Islands in the (Data) Stream: A Date with Data in the CNMI
Release Date: November 23, 2022
Guests: Donna Flores, Program Director, and Nora Fujihira, Program Manager- Data & Compliance Monitor with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Public School System (PSS)
"Data is everything and everywhere," and to prove it this installment of A Date with Data travels to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Join island-hopping host Amy Bitterman as she sits down with the CNMI public school system's Donna Flores and Nora Fujihira to talk about their journey to improve data quality; support students, teachers, and families; and work with their SEA to develop ever improving data governance policies. Pack your bags; you've got a date tonight.
Listen to the Podcast
00:00:01.52 >> You're listening to "A Date with Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.
00:00:07.34 >> Hey. It's Amy, and I'm so excited to be hosting "A Date with Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA Data every day.
00:00:19.50 >> "A Date with Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.
00:00:24.34 >> Welcome to "A Date with Data." On this episode, I am so excited to be joined by friends from several of the territories to discuss how they are influencing the quality of their SEA's data. So we're going to start off: We have Donna Flores, the Special Education Program Director, and Nora Fujihira, who is the Data and Compliance Program Manager with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System. Thank you, both, so much for being here. And can we just start out, if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in the SEA?
00:00:59.42 >> Sure. Thanks, Amy. As you've said, my name is Donna Flores, and I am the Program Director for our special education program here at our CNMI Public School System. We're a little unique here, maybe similar to a couple of other areas, where we are both the SEA and LEA for our program, for our state, so it's a pretty interesting role. It's got a lot of work in it, but it is very rewarding to be here and get our kids educated.
00:01:29.63 >> Thanks. Nora, do you want to say a little about yourself?
00:01:33.35 >> Sure. Okay, so like you said, I am the Data and Compliance Program Manager, and my role in the special education is, I collect managing report, special education data as well as some of the general education data when it comes to boarding data for the SPP/APR report. I am involved with several of the data pieces of our public school system, my role for the last 16 years in this program, so, yes, I enjoy what I do every day.
00:02:09.42 >> So what we're talking about and kind of focusing on is being a data-quality influencer, and we know in this world of special education and IDEA Data, we all play a role in some way in influencing the quality from collecting the data to analyzing, reporting and then, ultimately, using what we hope is high-quality data. So can you talk about how you influence the quality of your IDEA Data in CNMI?
00:02:37.36 >> Data is everything and everywhere. It's how you collect, manage and analyze the data through your specific needs, and the information that you're trying to inform your audience or the people that will be receiving the data, so in the CNMI PSS, Public School System, we are all data influencers. Without the students, we won't have data to report, right, without the staff. So here in the CNMI, we have data from various sections from the bus drivers to the registers, the teachers to parents, all the way up to our key management and board of education. It all depends on how you want to use it. Sometimes, we have a lot of data, and we don't even know what we want to do with them, so we pick through and see which one works for us, right? Without that background of understanding data, it becomes difficult for many, and sometimes, they just kind of brush it off like, "Oh, yeah, that's just data." But in my role as a data-quality influencer, every day is just something new, something interesting. I take all of these things, and I try to only use it to make changes, so even for myself, right, I use all this data that I'm getting based on our work to improve myself, improve the processes and how I provide support to our teachers and families that we serve. I influence data in our system to provide monthly data reports to principals, teachers. So every first part of the month, what I do is, I gather their data, and I send it out to them, and it's just giving them a heads-up of the IEPs that should've been done, the re-evals that should be done. This data helps guide them so that they can stay on top of things. I know most of the part, when it comes from me, is the compliance piece.
00:04:48.01 >> Yup.
00:04:49.11 >> But there's still some processes that we need to fix along the way, but it's working, and this request actually came from the principals a while back, asking if we could share this on a monthly basis so that we're not waiting until the end of the year to scramble and try to get all of these things into our office. The other piece is, we share our spent data at the monthly principal's meeting as well, which includes program managers from different offices under the public school system, and Donna also shares data with the key management. She sits as one of the key managers that meet on a weekly basis, so I provide some data to her on a monthly basis. The other piece is, I sit as one of the members of the data governance committee, so I'm part of the team members that is building a modernizing our student information system and our SLDS and our state. We just got awarded the SLDS grant this past 2 years, so we are starting from the way bottom, from scratch, so it's a good process, and this process is really making us understand how and what we want out of this data system that we are trying to build and the processes and the people, the stakeholders that we want to be involved. Most of the focus right now is on developing policies around the different areas of data governance and SOPs. The other thing that I find very important and influencing data is communication, communication from different stakeholders and the communication between our technical assistance centers. So in order for me to understand how I can be that data influencer, I get resources from our technical assistance on how I can better present data because it's a lot, and sometimes, when you present data, it's not really catching your audience [Indistinct], but teachers, I want them to understand why it is important. Or why am I collecting all these data? So that they have a better understanding of why I do what I do and why it's important to have clean, accurate and valid data because these are the things that drive our program and how we improve our services and how we improve our support back to them in the classrooms.
