Nov 25, 2019

Student Centric Focus Unites Grant Wood AEA and Iowa City Staff: Collaborating on the DDSDP

Tate High School Principal Ann Browning, Grant Wood AEA Regional Administrator Terri McGraw, Iowa City Community School District Special Education Director Lisa Glenn, Iowa City Instructional Design Specialist Megan Clark, and Grant Wood AEA Regional Administrator Tracy Liebermann.

Tate High School Principal Ann Browning, Grant Wood AEA Regional Administrator Terri McGraw, Iowa City Community School District Special Education Director Lisa Glenn, Iowa City Instructional Design Specialist Megan Clark, and Grant Wood AEA Regional Administrator Tracy Liebermann.


Grant Wood AEA and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) each have student-centric organizational missions: AEA staff are mission focused on “ensuring success for all learners” and Iowa City district staff collaborate to be "child-centered: future-focused." The crossroads of these missions intersect daily as staff collaborate to support students, and in a new way this past year when the two organizations collaborated on the District Developed Service Delivery Plan For Special Education in the Iowa City Community School District (DDSDP).

The DDSDP is a state-required document that outlines special education service delivery in every district in the state. While a plan has always been in place for the ICCSD, this past year the district and AEA staff partnered to better leverage the DDSDP.

“Our Board members recognized the DDSDP as an opportunity to inform our practice, to inspire unity, and to enhance our relationships,” said ICCSD Special Education Director Lisa Glenn. “And the end result we have today is the product of many perspectives on how we can best support our students.”

Investing in Stakeholder Input

The DDSDP was updated during the 2016-17 school year using the state-required process, and then recommended for adoption by the ICCSD Board of Directors in the fall of 2017. The ICCSD Board of Directors was concerned with lack of community comment, and requested that copies be mailed to the homes of IEP students. This mailing proved an effective way of gathering additional public comment, and prompted the district to initiate a more comprehensive planning process. Together, ICCSD and Grant Wood AEA contracted with an outside advisor to coordinate a public survey,  focus groups and phone interviews. Again, the results were impressive: the survey alone received more than 1,000 responses. This feedback then was reviewed by a district/AEA leadership team and a statistician to look for significant trends and to capture categories of need.

Alicia Daufeldt
Alicia Daufeldt was one of the teachers who participated in the committee and planning work for the Iowa City district.

While each Iowa school district’s DDSDP is designed to show how a district will meet IDEA and state and local requirements related to special education, the rich input and feedback provided from key stakeholders allowed ICCSD to see opportunities beyond the original intent of the DDSDP.

“Instead of including the minimum of what the plan has to contain, we made sure the plan encompased areas where we could reach and expand. In our district we talk about ‘all students’, and this plan gave us the opportunity to build upon our ‘all means ALL’ approach for our community,” said Lisa.


The final product captured the ‘big rocks’ related to special education services, and any additional gaps or opportunities for improvement were documented and tracked in a separate continuous improvement plan.

Above and Beyond

So, what’s different?

One section in the newly updated DDSDP is a glossary of terms, a suggestion that surfaced through survey and focus group feedback from parents. “The IEP is still the guide for each student’s services,” said Lisa, “but now we have a common language, based on the glossary of terms included in our plan, that empowers parents and caregivers to express themselves when discussing the needs of their students,” said Lisa. “This common language base has helped ensure consistency in the type of services provided through the IEP.”

In turn, the DDSDP also includes a list of roles and responsibilities for the staff who are supporting students services.

“These two sections together have helped provide clear communication for all the parties involved in a student’s education. It’s been transformational,” Lisa added.

Additionally, the list of roles and responsibilities related to instruction for students with IEPs is built upon the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model that supports students across the district. The utilization of the MTSS model within the DDSDP was intentional by the district.

“We’re seeing special education as part of the big continuum,” said Lisa.  “We’re working hard at establishing MTSS throughout the district and continually work to improve upon that effort. We have lots of flexibility in how we meet the needs for kids, and now we can reach for the best options because we’re coming from a common place.”

A Platform For Future Needs

The new DDSDP also helped improve communication with AEA and district staff who are working directly with students. “The plan helps ensure everyone- both district and AEA staff alike - is identifying those specific services that support the needs of each and every student,” said Grant Wood AEA Regional Administrator Tracy Liebermann. “It’s a common framework that helps both AEA and district staff support individual student needs.”

An important and distinct aspect of the DDSDP is the plan’s ability to bridge beyond its past uses.   “Our plan can help all educators better assist underserved populations, not just students who require special assistance through traditional identification processes and special education programs,” said Lisa.

The plan offers an alternative perspective that reinforces the district’s focus on being child-centered. We’ve used it as a guiding light, to help us look at each and every minute of a student’s day, and plan those minutes based on what’s best for the student,” said Lisa.

Category: The Linker