Nebraska. The Cornhusker State. Where wide-open spaces and big ideas go hand-in-hand. In this episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman has a heartland heart-to-heart with Kelly Wojcik, Director of Accountability, and Jamie Chambers, Part B Data Manager, with the Nebraska Department of Education. Join us to learn more about their hopes and dreams for the state’s data processes and their plans for moving beyond a “that’s how it’s always been done” mentality to one as wide-open as the Nebraska plains.
### 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.
00:00:24.49 >> Hello! Thank you for joining this episode of "A Date with Data." I am chatting with Jamie Chambers, Part B Data Manager, and Kelly Wojcik, Director of Accountability. Both are with the Nebraska Department of Education. Jamie, Kelly, as well as others with the Nebraska Department of Education have been busily completing IDC's data processes over the last few months, and they're going to share with us what that has been like so far. For those of you who aren't familiar with the data processes, it's a collection of templates that states can use to document all of their state-level IDEA data collection reporting, procedures and activities, so please check them out on our IDC website. Welcome, Jamie and Kelly. Can you each just tell us a little bit about yourselves and your background? And, Kelly, do you want to start off?
00:01:17.20 >> I'll go ahead and start off. I am, as was announced, Kelly Wojcik. I'm currently with the Nebraska Department of Education as the Director of Accountability. I was a classroom teacher for 16 years working primarily with students who were deaf and hard-of-hearing and then moved into the state role in Illinois and then landed in the state department at NDE. As part of my responsibilities, I do a lot of work with data and have been with the State of Nebraska now for 8 years, going on 9 years.
00:01:54.62 >> Time flies by.
00:01:56.30 >> It does.
00:01:57.62 >> Thanks, Kelly. How about you, Jamie?
00:02:00.61 >> As you mentioned, my name is Jamie Chambers. I'm the Part B Data Manager here in Nebraska, and I am approaching a year of being in this role, but I've been with the state for about 3 years now. I started off on the Part B team for ages 3 through 21 which was a huge shift from my previous position as ... I call myself a reformed preschool teacher. I taught in preschool and Head Starts for 12 years prior to coming to the state, so I'm still not exactly sure how I ended up on the school-age side of special education or how I ended up as the data manager, but I'm really excited that I'm here and excited to be able to bring that program perspective to the data world.
00:02:51.30 >> Great. All right. So let's dive in. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to engage in this data process work?
00:03:03.73 >> I'll go ahead and start in.
00:03:06.45 >> Okay.
00:03:07.28 >> We actually started the data processes work about 5 years ago, and unfortunately at that time, we were kind of in the same position that we are now. We had just switched data managers, and we were questioning how things were done, why they were done that way, but we never did finish and get through all of the data processes.
00:03:31.44 >> And for me, as a new data manager, I also have a new EDFacts Coordinator, and then it kind of just seemed like everyone I was working with was kind of new to their position. And we do have a NEDA B contract, and through that I've had the opportunity to be mentored by Nancy Johnson, and with my conversations with her and her hearing some of the struggles that I was having, she highly suggested going through these data processes. And we are also a Cohort 2 state, and so during the Interactive Institute, we heard how critical it was and helpful these data processes would be in order to prepare for the DMS 2.0, and that just expedited our decision to get these scheduled.
00:04:16.52 >> Yeah, definitely. So much of that process, the DMS process, is providing evidence and documentation of your processes and procedures. So how did you prepare for the data processes work? It involves IDC coming in and helping to facilitate and really spending days, hours, weeks together really going through very carefully step by step exactly what you all at the state are doing from start to finish in each of the different 618 collections and SPP/APR indicators. So what are some of the things you did to get ready for that work?
00:04:59.69 >> Really for us to prepare, we started with the IDC staff, and we met with those that would be supporting us getting through these processes to really discuss and have a good understanding of who the essential people were that we needed to get together, and then we worked on creating that agenda for the first data collection we decided to tackle.