00:07:30.96 >> Yeah, definitely. Thanks for that, Nora. So I'm just going to tie in to a bunch of stuff that Nora tapped into, and, yeah, our data system, it's going to ... The hope is for it to be a commonwealth-wide longitudinal data system, and it's going to manage, analyze, disaggregate and just use individual student data more efficiently and accurately. So with this LDS, it's also going to help educators, policy makers and just the public understand what works for the students and how to use the data more efficiently. So with PSS, it's a two-prong goal for us, and first of all, we want to establish that statewide longitudinal data system infrastructure, linking the Early Head Start, Head Start data all the way through K, 12. And then, of course, the hope is to shift the use of it to compliance and accountability and the strategic and instructional usage through the early warning system, and that will consolidate and maintain PSS data into one system and provide the complete K-to-12 data and just allow for a better process for reports and data analysis. So late last year, we rolled out the infinite campus, our SIS, and it began with training for staff and parents, and then the training continued this past summer. We were all trained for the SIS, and then IC went live in July, this past July, with online registration. We're still adjusting to it. It's a process. But soon enough, with continued use, it's going to become routine just like any other system we've had in place. So Nora, in her capacity as the Part B Data Manager, she continues to play an integral role in the develop and the implementation of the LDS because she sits at the table like she said, for our program and the SIS, as a member of the data governance committee. A couple of years ago, our PSS organizational chart was revised, and our program was placed directly under the Commissioner of Education, which was great for us. He then decided to include me as a member of his key management team, which, again, was another plus.
00:09:42.63 >> Mm-hmm.
00:09:42.84 >> Because this allowed me to sit at the table with those who make decisions for our school district, and it allowed me to ensure that our program needs are also addressed and included. I also include myself in more meetings, including parents, stakeholder meetings and sessions, just to share our data with a wider, larger audience. So I just don't restrict it to students or parents of students with disabilities. We have parent summits. We have a Parent Advisory Committee. We have all these other stakeholders meetings within our school district that I've since kind of pushed my way in, but with open arms, of course.
00:10:19.23 >> Yeah.
00:10:20.30 >> It's greatly appreciated, and it just goes back to kind of what Nora was saying. We just want people to understand better and have more ownership, especially for parents. Take more ownership to the instructional, the school needs of your children. Parent involvement, parent engagement, is a big number one for us. I don't know how else to influence them but to show them data and say, "Hey, this is where we're at. We need help. It's not enough for the kids to just come to school. Help us at home as well," so we just want to bridge that disconnect from home and school, just so our student outcomes are improved and embraced by everyone. I do know that compared to other states and entities, maybe our student population is a little smaller and appears more manageable. I think we have about 1,014 kids in our program right now. But our strugglers are similar. Gathering data from the schools and cross-checking to ensure accuracy and validity, those are just a couple of issues with encounter, but like Nora shared, she devised her own system and reaches out to the teachers and the principals monthly, if not weekly, if not daily, at times, just to get what we need, so we can report it and to ensure that our data is valid, and it's extra work for her. I know data managers have a lot on their plate already, but she took that extra step, not just for the schools and for the students but for herself as well to ensure that what she does report is accurate. So it's a tedious effort, but in the end, it does work. We're a small team, so we just make it work because we want to get the kids learning, and we want the teachers to focus on teaching.
00:12:12.57 >> Wow. You all have so much going on, it seems like a really pivotal point ...
00:12:17.37 >> Yeah.
00:12:17.64 >> ... with the SLDS, data governance, and I loved just putting those concrete strategies into place, like you talked about with connecting and getting the reports out to the teachers and the principals monthly, if not more frequently, and I'm sure you're seeing improvement in those ... your Indicator 11 data, for example, just so you're not, like you said, waiting the whole year. You're doing it continuously, which is such an amazing ...
00:12:44.98 >> For sure. Yeah. Sometimes, you just need that extra push, and they just need that reminder.
00:12:50.31 >> Yeah.
00:12:50.63 >> And Nora has established a great rapport with the teachers, those at the school level, so they call her. She's always gracious to help them, and they, in return, reciprocate and respond to her as well.
