Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
In North Dakota, there are seven Regional Education Associations (REAs) that support school districts in many ways. These REAs were established by state law in 2005 to increase efficiencies at the school level, allowing districts to pool funding and resources for professional development and services.
“A collective group of schools is more powerful and cost-effective,” said Amanda Peterson, director of Educational Improvement and Support, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI). “Schools within each region work with their local REA to determine needs and the REA develops a coordinated effort to service those needs.”
Peterson explained that a majority of states have educational service agencies like North Dakota’s REAs and, in some states, they offer specialized services – one REA may provide services in technology, another REA supports content standards, another REA is focused on transportation, etc.
“In North Dakota, all REAs offer a variety of services, but lately there has been a concerted effort within the REAs to support each other and share services between REAs and member districts,” she said.
“We have built a very collaborative nature,” said Luke Schaefer, executive director, Central Regional Education Association (CREA) and President of North Dakota REA. “One of the things we do is keep each other informed of what we have for programming and what we have for staff. For instance, the South East Education Cooperative (SEEC) has an English Language specialist and we rely on her to help us answer questions on programming for our schools or for technical assistance. SEEC and CREA have provided business services to other REAs - our staff can go and help their schools, which broadens the level of service.
“We have established a daily rate so we keep track of how we exchange services and provide a memorandum of understanding between REAs. This keeps us from contracting with out-of-state vendors, which saves money and allows us to leverage in-state expertise.”
One of the successful programs developed by REAs is North Dakota's Multi-Tier System of Supports.
“Originally two REAs led the effort but now it has expanded to all REAs in the state,” explained Peterson. “They cross-trained to create a leadership cohort for statewide implementation.”
Another area of support is the REAs work with reading and literacy. For instance, REAs are assisting the state to make sure teachers and administrators have access to literacy training required by the Science of Reading legislation passed by the North Dakota legislature in 2021. This legislation is intended to support the improvement of core reading instruction for students in kindergarten through third grade throughout North Dakota.
“Many REAs already provided literacy support trainings and we had all been working on increasing literacy and helping teachers to provide excellence in literacy instruction,” said Schaefer. “We watched that legislation closely and worked with NDDPI to make sure we understood it. We added to staff and worked to provide training so every administrator and every teacher would have something built specifically for them. We will continue creating and expanding current offerings so there are more choices, based on input from the schools.”
“The Science of Reading legislation requires schools and districts to use curriculum to provide reading instruction and correctly diagnose reading struggles,” explained Ann Ellefson, Academic Support director, NDDPI. “Specifically, K-3 educators and administrators must receive training in instructional practices that align with research that reveals the science of how the brain learns and engages in reading. State-level partners, such as the REAs, are instrumental in supporting districts. With funding provided by NDDPI, REA professional development and assistance with curriculum review are important services that will impact the implementation of the legislation.”
“I really appreciate how the REAs and NDDPI work together,” said Schaefer. “We asked for more contact with NDDPI and received a liaison and became better informed. The partnership has blossomed and we now have a better understanding of statewide initiatives. We have been able to increase efforts and do it in a more efficient matter. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work together. It provides a synergy that adds to each other's value.”
While North Dakota’s REAs still work to meet the needs of their individual region, they also collaborate and share ideas so the entire state benefits from their expertise.
“REA staff put their students and schools first, and are very passionate educators,” said Peterson. “It has been a pleasure to work with them and see how they have grown and expanded their purpose, not only providing services to their region, but to the state as a whole.”