Transition Time Eastern Virginia Initiates the Virginia Transition Outcomes Project

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Last spring, Virginia's Department of Education (VDOE) identified the Virginia Transition Outcomes Project (VTOP) as one of several priority initiatives for the 2003-04 school year. Further, VDOE committed financial and personnel resources to assist in training and implementing VTOP in school divisions that choose to participate.

Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) is one of three school divisions in Superintendents Region 2 that volunteered to be among the first in the Commonwealth to take part in this initiative. The following is an interview with transition specialist Debbie Grosser, who spearheads the project in WJCC Public Schools.

Question: Why did your school division decide to participate in the Virginia Transition Outcomes Project (VTOP)?
Response: WJCC Public Schools has been a leader in incorporating transition planning into the IEPs of our secondary students. Our division saw VTOP as an opportunity to enhance these efforts. We felt VTOP could help us improve post-school outcomes for our students with disabilities.

Question: What was the composition of the team that you selected to implement VTOP?
Response: We chose Lafayette High School and its feeder school, Toano Middle, as our first two secondary schools for the project. Team members included the principal, a guidance counselor, a general educator, and a special educator from each of these two schools. The supervisor of special education, a counselor from the Department of Rehabilitative Services, and I were also team members.

Question: Your team participated in an initial two-day professional development experience as a part of your commitment to the VTOP process. How did this experience assist you in getting the process underway in your school division?
Response: Prior to the initial VTOP professional development effort, some team members such as our school administrators, guidance counselors, and general educators felt they had an incomplete understanding of the requirements of the special education transition regulations. All of us benefited from the clarification we received during training concerning the requirements of Virginia's transition regulations. Additionally, the training challenged us to look beyond the language of these regulations to consider their intent. As a result, we gained a clearer understanding of how the IEP transition planning process should work to help students move successfully into adult life.

We also learned a step-by-step process of collecting baseline data that reflect our current transition planning practices. We will use these baseline data to identify areas in which we want to refine our practices.

Question: What did you do after the initial VTOP professional development to ready your team to collect the baseline data?
Response: We met with our Virginia Department of Education Training and Technical Assistance (T/TAC) VTOP representative to develop a timeline for implementing this next phase of the initiative. We scheduled a series of sessions to practice collecting baseline data. During these practice sessions, the team arrived at a common understanding of WJCC's standards for writing secondary students' transition IEPs.

Question: Describe the actual baseline data collection process.
Response: The process of generating baseline data required that we review the current IEPs of all middle and high school students from a predetermined eligible pool. Members of the team individually reviewed IEPs by answering a series of questions developed for this purpose. Two team members reviewed each file independently. I was responsible for ensuring interrater reliability. Each school's IEP file review was conducted in one day. Team members were able to work in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere at a comfortable pace. All data were then sent away for compilation. We are now awaiting the results.

Question: What time commitment has VTOP required of your team thus far?
Response: We were expected to commit two full days to the initial professional development effort. Our team decided we needed a total of six hours of file review practice time. This time was scheduled at the convenience of the team members. As mentioned, the actual file review required one day for each of the two schools.

Question: How has your team responded to these initial VTOP activities?
Response: Team members are cooperative and enthusiastic. They feel that the initial two days of professional development were vital to their understanding of the purpose and process of transition planning. The IEP file review practice sessions conducted back in the school division made us a cohesive team. Professional development and practice helped team members understand the intent of transition regulations, honed their IEP file review skills, and built self-confidence in their ability to conduct the file review. Most importantly, team members believe the thoughtful analysis of baseline data they collected will result in practices that enhance and enrich transition planning.

Question: How much has participation in VTOP cost the division?
Response: Nothing. VDOE has offset all professional development, practice, and IEP file review expenses, including hotel accommodations, travel expenses, food, and substitutes for participants.

Question: What elements are making VTOP a successful effort?
Response: The commitment of our central office and active participation of school-based administrators as well as the thoughtful composition of team membership have been critical. Guidance and follow-along assistance provided by T/TAC throughout the process has been vital too. In the final analysis, it is the commitment of the people involved that makes any worthwhile venture a success.

Question: Have you encountered any problems or difficulties with the VTOP initiative so far?
Response: As you might imagine, being one of the first school divisions in the state to participate in VTOP did present some challenges. But we just dove in and developed local procedures for practicing and conducting our IEP file review. Now that we have completed these initial activities (training, file review practice, and the actual review of IEP files) for Toano Middle School and Lafayette High School, I think it will be simpler to replicate this exercise at our other secondary schools. It will also be easier for us to complete the follow-up file review at Toano MS and Lafayette HS after they implement the action plans they are about to develop. Finally, being a "trailblazer" puts us in a position to help other school divisions shorten their learning curves.

Question: What comes next?
Response: Once we receive the compiled IEP file review data, we will analyze them, identify areas we would like to enhance, and develop an action plan to address them. We also anticipate expanding the process to our other middle and high schools. T/TAC will continue to provide follow-along assistance.

Question: Would you encourage other school divisions to participate in VTOP? Why or why not?
Response: Yes, I would encourage any school division interested in improving post-school outcomes for students with disabilities to enroll in VTOP. The project provides a way for school divisions to collect data that can be used as an impetus for focused professional development and procedural improvements. It provides a straightforward, simple process for approaching transition planning in a manner that transcends the scope of a one-year IEP period.

Editor's Note: Other Cohort 1 school divisions include York County and Norfolk Public Schools. Cohort 2 school divisions in Superintendents Region 2 include Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. In Superintendents Region 3, Spotsylvania Public Schools and King George County Public Schools are members of Cohort 2.

If your school division is interested in participating in the Virginia Transition Outcomes Project, please e-mail Region 2 contact, Dale Pennell, at dppenn@wm.edu or Region 3 contact, Lee Anne Sulzberger, at lasulz@wm.edu.

Date: May/June 2004