00:13:05.30 >> So with all of that, that you have going on and what you have in the works, what are some challenges that you've encountered, and how are you addressing them?
00:13:16.97 >> So for my part, I think one of the challenge is just changing some beliefs and attitudes with some of our teachers. I know we can't change people, right, but at least with the practices that we have in place, sometimes, they challenge us, and then I have to go up to the next level, and I'm like, "Okay, Donna, I think I've exhausted all of my efforts. I need you to come in now and just help me out here because" ... It's very minimal, but it does happen. We do not have a perfect system in place, but with some of the schools, the meetings are happening, and everything is just a matter of gathering the paperwork to submit to us, right?
00:14:03.30 >> Yeah.
00:14:03.48 >> But those are just little challenges here and there, and then the other thing now is understanding of how data is really important, especially when developing IEPs, right? Because the school level has so much assessments and all of that. So there's a lot of data that's there. It's just a matter of learning how to pick out from each of these data sources, so they can plan better, so they can lay out and tell the story of this kid and how they can provide better support, so a lot of the times, I have to remind teachers about the importance of looking at this data because if you don't see this, you'll struggle in trying to identify the specially designed instruction and all of that. So we've actually gone a long way. That's because we have all sorts of supports now. We have the Curriculum and Instruction Office and the Office of Research and Accountability, so they've been going out to schools, doing these trilateral meetings, these data dialogues, so it's teaching them how to look at all these information and make good use of this. We get bombarded with things, and we just have to learn to do selective abandonment on some of the things.
00:15:24.23 >> Yes. I think people don't like doing that, but I think it's needed. Yeah.
00:15:30.27 >> It's too much, and it's overwhelming, and sometimes, I see the frustration with our teachers and say, "Which one do you guys want us to use? Is it this or that?" So it's streamlining the process so that we're all looking at the same documents, same data, and all the extras are just additional information, but the main thing is looking at what we have and what we are implementing so that we can use it to the fidelity of why we have it in place.
00:16:03.60 >> Thanks, Nora. Donna, did you have anything else to add on that?
00:16:08.09 >> Well, just changing mindsets, and it's happening. It's not to say it's not. It is a process, like with anything else. Again, it's not a perfect system, but we are making strides here, and students are learning, and that's ultimately our goal here is to use that data to help with that SDI, help them with their goals and just ensuring that we have improved outcome for our students, for all students, and data is the driving force now. So we have it. We just need to know how to use it. We've come a long way. I think it's working for us with this new SIS that we have. I think change is never fun, but we'll get the hang of it. Our whole school district, we're doing it together, which is good. It's not just piecemeal. We are at the table, our program, so it's just a matter of getting our feet wet and getting it going, just continued use of it, and pretty soon, it'll work as we had planned it.
00:17:13.40 >> Yeah, well, it sounds like you've put so much in place, and just that teamwork and from across the SEA, everyone kind of coming together and supporting, sounds like all the ingredients are there to really have a successful transition into some of this other newer realms, I guess, with SLDS and other things you're getting into. So that's very exciting.
00:17:36.71 >> Yeah. It really is. A lot of good stuff happening here. We're just a speck of dust in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but we've got great stuff going on here. We have a lot of things to be thankful for, and so like I said, we're pretty comparable to other states in the mainland U.S.
00:17:56.25 >> It's all the same? Just more of what you're saying?
00:17:58.13 >> It's all the same. Yeah.
00:17:58.58 >> Just telling the stories.
00:17:59.62 >> Right.
00:17:59.92 >> Why we use the data: That echoes throughout all the different other states and SEAs that I've talked to, for sure.
00:18:06.82 >> Definitely, and we always are appreciative of all the technical support we get nationally and regionally. It's always great to work with our Pacific families as well. Yeah, a lot of sharing, and we feed off of each other. We listen to them. If it works for us, we can retry and vice versa. So a lot of good things happening.
00:18:28.48 >> Definitely. All right. Any last things either of you want to mention that have been going on, plans for the future?
00:18:38.25 >> Well, our SSIP is in place.
00:18:41.86 >> Yeah.
00:18:42.31 >> We're hoping to get improved results and outcomes from that as well. It's data-driven, of course. Like Nora said, we're just so grateful that we have the support of our school district, and I think the implementation, the development of the SSIP kind of helped us with that because it brought all these people to the table.
00:19:06.93 >> Hmm.
00:19:07.25 >> And you'd be surprised. In certain meetings, some principals, some program leaders, they even talk about SSIP.
00:19:14.85 >> Wow.
