Collaboration and Reform in the Ocean State

When Rhode Island (RI) and CEEDAR entered a technical assistance (TA) partnership in 2016, they immediately focused on preparing teachers to use High Leverage Practices (HLPs), specifically data-based individualization (DBI). Soon after, the state assembled a diverse group of stakeholders to form the State Leadership Team (SLT). The SLT comprises the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), Johnson and Wales University, Rhode Island College, and several local education agency (LEA) partners: the Bristol-Warren Regional School District, Woonsocket School Department, East Providence School District, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, and Westerly Public Schools. The broad representation of the SLT ensures that continual improvement will meet the needs of students throughout the state.

While planning Rhode Island’s efforts, the SLT, led by Emily Klein and Lauren Matlach from RIDE, focused on ensuring coherence among efforts across partners. For example, teachers in the Bristol-Warren school district piloted modules on DBI (developed through a collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut and the National Center on Intensive Intervention [NCII]) and then scaled up by training other teachers in school districts across the state to use these modules using CEEDAR funds and support. The SLT leveraged the efforts of existing initiatives in the state focused on DBI so teachers across the state could develop similar processes and structures to support individualized instruction for students with intensive needs. DBI is not content specific, allowing teachers to truly individualize instruction across content areas to meet the needs of individual learners.

Educator preparation providers in Rhode Island are also making continual improvement by preparing teachers to use HLPs to improve student learning. Dr. Cara McDermott-Fasy, associate professor at Rhode Island College, and Dr. Susan Dell, professor at Rhode Island College, are using a variety of resources from the CEEDAR Center, including modules on DBI, to enhance undergraduate coursework. Dr. McDermott-Fasy and Dr. Dell are working to ensure that program completers are prepared to implement evidence-based practices (EBPs) while delivering intensive interventions to students with disabilities to achieve college- and career-ready standards. In addition, Dr. McDermott-Fasy and Dr. Dell, along with other partners at Dr. Dell’s institution, reviewed more than 20 course syllabi using CEEDAR’s Innovation Configurations (ICs) on Reading K-5 and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

Ms. Melissa Denton, director of Pupil Services for Westerly Public Schools and adjunct faculty at Johnson and Wales University, is uniquely positioned to influence the training of teachers through both in- and pre-service to use HLPs. At the LEA level, she took elementary and middle school teams of teachers and other personnel to collaborate with SLT members to develop effective ways of implementing HLPs through DBI. Ms. Denton described how each district team used DBI to “truly individualize” instruction for students in targeted focus areas. In her role as an adjunct faculty member working to prepare candidates in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, Ms. Denton focused on ensuring teachers are “day one ready” for the classroom by infusing HLPs into her coursework. Ms. Denton indicated that her goal is for HLPs to become “global practice” among practitioners.

The RI-CEEDAR SLT has experienced great successes, but improvement efforts have not all been smooth sailing. All partners agreed the work is complicated and time consuming and requires ongoing collaboration and focus. They also experienced challenges due to factors beyond their control. For instance, a snowstorm in March led to the cancellation of an important SLT meeting, which disrupted momentum. However, through the leadership of Dr. Teri Marx, the CEEDAR state lead, and by leveraging opportunities to meet at the CEEDAR Cross-State Convening, they overcame these challenges and kept the work on track. In offering advice to other institutions of higher education (IHEs) engaging in similar continual improvement efforts, Dr. McDermott-Fasy noted that, in addition to creating the time and space within department discussions for talk about course enhancements, cross-departmental conversations are also critical and rewarding. Ms. Klein, Ms. Matlach, and Ms. Denton stressed the importance of considering the unique needs of each district and provider, creating goal alignment, and engaging in effective collaboration among all partners, including state education agencies (SEAs), LEAs, and IHEs. They believe that by being intentional in their continual improvement efforts, other states can implement HLPs to meet the needs of all learners.

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