Special education leader strives to increase student expectations

Glenna Wright-Gallo, nominee for assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, found herself driving passengers in Teslas along the Vegas Loop while waiting for confirmation from the U.S. Senate.

Despite concerns over a potential conflict of interest, Wright-Gallo considered the gig entertaining and not a hindrance to her nomination.

“I got to meet a lot of different people in a lot of roles and have conversations with them,” said Wright-Gallo, who engaged in a discussion about effective leadership with one of her passengers who spotted a book on the subject in her car.

After a long wait, Wright-Gallo obtained Senate confirmation for her role by a vote of 52-44, primarily split along party lines.

During her tenure as assistant secretary of OSERS, Wright-Gallo has concentrated on enhancing outcomes and expectations for 7.6 million infants, toddlers, and students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

To achieve this, Wright-Gallo aims to ensure that states and districts have access to evidence-based practices that support academic achievement and social-emotional learning. She also wants to ensure the availability of assistive technology and the adoption of best practices for distance learning.

In addition, Wright-Gallo is focused on engaging educators, administrators, students, families, and other stakeholders.

From birth to adulthood

Prior to her appointment to OSERS, Wright-Gallo worked as a special education teacher and held roles in state education agencies and special education director positions. She also served as the president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

While waiting for confirmation, Wright-Gallo even trained as a substitute teacher in a Las Vegas school district. However, she only ended up substituting for one day before her confirmation.

Reflecting on her time in the district, Wright-Gallo appreciated the opportunity to observe changes in schools since her time as an educator and see what remained consistent.

Previously, multi-tiered systems of supports were viewed as a new approach to interventions. Wright-Gallo observed that these systems are now regularly implemented in schools, representing the progress made in supporting students.

“We recognize that there’s a lot of effort that the teachers and school administrators and families are putting forward around all students, including students with disabilities, and we appreciate that work.”

Glenna Wright-Gallo

Assistant secretary of OSERS

During her substitute teaching interviews, Wright-Gallo also became aware of the impact of the special education teacher shortage on school districts.

As assistant secretary, Wright-Gallo advocates for the use of data to make informed decisions about resource allocation. In this regard, she announced a new $14.5 million technical assistance center focused on improving data quality for special education.

Wright-Gallo emphasizes collaboration with other Education Department offices and federal agencies to disseminate resources that benefit all students, including those with disabilities.

The special education community has long called for increased funding for special education. While the IDEA has never been fully funded, recent funding levels stood at 13% in 2021, an average of $1,739 per IDEA-eligible student.

Wright-Gallo supports state and district efforts to make strategic staffing decisions and effectively manage special education funding alongside other revenue sources.

Additionally, she aims to expand college and career pathways for students with disabilities while removing barriers to special education services.

“Are we looking at effective practices that move us towards improvements that lead to competitive integrated employment?” Wright-Gallo asks, emphasizing OSERS’ comprehensive role.

OSERS also focuses on assisting states and districts in removing barriers to special education services, including prompt identification and correction of noncompliance issues.

Wright-Gallo acknowledges the dedication of teachers, school administrators, and families in supporting all students, including those with disabilities, and values their efforts in shaping policy.