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Center Ideas: Virginia: Game-Changing Approaches for Continuous Improvement

When the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) decided to transition from a compliance approach to a continuous improvement model, they collaborated with the Region 5 Comprehensive Center (R5CC). The goal was for the R5CC to work with the Virginia Office of School Quality (OSQ) to:

  • Develop OSQ’s capacity to work and communicate effectively as a team
  • Embed a continuous improvement model in their internal office operations as well as in their work with the divisions
  • Provide guidance and support for local divisions to improve outcomes for all students

The R5CC team got to work and developed several game-changing approaches for continuous improvement.

Here are two of the approaches:

The Preliminary Capacity-Building Needs Assessment

One of the challenges in offering personalized services is knowing what the client already has in place, what they need to have in place, and how much support is needed to execute the goal. To gain a clear understanding and begin formation of a capacity-building plan, the R5CC team used their Preliminary Capacity-Building Needs Assessment tool to examine the big picture of OSQ’s needs and goals. \

The tool is organized around five core components:

  • Preparation
  • Planning and design
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Sustainability

It uses different prompts and a Likert scale-style dropdown menu to help clients easily assess and rank different areas of need. “We’re very flexible,” Dr. Kimberly Hambrick, director of R5CC, said. “We work where the state is, in partnership, and put the language in terms that make it very easy.” The tool, based on a literature review and capacity-building research, acts as a starting point to fuel conversations and continues to be useful as the project unfolds and unforeseen challenges arise.

“As Comprehensive Center staff, sometimes we have changes, state departments have changes, LEAs have changes…we find that by using this needs assessment throughout our work, it’s a little bit easier to adapt to those changes because we’re constantly asking, ‘What do we need to do?’ and ‘How [do we] continue to get to that sustainability?’.” – Dr. Kimberly Hambrick

This image shows part of a capacity-building needs assessment form.

The Virginia Networked Improvement Community

With the information from the Preliminary Capacity-Building Needs Assessment and the strategies it inspired, R5CC suggested a state-specific Networked Improvement Community (NIC) for the OSQ team. The NIC was created with OSQ to bolster communication and continuous improvement among the divisions and to provide them with evidence-based coaching. The NIC applies implementation science to problems of practice in education over a three-year period. The strategy behind the three years is to ensure Communities have a chance to learn, apply, reflect, and collaborate, building their capacity. “In the third year,” Lori Vandeborne, Virginia co-lead from R5CC, explained, “we’re just going to be there as consultants, and if [the established communities] want to pick up another initiative or another problem of practice and run with that, they have the resources and the capacity to do it on their own and still have the support of the Office of School Quality as well.”

“It’s really nice to have that support from these TA providers to help us improve the system and ensure that we have an implementation of whatever solution we have selected, really building out the teaming structures that are needed to address the issues that we identify.” – Dr. April Kiser-Edwards, implementation and communication coordinator at OSQ

The NIC is mostly comprised of division leaders who are all volunteering their time, working to develop new strengths and improve their division. New divisions in Virginia and neighbor states are catching wind about this strategic approach and looking to join, and a new NIC is being formed in Kentucky. The feedback has been very generous according to April. Lori and April have also ensured the creation of easy-to-follow resources so that anyone can begin their own successful NIC. The resources have been reviewed and vetted by education leaders and include interactive-learning modules. Not only are these resources flexible for different states, they can also be modified and applied at the state, district, and school level.

Success in Virginia

The initiative for continuous improvement in Virginia is still in its first year, but big changes are already underway. The silos are crumbling, and communication is growing stronger. The divisions participating in the NIC are setting aside time to work with one another, share challenges and wins, and build better practices. R5CC was able to find connections where different initiatives could overlap, making work for the divisions and the OSQ more efficient. As April noted, she’s just one person, and knowing what to do is different than being able to actually do it. The thoughtful support provided by the R5CC team has allowed April, the OSQ, and the divisions to develop a foundation for moving forward so even as leaders change or the Regional Comprehensive Centers shift, the systems will be in place because the impact has been made.

“Not only are you supporting the way that we are able to work with our divisions and really support our schools, you’re actually building the capacity for us. I’m learning and growing every day when I’m working with Lori.” – April Kiser-Edwards