Panel 4 Speaker: Markay Winston, Ph.D. – Cincinnati Public Schools (OH)

RTI Leadership Forum
Washington, DC
December 8, 2010


RTI implementation is hard work.  I just had to start off with that.  I just want to say thank you so much.  It’s really quite an honor to be able to be present today.  Oh, okay, I thought you could already hear me.  Okay, is that better?  Okay.  RTI implementation is hard work!  (laughter)  But I really just want to say thank you to Kathy and her staff for just doing a phenomenal job in pulling this together and don’t start my clock yet because I’m just doing my little kind remarks (laughter).  I’ll let you know when to start timing me.  Just thank you and I’m really quite honored to be on the panel today and really my remarks are going to be quite brief because everybody that went before me pretty much said what I thought I was going to say, so I’ll spare you.

But what I was hoping to be able to do, okay you can go ahead and start now, what I was hoping to do was to be able just to kind of share with you a little bit of our journey.  In Cincinnati public schools we’ve been on this journey it seems like forever and we’ve learned a lot.  We’ve made lots of mistakes and so I’m going to sit before you today and tell you about all the horrible things, all the mistakes that we’ve made, and all the things that we’ve learned.  And hopefully it will be beneficial to you but I start off by saying it’s hard work because when I look back and think about where we’ve been and where we are currently and where we’re going, I feel really encouraged.  I feel frustrated many days.  I’m not going to lie about that, but I still feel very encouraged—otherwise I wouldn’t still be doing this job.  But check back with me in about a year and we’ll see if I’ve moved on.  Okay, that was supposed to have been funny, but I guess it wasn’t.  (laughter)

What I want to talk about today just a little bit in terms of our journey, I want to highlight some of the things that we did.  The focus of my comments are around the capacity for fidelity of implementation and what’s needed for us to realize RTI’s potential.  When we look at how we tackled this back in 2006, we were really kind of doing RTI kinds of things prior to 2006, but we really didn’t call it RTI probably until 2006.  And in our district we actually refer to it as pyramid of interventions.  We, in Ohio, we had at that particular point in time leadership at the state department that was really focusing on advocating and supporting a three-tiered model throughout the state that was going to be of assistance to all of our districts, so we felt like we had some state-level support.  State-level support kind of lessened over time and right now I’m not really quite sure where the state level support is around our three-tiered model, and because of changes in leadership and because of new directions in the State of Ohio.  I’m hopeful that it can come back, but the changes at the state level have had an adverse effect on what we’re doing at our district level unfortunately.

Some of the things that we did that I think were very beneficial to us is we were successful in getting some initial buy-in by pulling stakeholder groups together.  I was really appreciative of Ed’s comments in his article when he talked about having union buy-in.  It was real important to us to have union, we have 5 different union groups within our district, and it was real important to us to have union presidents and representatives sitting at the table with us as part of our advisory committee.  So we had a steering committee that was made up of central office administrators, building administrators, union representatives, university folks as well as a local professional development entity that’s affiliated with our school district.  So that was very helpful to us from the very outset.  So when we first started talking about moving forward, we pulled this folks together and tried to get some common language and some common understanding of what we’re talking about.  Now that was two union presidents ago, so that has an impact as well.  So we were able to do that.  Within our steering committees and our advisory committees, one of the things that I think was also successful for us in the early days is that it was not special education-directed.  We had a, our chief academic officer co-lead this along with myself, and I was the special education representative.  Actually there were three…I guess we had tri-leads.  We had two general education administrators from central office and then myself as a central office special education leader.  And so the nice part about it, there was a shared responsibility, a shared sense of accountability and we tried to plan together, we moved together, and we were trying to develop that common knowledge base.  So I think from the early days we started off in the right direction.  Unfortunately those two other co-chairs are no longer there so guess who’s doing it now?  And so I think that’s one of the challenges that we are continuing to face that we’ve had some changes in our central office administration and I think it’s been difficult to get the complete and utter buy-in of where we need to be.  Okay, I’ve got to pick up the pace.

