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Collaborative Plan Summit's Opening Remarks

About the Collaborative's beginning & making a difference

11/15/2018 8:36:43 AM

Many of the Collaborative Plan workgroup members are shown in the conference room where the 2018 Summit took place. They are seated, facing the camera, and smiling.

The fifty members of the Collaborative Plan workgroups participated in an education summit from October 25-26, 2018 to celebrate the first ten years of work and to develop a strategic new plan for the next five years. The Collaborative Plan is a network of agencies and organizations who work together to create positive, systematic changes in order to achieve better education and career outcomes for students who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing. 

Mary Hartnett, the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing's Executive Director, gave a speech at the beginning of the summit. Her speech covers how the Collaborative was created, why we work together even with our different philosophies and beliefs, and how we make a difference together. 

Without further ado, here is the speech.


We are here to celebrate the success of working together for the past eight years for the common good and to dream of what the next five years will be like for children who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.

In a divisive world, the Collaborative is a beacon of hope. There is no community building experience more powerful than getting people to solve problems together. Each of you has had to give up the idea of being totally in charge when you join the Collaborative and that’s hard to do. I know most of you and you are smart, effective, and experts in your fields. Parents, you are effective and committed advocates for your child. Each of you brings your values, your experience and opinions to the table. Some of you experience pressure from your organizations not to compromise or listen to other’s perspectives. But you do. We thank you for your courageous leadership and willingness to participate in the difficult conversations that have led to the development and success of this plan.

At the Collaborative, we share our power and decision making authority. Decision making is based on civil discourse and is highly participatory with final plans established by consensus. It has made us smarter, more flexible, creative, emphatic and resilient.

We have made progress because no matter how hard it’s been, you’ve hung in there and we’ve reaped the rewards of this work. And we have become the envy of many other states- they all want to know how we’ve done it. There is no better high that I know. Dreaming big and winning together. It keeps us coming back again and again.

How did we do it?

Going way back, All of this work started in 1985 because advocates worked to create the Commission so the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing community and parents would have a place at the table when decisions were made that affected them at the legislature. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We owe it to them to keep this effort going.

The Commission brought groups together in the 1990's to try to get a newborn hearing screening mandate. The legislature wouldn’t pass a mandate but required the Department of Public Health to develop a voluntary screening process. MDH brought together a team of diverse stakeholders and kept inviting more and more people to the table. In 2006 we learned that despite our efforts the Center for Disease Control determined that we were in the bottom five of states in our identification and reporting of babies with hearing loss. 

We all rallied and sat at the table and wrote and introduced seven bills that became the foundation for Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) in the state. We passed a screening mandate, created an EHDI Committee, funded Deaf Mentors, Parent Guides, a Hearing Aid Loaner Bank, a Hearing Loss Coordinator, EHDI Specialist - Minnesota Low Incidence Projects, and expanded hearing aid coverage for deaf and hard of hearing children. We also got employment services for transition-aged youth who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing. It was exhilarating. We thought we were done.

But no! There was more to do. We had told the legislature that if we passed the newborn hearing screening, that it will improve outcomes for kids - but the bills we passed only tracked kids outcomes up until the age of 3. How could we know if we had made a difference when they got older? So In 2009, we got legislation passed that required MDE to report test results for deaf and hard of hearing kids up to the age of 21 and to provide the report to the legislature and the Commission. They were also charged with making recommendations on how to improve outcomes.

This is part of the story where it could have fallen apart. In 2010, the Commission and MDE signed up to participate in the National Deaf Education Project Video Conference; its purpose was to encourage states to work together to set goals from birth to twenty-one. We invited about 20 people and organizations. It was held in Colorado and had great speakers including Dr. Tom Allan from the Gallaudet National Center for Language Science. We were pumped. But we were pretty naive and assumed there wouldn’t be any technology glitches. All of our planning revolved around listening to the speakers remotely.

