Dear Dr. Nyland,
Thank you for your email below accepting the conditions associated with the (1) designation of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) as a high risk grantee and (2) the withholding of $3,000,000 in federal IDEA Section 611 and 619 funding for the 2014-15 school year. I appreciate your pledge of full cooperation in this matter, and your commitment to improving special education services in Seattle.
As I indicated in my letter of September 18, our intent is to consolidate resources at the local, regional, state and national levels to assist SPS in improving district capacity to systematically provide appropriate programs and services on behalf of students eligible for special education services. I also indicated that there would be a three-tiered approach to consolidating these resources.
Step one involves monthly meetings with staff from OSPI, the PSESD and the external consultants selected by the district. I am attaching a schedule for these monthly meetings that will begin in October (see attachment). Just as a reminder, a primary role of the external consultants is to establish benchmarks identified in the RC-CAP against which SPS progress will be measured during the school year.
As a second step, I am also instructing Scott Raub from our office to begin scheduling weekly meetings with your interim executive director of special education and whomever else you think appropriate, beginning in October as well. Mr. Raub will contact Mr. Jesse within the next few days to set up a regularly scheduled weekly on-site meeting in the district. The focus of these weekly on-site meetings will be on the overarching concerns addressed in the July TIERS report (communication, data utility, access, staff supports, etc.).
Step three involves quarterly meetings with staff from the United States Department of Education, together with our staff, PSESD staff and the external consultants, to verify that adequate progress is being made to justify periodical, incremental releases of the funding that is currently being withheld from the district during the 2014-15 school year. The dates of the quarterly visits by DOE are not yet established, but as soon as the dates are finalized, we will notify the district immediately. You should also take the opportunities within the RC-CAP to fully engage the district identified RC-CAP implementation team.
Once again, I sincerely appreciate your cooperation in this matter and am encouraged that the SPS school board has identified special education as a top priority for the 2014-15 school year. We look forward to resolving these issues in the most efficient and effective way possible so that the results that are achieved, are sustainable in the district on a long-term basis.
Sept. 22, 2014
Dear Dr. Gill,
Thank you for your detailed letter of September 18. We understand and share your concerns about the progress Seattle Public Schools needs to make for our students in special education. Please know that since I joined the district in June, I have been meeting with our team regularly and I am personally dedicating significant time to meeting the needs of each and every student receiving special education services.
The district accepts the conditions of the letter, and we look forward to working together on the additional oversight mechanisms, including weekly meetings with an on-site compliance officer. We are confident we will satisfy your requirements this school year.
Progress we have made
Earlier this month the Seattle School Board selected four governance priorities for the 2014-15 school year, and I am pleased that one of those priority goals is a focus on special education. We are working diligently on meeting the requirements of the Revised Comprehensive Corrective Action Plan (RCCAP). We have also worked hard to get classrooms ready for the 2014-15 school year, with materials and supplies ready to support instruction. While we have not yet been able to staff each special education classroom, we continue to make hiring those staff members a priority.
In addition, we are working on increasing the stability and capacity of the department. We have hired an additional program specialist in each region to support the special education staff at each school, and also improve our relationships with families. We are also in the process of hiring a special education ombudsman to help improve our engagement with and responsiveness to families. This is the first time in five years that we had a fully staffed central office leadership team for the special education department. Wyeth Jessee is currently serving as Interim Executive Director, stepping in to provide stable leadership while Zakiyyah McWilliams is on administrative leave.
Addressing your concerns
As I mentioned earlier, we acknowledge your concerns and we look forward to our continued partnership with OSPI to address these issues.
We will meet weekly with our on-site compliance officer and host monthly meetings with our third-party contractor, OSPI program review staff and identified staff from the Puget Sound ESD. In addition, we will host quarterly reviews for both OSPI and the U.S. Department of Education to review our progress on the RCCAP.
I am confident that we will meet the performance indicators set forth by OSPI and that the restriction indicated in your letter of $3 million will be released as we demonstrate adequate progress
We are completing the bidding process to hire our third-party consultant, and we look forward to their support and recommendations.
At your earliest convenience, we look forward to pulling together all parties to determine next steps and continued partnership on behalf of our students.
Seattle Public Schools