NDSC 50th Annual Convention - June 23-26, 2022

US Department of Education at the NDSC Convention

U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and Department of Education funded technical assistance (TA) center participation in NDSC Convention.

NDSC is thrilled to welcome Valerie C.Williams, Director of the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and former NDSCVice President to the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) convention plenary to be held on June 24 in New Orleans. Director Williams, is the parent of a son with Down syndrome and has a distinguished career in senior positions in government and non-profit organizations as well as working with Members of Congress and staff on Capitol Hill. 

Meet OSEP Director Valerie C. Williams and other Senior OSEP Staff in a small, intimate setting reserved for the NDSC National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition (NDAC) members at the NDAC OSEP Town Hall on Saturday June 25, 8:00-9:00am. Anyone is welcome to join NDAC through the website or at the door. Registration encouraged. 

Register HERE.

Please view the below accordions to learn more about the events that Director Williams and all other OSEP staff and TA representatives will be presenting at.

Listening sessions with Senior OSEP staff will provide an opportunity for the U.S Department of Education to learn from the experiences of families and self-advocates. This session is over the lunch break, so feel free to bring your lunch and, if necessary, bring your children also. Sign up is not required but encouraged.

Register HERE.

OSEP Director and Staff Presenting at Convention

Valerie C. Williams, OSEP Director 
Lisa Pagano, OSEP monitoring staff 
Sabrina Austin, OSEP monitoring staff
Shannon O’Neill, OSEP monitoring staff 

Technical Assistance Center Representatives Speaking at Convention

Martha Thurlow, Ph.D., Martha is Senior Research Associate at the National Center on Educational Outcomes and the TIES Center at the University of Minnesota 
Jen Sommerness, Ed.S., is a Researcher with the TIES Center and National Center on Educational Outcomes. 
Kathleen Strickland-Cohen, Ph.D., University of Oregon PBIS Center 

The TIES Center is the federal technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies focusing on students with significant cognitive disabilities. TIES brings together recognized experts in inclusive education to provide evidence-based resources, tools, curricula, and reports so students with significant cognitive disabilities can learn in classrooms with their non-disabled peers. Ricki Sabia, NDSC Senior Education Policy Advisor, is the TIES Parent Liaison. See: https://tiescenter.org. 

 The Center on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS Center) is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). The Center on PBIS supports schools, districts, and states to build systems capacity for implementing a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional and behavior support. See: www.pbis.org.


Educators Conference

Director Valerie C. Williams 
Martha Thurlow (TIES), Jen Sommerness (PBIS)

  • Opening Remarks by Director Williams. 
  • Presentation by Director Williams giving an overview of OSEP’s current initiatives and TA Centers and discussing what resources are available for educators 
  • Presentation by TIES Center representatives discussing its many resources for educators (TIPS, briefs, etc.) and how districts and educators can use them.

FRIDAY JUNE 24, 2022

8:00 am - 11:00 am: Deep Dive Workshop: Creating Communities of Belonging for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities (TIES Center, PBIS Center, OSEP)

Martha Thurlow, Jen Sommerness. PBIS participant: Kathleen Strickland-Cohen. OSEP Participants: Lisa Pagano, Sabrina Austin, Shannon O’Neill 

Creating Communities of Belonging for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities 

Everyone wants to be valued and have a sense of belonging in their community, which includes the school community. This sense of belonging spans many different dimensions, including being Welcomed, Known, Accepted, Befriended, Supported and more. Unfortunately, experiencing a deep sense of belonging in school is often more challenging for students with significant cognitive disabilities, and particularly those with behavioral challenges. NDSC is fortunate to have experts from the U.S. Department of Education at the Convention to share their knowledge and resources with our members. This Deep Dive will be led by experts from the TIES Center, the PBIS Center, and the Office of Special Education Programs. 

In this Deep Dive, participants will: 

  • Learn about the ten identified dimensions of belonging needed for meaningful inclusion in school communities; 
  • Discover how to use a resource developed by the TIES Center to directly address each dimension of belonging, including providing snapshots of what it would look like, steps schools can take to promote change, and areas of reflection for the school community; and 
  • Learn from the PBIS Center how to address behavioral challenges that can influence belonging. 
  • Hear from OSEP staff about US Department of Education guidance that supports student learning. 

11:30 am - 1:00 pm: African-American Lunch & Learn

Valerie C. Williams

Remarks by Director Williams to share info about OSEP’s initiatives and her priorities, particularly as relating to people of color

6:00 pm - 8:00 pm: Plenary Session

Valerie C.Williams

Director Williams will share highlights of her journey as the mother of a son with Down syndrome, NDSC Vice President, professional, and current role as Director of OSEP and her vision for the future for students with disabilities. 


8:00 am - 9:00 am: NDAC Town Hall

Valerie C. Williams, Lisa Pagano, Sabrina Austin, Shannon O’Neill 

  • Q&A Session with Director Williams and Senior OSEP Staff for members of the National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition. 
  • This will be an opportunity for NDSC advocates to interact directly with the U.S. Department of Education OSEP Director who is responsible for the implementation of IDEA, the federal special education law, and OSEP monitoring staff. 

Register HERE.

9:30 am - 11:00 am: Workshop by TIES Center, “Federally Funded Inclusion Toolkits and Resources for Parents and Educators”

Martha Thurlow, Jen Sommerness

  • The work of the federally funded TIES Center for Inclusive Practices and Policies for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities will be explained. 
  • A variety of toolkits and resources that parents and educators can use to facilitate successful inclusion, as well as systems change, will be explained.  
  • A comprehensive planning tool for inclusive IEPS will also be discussed and participants will learn how to find the various tools and resources on the TIES website, as well as sign up for regular newsletters.  
  • Feedback will be requested from participants about what they need from TIES to help ensure meaningful inclusive education for students with significant cognitive disabilities. 

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm: OSEP Listening Sessions

Lisa Pagano, Sabrina Austin, Shannon O’Neill 

  • 3 different listening sessions operating simultaneously: (i) Birth-Preschool; (ii) K-8th grade; (iii) Transition & High School 
  • Senior U.S. Department of Education OSEP monitoring staff will hold listening sessions with families and self-advocates about their educational experiences — what is working well and what challenges children, youth and families are experiencing. The OSEP staff monitor the state implementation of IDEA, the federal special education law, and this will be an opportunity for participants to speak directly with them. 

Register HERE.