00:05:23.06 >> Yeah, they helped us identify any of the essential people that we wanted to have at the table, and then I've started reaching out to begin scheduling, so that those people could attend. Then we decided to encourage in-person attendance but also offer a hybrid option as a last resort to keep everyone involved in those conversations, and I will say being the one that had the conversations to get that schedule going, it's not for the faint of heart. You really have to be persistent and keep heading towards that goal to be able to accomplish it.
00:06:02.79 >> Yeah, and were you involving folks even beyond your special ed group, going into people from Assessment and from IT and ...
00:06:11.99 >> Oh, yes.
00:06:12.56 >> Yeah, pulling kind of just beyond your team which was ...
00:06:15.79 >> Anyone and everyone we can involve, yes.
00:06:18.11 >> Yes, for sure. So how has the experience been so far? How many data processes have you completed, and just what has it been like?
00:06:30.98 >> Well, so far we've completed one, and even with that one that's been completed, I think we already have some opportunities to go back and tweak some language and to review that information, but we'll get to that a little bit later. In terms of the experience so far and having done it once before, it has been such an incredible professional development activity for everyone who's been involved. The facilitators who have been helping us through that process recently have had such high-level quality questions that really have pushed the conversation and has really allowed the team to go into so much more depth of the processes than we've ever had before which has really helped our understanding become much richer than we ever got to the first time we went through it. So just to have that depth of understanding and to understand all of the little quirks and nuances that happen with the data has just been indescribable.
00:07:45.88 >> And for me, my reformed preschool teacher is going to be coming out here. The thing that has been the most helpful in this process to me is to create and build relationships because that fosters better communication between all of the parties that work with the data. I personally learn best through conversations, and so these relationships are essential for me to be successful in this position. I don't do well with just being able to read something and feel confident in moving forward as if I know what's going on. I need to have these conversations with the key people that are involved to know who to ask questions to and how to move forward in the work.
00:08:29.37 >> Yeah, I think from my experience being in that facilitator role, it's not just about getting the documentation done. That's a big piece of it, but it's the process itself and breaking down some of those silos and building those relationships, like you said, and especially as a new data manager, I would imagine for you, Jamie, being able to meet people and actually sit down in person with people that you probably otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to do that with, if not for having to do this process.
00:09:03.26 >> Yes, exactly.
00:09:05.74 >> Are there any tips or lessons learned that you could share with other states that are just starting to document their data processes?
00:09:16.36 >> My first is, you've got to commit.
00:09:19.14 >> Mmm.
00:09:20.97 >> I think where we went wrong the first time around was that there were really only one or two of us that really wanted to do this process, and I think that's why it never finished. And we've had the opportunity to talk to other states who have also engaged in this process, and one of those states said that they had scheduled all of the dates for all of the protocols at the very beginning, and looking back, I really wish we would have done that because it's taking us ... We had our first one earlier in the fall, and it took us 1 to 2 months just to schedule the next collection. So part of me being an eager beaver, I want to get it all done because it has been such a rich experience and that having to wait for a couple of months to get into it again is really hard.
00:10:21.34 >> Mm-hmm.
00:10:22.83 >> Because the conversations that emerged while we were working on it were just so ... I hadn't realized how much I didn't understand.
00:10:34.80 >> Right.
00:10:35.71 >> So it's just for ... Waiting for that next collection is difficult at best.
00:10:45.47 >> I agree, and my advice would be just do it. It is super overwhelming at first, but the conversations and the time together building those relationships with the people who are doing this work is invaluable. I really can't imagine trying to do this job without working through these processes because it's just so overwhelming, all of the information and the deadlines and even working through ... Kelly mentioned we've only made it through one collection so far, but working through that one collection ... We did Child Count to start ... has already helped when I was preparing for all of the November 2nd collections. Even though we haven't done those data processes yet, doing the Child Count collection helped me through that submission, and I'm excited to be able to get to those collections during our data processes. And actually, some of my questions that have come up through those collections are, what's helping us know which collection we should do next? The next one we have scheduled is the assessment collection, but then we already know after that we want to go right into the Discipline collection because of questions that I had during that submission process.