So anyway we moved forward with the train to trainer model for our implementation and part of what we were also trying to do was to make sure that all of the efforts that we were engaged in were directly in alignment with other district initiatives in a very visible way, in a visible way that was clear to the district superintendent.  Now our superintendent at that time, what was also two superintendents ago, was very much in support of this effort and was demanding accountability and at that particular point in time she made it clear that she, she made it very clear that this was an expectation.  We were successful in getting it written into our district-wide strategic plan.  We had a school board buy-in and support so we felt like we had done a lot of the legwork in terms of getting various levels of support.  We had parents that were involved also.  I didn’t mention that in terms of our steering committee, but we did have parent involvement in addition.  And so those were some of the things that we were able to do.

In terms of some of our successes, I’m just going to highlight them because I’m at less than five minutes now.  I guess she started when I said it was hard work.

Some of our successes…we were successful in developing a variety of in-district products and I think that was really important for us to be able to have products that were helpful for parents to understand what we were talking about, products that were intended to be able guide our school teams in how to move forward with their implementation.  We had products that involved the superintendent speaking out about what she was expecting and how this was going to be in support of various other initiatives.  So we had a lot of buy-in and we had a lot of visible signs of support, and we had a superintendent who was articulating her support on a regular and routine basis.  She had an expanded leadership team of which I was a member and when we came together a portion of that meeting was always dedicated to looking at how well are we implementing RTI, what’s the accountability for the schools in doing so, and what we would also look at is what’s the level of implementation at the school building and then in addition to that, how was that, how do we compare that to the academic success that we’re seeing.  So for example if we had some self-assessments and schools were asked to rate how well you are implementing RTI, and they said Oh, we’re doing everything perfectly and then we looked at their test scores and you know , it was bottoming out, hmmm, there was kind of a mis-match there.  So one of her expectations was that we would try to fix that.   So those were some of the successes that we had early on.

Another success that we tried to put in place was a one-stop website of resources.  It started off being our RTI pyramid of interventions website, but it kind of grew to how do we show the alignment with all of our other curricular initiatives, which became a much bigger project than what we had originally intended, but the feedback that we received from our teachers and our principals was that that was a very effective approach so that they could see that it was not one more add-on, not one more initiative, but it blended in very nicely.  So that was one of the things that we did.

And then I think the most successful thing that we did is that we ended up having a multi-year approach to our implementation and we spent three years on our Tier 1, really focusing on what are we doing to make sure that every student in every building in every classroom is getting high quality core instruction in the grade level content.  And so we had been a district that had more than 60 schools in our district and each building had their own curricular focus.  And so you can imagine what we were dealing with in that regard, and so at that particular point in time the decision was that we were going to kind of unify a curriculum.  And imagine that!  Actually have a student that could leave school A to go to school B to go to school C and be using the same curricular materials.  It was a novel idea and I think only Cincinnati’s experienced that (laughter), but, we did that.  And we’ve begun to see some really good things happening because of the fact that we really spent a lot of time on Tier 1.  I don’t think we thought we needed to spend that much time on Tier 1 initially, but as we delved into it we really couldn’t focus on Tier 2 and Tier 3 until we knew that good core instruction was occurring.

In terms of opportunities, at this particular point in time, 4 or 5 years into it, we’re really re-tooling some of the products that we were happy to have developed early on because we think that there’s some updating that needs to be done and we still have to sell it because we’ve had quite a turnover of staff and we find ourselves in a position now of re-selling it so we’re re-tooling some of our products, we’re re-tooling the message to make sure that people understand it’s really about high quality instruction and, as well as intervention.

And in terms of some of our challenges, the biggest challenge that I see is getting the general education ownership and leadership on this.  And I also appreciate Ed’s comments about his top three things:  leadership, leadership, leadership.  As long as special education continues to be the point person, it will always continue to be viewed as such, and even though I’m a really nice person and I think people like me, I think it would be helpful if I had a general ed counterpart that was consistently on the front lines in helping us to move this work forward.

I had 55 other things I wanted to share with you, but that’s just a little bit of what our journey has looked like.  Some highs and some lows.  Like I said, we’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve also done a really good job of trying to learn from some of those mistakes and I’m now supposed to stop.  So thank you.  (laughter)  (applause)

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