It was a complete disaster. The technology failed and after several hours of struggling we gave up and realized we couldn’t participate. The saving grace - we’d ordered from D’Amicos and everyone waited until lunch came. And while we waited, we began to talk. And instead of giving up and going home after lunch, we stayed. Some of you were there - Bart, Jay, Michele Isham, Nicole Brown, Anna Paulson, Mary Cashman Bakken. We realized we could start solving our problems together without the national organization. We started talking and problem-solving and before we knew it, we were energized. The time flew and we came up with six pages of goals.

A smaller group formed that will be recognized later today who committed to making the Collaborative happen. We contracted with a parent and facilitator to support the effort. We listed all of the stakeholders who work with kids and invited them to develop the plan. It took two years to finalize it and is super long. Each stakeholder went back to their organizations and endorsed the plan. It was a great effort!! But it was overwhelming. And there weren’t any staff to implement it. Dr. Sue Rose personally gave us the funds to keep it going and we were able to contract very part-time with Julie Storck, Joyce Daugaard, and later Kathy Arnoldi.

With the plan in hand, the 2014 Commission was able to get additional funds from the legislature to fund our education efforts. The Collaborative Steering Committee hired the very able Anna Paulson to host the plan.

Her job has been to be a host and be a servant leader - to provide a safe space for you to share your ideas, build consensus, so you can set goals and implement the plan. She was also charged with following the Joint Commission on Infant Hearing’s recommendation to have the majority of workgroups comprised of people who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing. We sent out a survey in 2016 from Wilder to evaluate the first two years of our efforts. This is what one of you wrote. “The Commission has worked tirelessly to get stakeholders to be involved and invested. It is not an easy task, but they should be commended. In particular, Anna Paulson has led this effort in a professional, positive, and well-organized manner. She is the glue that sticks this effort together. We are lucky to have her leadership.”

I completely agree. It’s not an easy job. But her efforts at hosting and giving you opportunities to find common ground and work together have paid off.

What are some of the wins in the past four years in addition to the relationship and trust that has been built with each other?

  • Creating four work groups that set goals and produce great products together
  • Data sharing agreements between MDE, MDH, and DEED
  • Data collection through the State Longitudinal Data System
  • Data collection supported by the National Deaf Center 
  • Three Collaborative Experiences conferences with national and local experts presenting that received rave reviews and built community 
  • Training on the Visual Communication Sign Language (VCSL) Inventory 
  • The Early Childhood Portfolio 
  • The "Developing a Language and Communication Focuses IEP: A Discussion Guide" with Video Webinars and Mini-Lessons for Teachers 
  • Online resources for families with children identified as deaf or hard of hearing
  • A "Transition Guide to Adult Services" for youth who are deaf and hard of hearing and their parents
  • Creating videos and web pages that explain our education work
  • Hiring a part-time specialist, Ann Mayes
  • And this planning summit  
  • But most of all because of our success we have hope for the future

What have we learned?

It hasn’t been easy. We have multiple priorities, limited resources, and great expectations.  But we have learned that there is no community-building experience more powerful than getting people to solve problems together. And we’ve solved many. We’ve made it this far and we are signing up for another five years together to solve even more.

What is our superpower? What makes this all work? You and your belief that we are stronger, smarter and better together. And our fundamental belief in democracy. That all of us are created equal and have been endowed with certain unalienable rights. To life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that includes language acquisition and access to the world whether you are a visual, auditory, tactile, or multimodal learner. We are part of the melting pot that makes America great. We fight for communication equity for our children. People who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing and hearing people who use their hearing privilege to make a more just and equitable world.

And as an extension of your belief in the democratic process, be sure and vote this November. Vote for candidates who support our work. Establish a relationship with them and educate them about the work you are doing and keep this effort going.

In closing - Welcome to the 2018 Education Summit. Everything has been carefully planned. We have the top research organization Wilder Research leading the data collection and report writing. We have the top facilitator in the state, Judy Plante, and the amazing Jessalyn Akerman-Frank co-facilitating. There are TED talks from some of your colleagues. Our staff worked hard to make you all feel welcomed and prepared. You have all worked hard to get here and get ready for today. Thank you! We are ready to roll. This will be my last summit. It’s been awesome to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with your plan. It will be amazing. Dream big.

~ Mary Hartnett, Executive Director, Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH)


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