00:12:05.20 >> Yeah, and you mentioned how you've done ... It was in person or a hybrid, that one that you've done so far in terms of ...
00:12:14.76 >> Yeah.
00:12:15.26 >> Yeah.
00:12:15.63 >> For the Child Count submission, we did ... We strongly encouraged in-person attendance. We didn't actually tell people that there was going to be a virtual option.
00:12:26.06 >> Right.
00:12:26.50 >> But we did offer that virtual option because we had some of our NEDA B partners that we wanted to have involved in the conversation, and they were joining virtually. In fact, our EDFacts Coordinator even made the comment, once she was there in person, that had she realized there was a virtual option, she probably would have chosen that option, but by the end of the day, seeing the value of those in-person conversations, even she was saying for our next collection that we're doing an assessment, she was encouraging us to do the same thing, to try to get the key people in person at the table, but then if there were other people, or if there's no other option, to have them on virtually.
00:13:15.13 >> Okay, good. So it seemed to work, sort of having that somewhat hybrid?
00:13:19.71 >> It did work to have it have that hybrid option, but I was one of the individuals who had part of a day in person and then did follow-up with the virtual option, and it truly was not the same. It was a much richer experience in person because you could see, from the people in the room, the confusion which then prompted the questions to help clarify and ensure that everybody truly understood what was said and how that linked to what was happening. So although I appreciated having the hybrid option, and I needed it at that point in time, it was a much richer experience in person.
00:14:13.52 >> Yeah, that makes sense, really being able to see people's facial expressions up close and those kind of other ways of communication, just kind of getting a sense of how people are doing and what they're thinking doesn't always come through clearly virtually.
00:14:30.30 >> And what was super helpful for me is I was sitting right next to our EDFacts Coordinator, and so in a virtual setting, we wouldn't have been able to have some of the sidebar conversations or questions or just reading each other's body language to get through the information like we had when we were in person. It would not have been such a rich discussion had one or both of us been virtual. Having us both in person was crucial.
00:15:01.30 >> Mm-hmm. What do you hope will be kind of the ultimate outcome, or what do you hope will come out of going through all these data processes together with the state? What are kind of your hopes and dreams for it?
00:15:17.18 >> My hopes and dreams for this really is that everybody on the team have a basic understanding of the processes and what it takes to get the data that we need. We've, for a while now, been fighting against the, "Well, this is the way it's always been done," and just because that's the way things were done in the past doesn't mean that, A, it's the right way, or B, that, huh, OSEP changed the way we collect that. So I'm glad that's the way we did it, but it doesn't apply now.
00:15:56.87 >> Mm-hmm. Things have changed.
00:16:00.19 >> Things have changed, so I'm hoping that we can eliminate the conversations of, "Well, that's the way it's always been done," because it's irrelevant, and my goal last time when we did this was to pull it off of the shelf and update it on an annual basis.
00:16:21.80 >> Yeah.
00:16:22.02 >> And I think what we've seen already is the importance of continually updating it because people change, processes change. Even if people remain the same, it's getting the cobwebs out of their brains to make sure that we are doing it accurately.
00:16:43.87 >> And I really hope to be able to get to a place where I'm being more proactive instead of reactive, and not just me, but as ... all of us, as a team, to all of these deadlines and submissions. I would love for us all to have the confidence in the data that we're submitting including the program people. I want them to feel confident in what they see, in the data matching the conversations that they're having with districts. I want to make sure that the entire team understands what the expectations are and what the district needs are during each submission so that, when districts have questions, any of us are prepared to answer those questions consistently.
00:17:29.92 >> So everyone is on the same page and has the same kind of knowledge base, and I think your point, too, Kelly, that it's a living and breathing document. It's something that when there are changes to your process procedures or OSEP makes changes, pull it out and update it so that it's always sort of current and useful.
