIL) team. 

The network launched in September 2021 and spent the first few weeks thoroughly investigating their local contexts: what is working well for students with disabilities and what needs improvement.  Although the team’s contexts are very different (district ADA, urban/rural, single/multidistrict SELPAs), the findings were strikingly similar: inconsistent IEP process, varying understanding of the purpose of the IEP, burdensome data collection practices, and long standing disconnects between special education and general education staff.  Armed with this information, SIL’s  improvement coaches conducted literature reviews to identify evidence-based practices to address the identified challenges and teams set off testing them out in their local contexts.  Research is a critical starting point, but would the ideas work in practice? What would need to be adapted to make sure the changes worked for each team’s unique setting? 

To answer these questions, more than 25 special education teachers contributed to testing out the NIC’s change ideas. Preliminary data is promising: participating case managers have improved the quality of IEP goals, IEP teams are establishing streamlined processes to track student progress on goals, and teams are reframing IEP documents to move away from simple compliance and toward the true purpose of an IEP: to provide a free and appropriate education to each and every child.  Educators involved in the network report that they feel better supported, have access to high quality resources, and deeply value the opportunity to learn with educators around the state.  As Jeremy Sawtelle, Director of Specialized Support, Shasta County Office of Education shared, “Through the SIL NIC, I’m now connected with teachers in San Luis Obispo, administrators in Clovis, and service providers in West Contra Costa.  These are people I never would have met [but] now we analyze data together and give honest feedback.  We share ideas instead of having to invent everything ourselves.  Together, we are learning so much faster than any one of us would be on our own.” 

“It’s about a culture of collaboration and change, it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve done this.  We can always improve.  Other industries do this, why not education?”-Christina Boman, Coordinator of Special Education, West Contra Costa Unified School District

The System Improvement Leads (SIL) are part of California’s Statewide System of Support.  The SIL team provides direct technical assistance to SELPA, COE, and District teams seeking to improve outcomes for students with disabilities by developing high quality resources and tools, training on improvement methodologies, and providing improvement coaching to teams. To learn more about the SIL project, please visit https://systemimprovement.org/ or email us at [email protected]

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Heidi Hata,
System Improvement Leads Project