Phase 1 Report

July 2018

The Center Based Program Review, which was commissioned during the April 26th meeting of the Kent Intermediate Superintendents Association has begun.  During the month of June Phase 1 of the Kent Intermediate School District (Kent ISD) Center Based Program review was conducted.  During this time an excess of 50 hours of dialogue occurred across a variety of stakeholder groups.  This included parents, administrators, superintendents, staff, and union representation. All dialogue notes and individual responses have been logged, categorized, analyzed and synthesized.  These dialogues have been fruitful and have surfaced a variety of issues, challenges and potential opportunities for improvement.

The importance of certain elements of this review were consistently evident across all dialogue groups.  A comment made by Ron Caniff, Kent ISD Superintendent and quoted in a May 4th news article written by Charles Honey for Schools News Network, embodies the essential purpose of the review, “All of us want the same thing, which is to provide high-quality programs for the children we serve.  So, let’s conduct this review and find out where we stand and go forward from there.” 

As this study moves forward into the upcoming months the independent nature of the review processes and protocols will assure that all voices are considered and honored.  To date multiple perspectives have allowed for an increased understanding of the context of the current situation, issue complexity, stakeholder concerns and the challenges of the changes that improvement efforts will inevitably bring. This next phase of the study will also focus on broad stakeholder engagement at multiple levels, both in planning events, participating in targeted focus groups and in convening data driven work sessions to examine, evaluate and improve upon specific processes, procedures and practices. 

The findings of Phase 1 will be discussed in relation to the 3 elements of Phase 2.  They are as follows:

  1. Focus Groups for Parent and Staff
  2. “Discover/Diagnose/Design” Work Sessions
  3. Center Based Program Visitations and Observations

Improvement recommendations will be provided to each program based on focus group input, discussions with program staff and administrators, evaluation of student programming, observations and program data reviews.

The first aspect of Phase 2 will be to host opportunities for two vital stakeholder groups, parents and program staff, to offer input and suggestions.  The central findings of Phase 1 with relation to parents and staff center around the following key areas:

  • Meaningful and Respectful Engagement
  • Timely and Effective Communication
  • Oversight, Adequate Staffing and Safety
  • Quality Programming and Instructional Practices
  • Adequate Resources and Specialized Training
  • Collaborative Professional Relationships

While there were distinctions and differences between and within stakeholder groups with regards to specificity of detail and/or scope of priority there was a remarkable consistency in the themes of the expressed opinions, concerns and desires across all stakeholders interviewed. 

Specific to the parent and staff voices were concerns very much related to the day to day functionality of programs, access to necessary resources, timeliness of communication and information and the importance of providing the best quality instructional programs to the most significantly challenged and complex learners.  To allow for more in depth dialogue and to support inclusivity the findings of Phase 1 indicate a need for a series of targeted focus groups specifically for parents and program staff. 

It is recommended that Phase 2 plan for and conduct targeted focus groups for parents and program staff and emphasize on the following topic areas:

  • Parent Focus Group Topic Areas
  • Parent Engagement and Effective Communication
  • Appropriate/Adequate Staffing and Safety
  • Qualified Staff and High-Quality Instruction and Services
  • Staff Focus Group Topic Areas
  • Staff Engagement and Effective Communication
  • Adequate Resources and Specialized Training
  • Collaboration and Relationships with Locals

In addition, it is recommended that key members of these stakeholder groups be invited to participate in the planning of these focus groups to develop suitable questions and design the most appropriate approaches and processes for these sessions.

The second aspect of Phase 2 would focus on conducting work sessions in four key areas.  The findings of Phase 1 with respect to the overall operation of the Center Based Programs centered around the systems that support both efficacy and efficiency.  Stakeholder dialogues produced an array of opinions related to areas for improvement. While these sentiments appeared rather varied further examination revealed clusters of broad and systemic categories for improvement recommendations.  Approaching improvement from a systemic perspective allows for a more integrated process, assuring root causes of challenges and concerns are addressed and a more strategic and impactful plan implementation is put into place. 

As an example, many suggestions related to the focus of the review were aspects of assuring effective implementation of high quality programming and instruction.  Tangential to that concept were things related to staff retention, staff training and coaching, resource allocation, program oversight, selection of highly effective best instructional practices, system efficiencies, program culture and leadership.  While these concepts may appear distinct or at best somewhat related, the research on effective implementation tells us that they are essential to highly impactful and effective implementation of educational practices. 

Phase 1 Findings

Four Critical Cluster Areas to Improve Center Based Programming in Kent County

  1. Shared Vision:  Communication, Collaboration & Culture of High Expectations
  2. Efficient & Effective Systems:  Partnership Engagement, Safety and Program Access
  3. Effective and High- Quality Services:  Instruction, Intervention & Highly Trained Staff
  4. Continuous Improvement: Program Monitoring and Evaluation

The intent of this aspect of Phase 2 is to more deeply examine 4 critical cluster areas based on Phase 1 findings.  It is the opinion of the external consultant that these four components become the four pillars of essential work that must be done to support the operation of these programs. 


The recommendation is to more deeply analyze these areas using a proven 4 step stakeholder methodology:

  1. Data driven Discovery
  2. Root cause Diagnosis
  3. Strategic Design
  4. Intentional Implementation

This approach allows for the inclusion of a variety of perspectives and guides the development of and implementation of a comprehensive plan. An additional outcome for each of these areas will be to surface key system benchmarks that can be used for ongoing evaluation and monitoring of program efficacy.

The final aspect of Phase 2 will be to conduct onsite program walkthroughs and observations.  It is anticipated that program strengths and improvement opportunities will emerge during the aforementioned staff focus group events and during these onsite visits.  Program visits will be scheduled during the fall months of 2018 and will be concluded in time for the Phase 2 report to be written within the agreed upon deadline of end of calendar year 2018. 

By comparison the external consultant will be visiting the center programs operated in 3 other ISD’s - Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Ottawa. To insure consistency there will be a set of uniform questions and topic areas that will glean information about the following:

  • Communication
  • Staffing
  • Safety
  • Staff retention and recruitment
  • Instructional Practices
  • Professional Development
  • Program Evaluation/Continuous Improvement Processes
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Collaboration
  • Placement
  • Fiscal and Resource Allocation

Program visitations will last an entire school day to allow for a complete sample of all aspects of the educational experiences of students.  Classroom observations, discussions with staff and program administrators will be conducted in such a way that insures as little disruption to instruction and services to students.  Each program will be notified of the week the observation will occur but not the date.

Kent ISD Center Based Program Observations will include:

  • Classroom Observations
  • IEP Analysis and Review
  • Meeting with Staff
  • Meeting with School Administrators


The proposed timeline for completion of Phase 2 activities is targeted for December 31, 2018. 

A final report of Phase 2 findings will be available after the new year and will outline a series of systemic and programmatic changes which would, if approved by the Kent ISD superintendents be implemented during Phase 3 for which the proposed timeline is the 2019 calendar year.  Adjustments and/or changes to the above-mentioned timelines, review requirements and or scope of the review is the purview of the Kent ISD superintendents.  If at any time during the course of Phase 2 adjustments to the proposed activities, scope of work and/or areas of focus are required the necessary modifications would be made to address those changes within current or amended timelines. 

Progress reports for Phase 2 will be available as the described work scope moves forward.