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REL Northeast & Islands Promotes Collaboration and Coordination Among Regional and National Technical Assistance Providers

Posted by Heidi Larson on December 27, 2016

Are you a district leader looking for help in understanding the implications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on your district’s policies and practices? Are you a state department of education staff person needing support in implementing your state’s equity plan?

The US Department of Education (ED) funds a network of regionally based and national service providers—including the RELs—to provide support for educators and policymakers in understanding how best to improve student outcomes. Each specializes in particular priority areas, such as equity, educator effectiveness and leadership, data-driven research, special education, and college and career readiness. Together, these technical assistance (TA) providers offer state and district leaders comprehensive technical assistance and research support.

To promote collaboration across this network, REL Northeast & Islands—for five years now—has hosted a pair of quarterly, online forums that bring together representatives from these diverse TA providers and research centers. As a federally funded program, we take seriously our responsibility to use taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently. The online forums, facilitated by my REL colleague Susan Mundry and me, and supported by researcher Cailean Cooke, help us reduce duplication and leverage resources in the region. One forum focuses on issues related to college and career readiness and the other on educator effectiveness. Both topics are regional and federal education priorities.

The idea for the forums came from our REL team’s experience participating in Cross-REL Working Groups. Backed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), these groups open up communication across the nation’s 10 RELs, leading to collaboration on events, co-hosting of conference presentations, compilations of REL resources for public use, and cross-REL connections to discuss the challenging issues our regions face. We found that these working groups facilitated the building of meaningful relationships, which then led to rich opportunities for collaboration and cooperation that benefit everyone.

Our Cross-TA Forums, as we call them, enable participants to discuss priorities, activities, events, and resources related to the forum topic; explore opportunities to collaborate and coordinate activities; and disseminate information about their products and events to stakeholders across New England, New York, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Relationships formed by these conversations have prompted improved communication between meetings around the issues, events, resources, and speakers that are of greatest value to educators and policymakers in the Northeast & Islands region. We also have learned where gaps in service exist and where we might be overtaxing educators by bringing them into multiple projects at the same time.

Federally funded TA centers participating in our forums include the following:

  • Northeast Comprehensive Center and Florida and the Islands Regional Comprehensive Center, which provide TA to state departments of education
  • Former Regional I Equity Assistance Center and Region II Equity Assistance Center (now encompassed under Region I), which promote equal educational opportunities in schools and districts
  • College and Career Readiness and Success Center and Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, which are national Content Centers that provide knowledge, expertise, and analysis in focal areas to regional centers and states
  • National Center for Systemic Improvement, charged with improving outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities

Each forum meeting includes an in-depth presentation and discussion on a current topic of regional interest. Presenters either come from the participating TA provider membership or are invited education leaders or researchers. For example, in 2015, a representative of the New Hampshire Institutions of Higher Education Network spoke at the educator effectiveness forum about its success forming a partnership that serves both students preparing for careers in education and the colleges themselves, with the ultimate goal of providing a consistent, high standard of educator excellence across the state. This past October, the educator effectiveness forum hosted a call focused on the work of the Northeast Equitable Access Regional Collaborative, a cooperative effort of several TA providers and REL Northeast & Islands to support states and districts in the Northeast with implementing their new state equity plans.

While the Cross-TA Forums concentrate on regional needs, issues, and activities, each forum has opened up one virtual meeting a year to all RELs and TA Centers nationwide, focusing on a topic important to education service providers across the country.

Forum members have told us they appreciate the opportunities the groups provide for sharing resources, avoiding duplication, and leveraging expertise. Comments include:

  • “[I have] enjoyed the collaboration, knowledge sharing, exchange of resources…. [The discussion group] has helped me to make connections between other centers and enhance my work.” [Monique Morgan, Northeast Comprehensive Center]
  • “The calls have been nice professional development for me in that I feel they keep me up to date on applied issues and policy in educator effectiveness.”

To learn more about the our cross-TA provider forums or how resources or activities from any of these TA centers can assist your district or state, e-mail me at hlarson@edc.org.

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