I recently had the opportunity to speak with Debbie Gauntt, Director of Intervention Services in Coppell ISD about the North Texas Section 504 Consortium. Her responses are featured in this post.
What initially sparked the formation of the 504 Consortium? And, how long has the group been in place?
When we began 7 years ago it was out of mutual need of professional peer support stemming from new legal mandates related to the revisions of Section 504 and the ADA. Relaxed interpretation of the definition of eligibility and disability/impairment had a significant impact on how public schools evaluated and provided services for learners who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Congress determined that a broader scope of inclusion and consideration was required and therefore revised the ADA or 2009 to become the ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act). With new legal requirements facing public school leaders, the need to reach out to one another was intended to share ideas, solutions, and resources. The original core group of what is now known as the North Texas Section 504 Consortium consisted of a representative from Irving ISD, Plano ISD, Lake Dallas ISD, Coppell ISD, Richardson ISD, and Frisco ISD. We now have regular quarterly meeting representation from 20+ districts in the DFW region.
What is the outcome or purpose that you share when asked about the group?
I almost always promote the idea that you don’t have go this alone. Keeping abreast of the legal/procedural compliance can be overwhelming and almost impossible to accomplish with quality without the insight from other job alike professionals. I began with the desire to learn from others and maintain that same perspective 7 years later. The solutions and ideas generated through the networking and collaborative dialogues are without a doubt crucial to building and maintaining quality services for our respective school districts.
Approximately how many attendees do you host each meeting?
Regular attendance includes over 20 school district administrators and leaders that have Section 504, dyslexia, and/or student support services responsibilities. Several districts send multiple staff depending on how their respective duties are assigned within their district.
What are you most proud of regarding the 504 Consortium?
That is actually works. That is has provided a critical service for so many leaders who were struggling with compliance requirements and felt like no one else in their district understood the unique needs of these specialized positions. We’ve now progressed from meeting the fundamental compliance needs to sharing exemplary service suggestions that are tried and true from our own personal experiences. The consortium model provides a safe place to discuss needs and concerns as well as provides assurance that we’re all in it together and can figure it out collectively.
What do you foresee as the future of the 504 Consortium?
I foresee, or at least hope, that it will continue to meet quarterly and hosted by a district that is serious about supporting the work of others. Hosting the consortium for the past 7 years has required much organization and effort. The benefit that we receive in turn is 10 fold knowing that we are operating consistently and that we learn from one another’s experiences… be them good, bad or somewhere in between. I foresee other regions adopting a similar model and I’d be honored to assist them with their efforts. All it takes to get started is a handful of committed leaders who desire to learn from one another and desire to make their 504 services the best they can be. If you’re looking for basic compliance, the consortium is not the place for you. This consortium membership requires commitment, engagement, and sincere desire to grow professionally.
Ms. Gauntt clearly recognizes the value in a collective commitment to a common goal. The North Texas Section 504 Consortium is a model of leadership development as a means of building needed capacities to function in required [new] roles. Within Article V: Organizational Transformation of the Visioning Document, we recognize the need for this type of purposeful, on-going, collaboration and professional development.
If your district or region is interested in adopting a similar model to the North Texas Section 504 Consortium and would benefit from conversations with Ms. Gauntt, she may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.