00:19:14.94 >> And it just goes to show how much it's influenced them and just how it would help the general population of our school district as well. It's always great to have this data and use it to drive just thoughts from other school leaders, other program leaders, and just that's how it influences them, and I really believe that the SSIP was very beneficial to all of us. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but just having those members who were not just special ed ...
00:19:48.64 >> Mm-hmm.
00:19:49.05 >> ... just having them all involved in the process, it really makes a difference, and the accountability as well because now that we're scaling up ...
00:19:57.21 >> Hmm.
00:19:57.53 >> We have more elementary school principals and teachers. They're part of it now, the big scale-up for our SSIP.
00:20:05.35 >> Wow.
00:20:05.66 >> And everything is based on data now. Now, when people talk, when there's conversations, it's always data. It's always data-driven, and I think that's the beauty of data for some of us. I'm thankful for Nora and what she brings to the table because I certainly can't do it all, so her experience with the data is surely appreciated and valued in our program.
00:20:33.09 >> Yeah.
00:20:34.26 >> Anything else, Nora, that you want to add?
00:20:36.89 >> Donna shared a lot of good points, and I just wanted to add on with the SSIP scale-up.
00:20:43.89 >> So this school year, our target school principals are actually taking on the next step, and they are the ones that's training these new principals with the scale-up activities that they started because they were, like Donna said, blood, sweat, and tears, and just acting at each other, that has brought us a long way, and now they're taking charge. We have all these other program leaders that are taking these activities and are moving forward with it. Then the other thing is, our work continues. It doesn't end, and every day is about planning for a better tomorrow, right? When I first started out ... Because I've been with the program for 19 years, but 16 years as data. So when I first started, when I took on the role of data, I was collecting and reporting data from tally marks. I was going, "One, two, three, four," and then cross, and that was back in 2006, right? So we've gone through that into Excel, and then I just went on to ... I'm like, "How can you make this better?" So I added some formulas and those generating functions to make data reporting easier for me, right? And I can say that we've really gone a long way now. We're bettering our student information system, so with the click of buttons, we can generate those reports, and the next step is SAS, that we are talking about. At the last part of this month, we're going to be working with SID so that they can merge, generate into our ...
00:22:30.87 >> Oh, wow.
00:22:31.74 [ Chatter ]
00:22:32.46 >> So from there, you know all these ed facts.
00:22:35.21 >> Mm-hmm.
00:22:36.23 >> Biospecs will be generated, so ...
00:22:39.94 >> Long walk from tally marks, right?
00:22:41.84 >> Yes. I'm looking forward to that. I know sometimes, Donna is like, "Oh, my god. It's that time again?" All the commas and the [Indistinct]. And then I even had one story, when I submitted our child count that way to our commissioner, right? The secretary thought that it was scratch paper. I'm like, "Oh, my god. That is not scratch paper."
00:23:06.30 >> And threw it away?
00:23:07.40 >> That's my hard work. Every line matters here.
00:23:10.46 >> Yeah. Uh-huh.
00:23:11.12 >> So but yeah, it's been a long journey, and we continue our work from here on, and I love what I do, and I have a small day team. Most of the time, it's just Donna and I, so we just try to put our heads together to make things work.
00:23:33.95 >> Well, the two of you seem like many people each, so it's really ... It's way more than that, it seems, just the work that you're doing and the strides you're making, and it's been so fun to hear about everything that's going on and would love to have you come back again and give us an update on how it's all been going.
00:23:54.31 >> Sure. Thank you for the opportunity.
00:23:56.80 >> Yes. Thank you, both, so much. This was great, really, really appreciate it.
00:24:01.17 >> Yeah.
00:24:01.99 >> Thank you so much too. It's always ... I like to take advantage of any opportunity to get our voices heard, out with the rest of the folks. We're small, but ...
00:24:13.84 >> Mighty.
00:24:16.70 >> Yeah. So it's great to be able to share.
00:24:20.60 >> Absolutely. That's why we started the podcast, because we'd heard from all the different SEAs.
00:24:24.79 >> Yeah.
00:24:25.18 >> Yeah, it's great that we have TA centers and resources, but we really want to hear what other SEAs are doing.
00:24:30.70 >> Yeah.
00:24:30.79 >> What's working for them? We want to know who they are, so we can reach out to them and work together, hear more about it. So ...
00:24:37.63 >> Yeah. I want to give a shout-out to Chris Thacker for inviting us to this. It's a great opportunity, so we're thankful for that.
00:24:47.76 >> To access podcast resources, submit questions related to today's episode, or if you have ideas for future topics, we'd love to hear from you. The links are in the episode content. Or connect with us via the Podcast page on the IDC website at ideadata.org.