The Mid-State Regional Partnership Center: Supporting Those Who Support Students with Disabilities 

Kayleigh Sandford and Stephanie Spicciati have worked so long and so closely together that they almost finish each other’s sentences. Central New York school districts are lucky to be able to tap their experience and skills, two members of a team of 12 who work for the Mid-State Regional Partnership Center (RPC), which provides support for K-12 students with disabilities as part of Syracuse University School of Education’s Center on Disability and Inclusion (CDI). 

Kayleigh Sandford and Stephanie Spiciiati sitting in chairs.
Kayleigh Sandford (left) and Stephanie Spicciati of the Mid-State Regional Partnership Center, part of the School of Education’s Center on Disability and Inclusion.

Before joining the Mid-State RPC, Sandford and Spicciati co-taught fourth grade in the Solvay Union Free School District near Syracuse, NY. Sandford was the general education teacher and Spicciati taught special education, but—modeling the kind of inclusive education that SOE has long championed—together they were responsible for all students in their class. 

Sandford then taught special education in the Baldwinsville (NY) Central School District before the pair teamed up again at the Mid-State RPC, Sandford as a Literacy Specialist and Spicciati as a Specially Designed Instruction Specialist.

Building Capacity

Explaining how Mid-State RPC is embedded within and works with other services of the New York State Education Department cooks up something of an alphabet soup, but it’s critical infrastructure for families and communities, guided by NYSED’s Blueprint for Improved Results for Students with Disabilities.

The overseeing agency is NYSED’s Office of Special Education (OSE), which organizes the OSE Educational Partnership, described as “a community of practitioners [that] work collaboratively to support students, families, and educational organizations to build capacity and improve educational and post-educational outcomes for students with disabilities.” 

Supported by NYSED grants, CDI runs three OSE Educational Partnership programs that work collaboratively: the Mid-State Early Childhood Family and Community Engagement Center (EC-FACE), the School-Age Family and Community Engagement Center (SA-FACE), and the Mid-State RPC. Three legs of one stool, if you will. 

We go into schools to support and coach teachers and administrators who serve students with individualized education programs.”
Stephanie Spicciati

While EC-FACE and SA-FACE engage families, communities, and local agencies, the Mid-State RPC provides special education training and coaching directly to school districts (this triple support structure is mirrored in 12 other Regional Partnership Centers  and 14 FACE Centers  across the state.) 

Data-informed Work

Spicciati explains that CDI has held the contract for four-and-a-half years of a five-year grant cycle, with hopes that its funding will be renewed in summer 2024. Mid-State RPC has benefited from the School of Education’s expertise and rich history in disability and inclusion, which includes administering an earlier version of the Educational Partnership that engaged students and families: the Syracuse University Parent Assistance Center. The current partnership structure now adds a focus on systems-level change. 

“The Mid-State RPC supports pre-K-12 school administrators and teachers in the Syracuse City School District and the surrounding counties of Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Seneca, Tioga, and Tompkins,” Spicciati explains. “Our team includes literacy specialists, behavior and transition specialists, a culturally responsive educator, a systems change facilitator, and a special education trainer. We go into schools to support and coach teachers and administrators who serve students with individualized education programs (IEPs).” 

“Some of our work includes embedded support to help teachers use data to make instructional decisions for student with disabilities ,” adds Sandford. “In addition to this kind of support, we also offer regional training sessions. Our specialists have different packages that they are trained to deliver to teachers, administrators, and educational advocacy organizations.” 

The Mid-State RPC works with technical assistance partners who develop professional development packages based on the most current research into statewide schools. The team uses these resources to support schools with evidence-based practices. 

Walk Beside You

As a compliment to these in-school trainings, the Mid-State RPC and CDI took their engagement a step further in 2023, launching a lecture series that invited the education community to dig deeper into essential topics around equity, mental health, and inclusion, featuring SOE faculty, community partners, and others.

Sandford stresses that she and her Mid-State RPC teammates work hard to ensure that districts feel supported: “Our motto is, ‘We want to walk beside you, not in front of you.’” 

“We are able to build trust and good relationships with teachers and administrators because we are clear that we are there to help them and want our work to be meaningful for their students,” Spicciati adds. “I’ve found the majority of time, people are happy to have us. Once a school has met its goals and state performance plan indicators—and once systems are put in place to sustain that improvement—schools can be sad to see us leave.” 

“It’s important to use the right measures and make informed decisions about students who are struggling.”
Kayleigh Sandford

The coronavirus pandemic was especially rough on students with IEPs, says Spicciati. Shutdowns became months of missed instruction for some, and students requiring extra supports and intensive instruction fell behind. Although the first year back to in-school instruction was also demanding, Spicciati sees learning gaps starting to close as teachers adjust their approach to make up for lost skills acquisition.

Nevertheless, according to Sandford, a new challenge has arisen: the over-identification of students with disabilities: “Right now, schools are trying to identify if some students have a learning disability , or if learning loss can be attributed to the shutdown. It’s important to use the right measures and make informed decisions about students who are struggling.” 

Promoting Sustainability

Assuming CDI’s OSE Educational Partnership grant is renewed, there will be another five years of growth for The Mid-State RPC, so what do Sandford and Spicciati hope to accomplish in that time?

“I want us to continue building supportive infrastructure within schools to keep things progressing forward for all students, general education and special education,” says Sandford. 

“I want to promote sustainability,” adds Spicciati. She says the Mid-State RPC has learned over the years the importance of creating sustainable support systems for the whole school rather than focusing on individual teachers, who might then leave with the knowledge they acquired. 

“It’s about focusing on building capacity with school leaders and getting teaming structures in place to help leaders connect data to intervention and  instruction,” says Spicciati. “Once we have put protocols in place that can be used school and district wide, when we leave, those supports are able to stay in place.” 

Janie Hershman ’24 contributed to this story.