00:17:52.61 >> Yeah, and I'm sure this doesn't happen to anyone else in any other state, but we sometimes have districts who like to fish for answers where, if they don't get the answer that they want from the first person that they call, they try calling another person, and we try to circumvent that with ... We have a call log where we track all of the phone calls, so that when we get a phone call or a question, we can double check to see if they've already talked to someone else on our team, and that's great, but it would also be great if we all had that consistency in our answers so that we don't have to worry about catching people fishing for answers.
00:18:34.01 >> Yes, consistency for sure, and accuracy.
00:18:38.45 >> Well, and I think along with that is being able to share the wealth of responsibility.
00:18:45.98 >> Mm-hmm.
00:18:47.31 >> I'm, quote-unquote, "one of the old-timers," and I'm just in my ninth year. Jamie is our third data manager with Nebraska since I've been here. She's, by far, my favorite, and I hope she knows that.
00:19:02.33 >> I didn't dare to say that.
00:19:04.72 >> But being a data manager, there's a lot of responsibility with that. It's a great deal of work, and our districts have numerous questions. And when Jamie came on as the Accountability Director, I didn't have what Jamie needed to help her understand what those responsibilities were. She'd ask questions, and I'm like, "Well, this is what the end product should be," but I had no way to guide her in terms of what it took to get to that place.
00:19:39.68 >> Mm-hmm.
00:19:41.48 >> And knowing how much we get inundated with questions from our districts, those shouldn't all have to go to Jamie. Jamie shouldn't be the only holder of all of that information to be able to answer those questions. Every individual on our staff should have a base level of understanding, so we can triage, and when a submission is due, we can take that stress off of Jamie and only bring the ones to her that have gotten to a level of depth that that basic understanding can't help answer the question for the person who's bringing it to the table. And with that, hopefully Jamie won't be overwhelmed and leave us.
00:20:30.04 >> Right!
00:20:30.31 >> So I'm going to be very selfish on that count.
00:20:34.69 >> Yeah, with the high turnover, it's ... This process serves many purposes, hopefully to keep people, but if you do happen to have new folks in, well, here's a guide and a road map to how to do all of this.
00:20:46.85 >> Indeed.
00:20:48.42 >> And that's where I'm going to go back and rely on my preschool teacher experience because being a data manager is not just about figuring out how to do that work, but like Kelly said, it's about making sure other people are understanding the work. And I always kind of see myself as this bridge between data and program, and since I have the experience on the program side, I have to up my knowledge of the data side to help create this bridge for everyone else. And so it's important for each data manager to know whichever side your strength is on, then you just are going to have to focus on the other side to help create that bridge for everyone else, so that everyone can be on the same page and share the responsibilities.
00:21:41.39 >> Anything else either of you want to add about working through these data processes?
00:21:47.03 >> Working through those processes, the goal is that we'll be able to better use our data.
00:21:52.41 >> Mm-hmm.
00:21:53.14 >> I've been a huge proponent of if we have the data, we should be using it, and luckily I have like-minded people, like Jamie, who understand the data, understand the impact it has on our programs, and I'm hoping that as we are more familiar with the data processes themselves, that will just enhance our ability to effectively use that data in our decision-making processes which impact our monitoring. It impacts our general supervision overall, and ultimately it impacts the lives of our kids and improves their outcomes. So this is one of the stepping stones to make sure that our students are achieving the outcomes we anticipate they can achieve.
00:22:42.92 >> Yes.
00:22:43.14 >> And that's always my North Star is improving outcomes for students, and at the end of the day, everything that we do is for children.
00:22:53.40 >> Yes, and this is, like you said, one of those steps that on the surface may not look like it but definitely leads ... is a necessary step to get to that point of ultimately improving services and outcomes.
00:23:09.16 >> Mm-hmm.
00:23:10.36 >> Well, thank you, both, so much for being on. This was great.
00:23:14.65 >> It was our pleasure. Thanks for having us.
00:23:17.46 >> Yeah, thank you so much.
00:23:20.29 >> 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.