Susan Loving has a rich history in the field of Transition. She has been working with transition programs since 1991, when she was assigned the responsibility of co-manager of the STUDY Project Grant (a federal systems-change grant) in Tooele School District.
I was ready for a change from providing speech-language services full time, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something different. In working with transition planning and programs, I realized that the purpose of school is to prepare students for adult life, not just to graduate them with a diploma.
Susan currently serves as the Education Specialist for Transition at the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) – Special Education Section. She admits that is a long title, so she usually says she is the Transition Specialist at the USOE. She works with school district and charter school staff, representatives of agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation and DSPD, parent groups, community and advocacy groups – any individual or group of individuals who work with and support transition-aged youth.
Susan’s responsibilities are broad in nature.
The USOE is responsible for ensuring that all eligible students attending Utah school districts and charter schools are receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate timely transition planning is part of a FAPE for a student of transition age.
To that end, Susan is charged with providing professional development and technical assistance to educators, administrators, families, and other state and community agencies regarding transition planning, agency collaboration, etc. She says that the medium through which this is carried out varies -through a one-on-one phone conversation or site visit, an on-site training session or webinar, or a state-level activity.
Every year, states are required to report the results of state-level activities to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP); the report, titled the “Annual Performance Report”, addresses student outcomes in a variety of areas. I am responsible for reporting on Utah’s graduation and dropout rates for students with disabilities, the prevalence of complete transition plans in the IEP, and post school outcomes (engagement in education and employment/training) of students with disabilities.
We strive for a “seamless” transition for all students. Currently, I am working closely with these agencies on a Department of Labor technical assistance grant to implement the “Employment First” Utah statute; the purpose of the grant is the development and implementation of policies and procedures that will result in integrated employment being the first service option for all individuals with disabilities who are interested in working.
The most important development in the area of Transition, according to Susan, has been the perceived importance of transition planning services.
I have been working in the area of secondary transition since 1991 and have seen such a change since then. The change in IDEA 2004 that required “measurable postsecondary goals” meant that IEP teams need to help students focus on achievable outcomes, rather than “hopes and dreams”. This also helps schools focus on developing programs that will facilitate the student’s movement toward those postsecondary goals.
I am also excited about how many state and federal agencies are now addressing the needs of transition-aged youth with disabilities. Educators no longer have the sole responsibility of preparing students for a productive, inclusive adult life.
Susan feels that there are many positive aspects of working in Transition. Specifically,
Working with special educators who “get” the importance of transition planning; talking with youth who understand how their disability may impact learning, working, and living as an adult and the accommodations they may need to be more successful. Hearing from young adults about what they are doing, in terms of employment and education/training, and how the school helped prepare them for these activities.
Resources, funding and time are among the challenges in Transition work.
I think what I find challenging is what educators face daily – the lack of resources that would allow schools to provide comprehensive transition programs for all students. Funding is always an issue, but just as much an issue is the lack of time in a school day for schools to provide the instruction and activities identified in the Predictors of Post-School Success
Susan has experienced a wealth of rewarding and promising experiences in her career.
I once worked with a student with severe significant learning disabilities who was on the road to dropping out because of poor academic skills, but, with an individualized program, graduated and completed a two-year college program. I had chances to visit with students in the USU Aggies Elevated program and was impressed with how they had matured and gained confidence after one (successful) semester in the program. I have seen small schools with limited resources develop employment sites in rural communities and other schools move from center-based programs to community-based programs. Schools are working with students to help them develop self-determination and self-advocacy skills, basic skills which will be an asset as the students enter the worlds of postsecondary education and employment.
There are many crucial issues facing students with disabilities as they transition to adultion. Susan has concerns about the level of knowledge and support students and their families need as they exit from high school.
I think students, and their teachers and families, need to understand the importance of postsecondary education or training if the young adult will have a career, not just a job.
As agency resources dwindle, I am concerned that young adults won’t have the immediate supports they may need for adult life; families and others may need to step in to fill that void and I’m not sure we have those systems in place yet.
Susan collaborates with agencies across Utah to focus in the supports that students will need after high school.
I work very closely with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and other agencies. As an example, I represent special education on an Employment First project sponsored by the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Partners in that project also include the Division of Services for People with Disabilities, the Department of Workforce Services,and the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, . I also represented special education on Utah’s application for a PROMISE grant and served on a multi-state sub-committee after the grant was accepted (ASPIRE).
With input from Rachel Anderson of VR, I have provided cross-trainings for VR counselors and the high schools to which they are assigned. These trainings resulted in plans that improved collaboration between the two entities.
Susan says she would like to see consistent collaboration between schools and agencies across the state.
I would like to see more collaboration between special educators and school counselors, as they develop transition plans and College-Career Readiness Plans for students with disabilities.
Susan states that much improvement has been made over the years in Transition for students with disabilities.
While there is always room for improvement, transition services for students with disabilities have made a great deal of improvement since they were first required to be included in IEPs in IDEA 1990. As a result of improved services, outcomes for students have also improved, with more youth participating in postsecondary education and employment each year (www.utahposthighsurvey.org).
Special educators are to be commended for the efforts being put into developing the excellent programs that produce these student outcomes.
Susan Loving can be contacted at susan.loving at schools dot utah dot gov