Questions About Your Educator Journey?



Initiated by the Michigan State Legislature in 2021, the OPTIMISE Task Force was established to provide a clear vision and broad, high-level strategy to ensure alignment with Section 94d of the State School Aid Act of 1979.

The Task Force along with its Partners created a collective action plan with recommendations to attract, prepare, and retain qualified personnel for children with disabilities.

Our Work

OPTIMISE has worked with professional organizations, associations, institutes of higher education, multiple legislative offices, and the Governor’s office to network, collect and review data, identify strengths, barriers and opportunities that resulted in recommendations on how to effectively attract, prepare and retain a qualified and diverse workforce pipeline in Michigan.

Partners voice and differing perspectives from rural, urban, and suburban has been key to a collective voice and helping us build momentum.

We welcome you to the team table, to help collect and disseminate information and most importantly elevating the special education profession.

OPTIMISE Partners Explain the Why

The Partners of OPTIMISE explain how they are building, supporting and sustaining a NEW education system

TASK FORCE - Meets Quarterly

The Task Force will establish a clear vision and broad, high-level strategy to ensure alignment with Section 94d of the State School Aid Act of 1979, ultimately submitting a collective action plan that makes recommendations, informed by Partners engagement, to attract, prepare, and retain qualified personnel for children with disabilities.

Quarterly Meetings (minimally)

September 2024

  • Develop a comprehensive multi-year plan to attract, prepare, and retain qualified personnel for children with disabilities.
  • Collaborate with a coalition of Partners focused on energy to action to address the urgent shortage of educators servicing the needs of individuals with disabilities across Michigan.
  • An identification of the barriers to attracting and training qualified personnel to work with children with disabilities.

  • An analysis of current educator preparation processes, including the degree to which they meet the needs of special education students and whether the preparation process could be streamlined to increase the number of qualified personnel entering the field of special education.

  • An analysis of attrition rates for qualified personnel leaving the field of special education and recommendations for ways that this state or districts could better retain talent.

  • An analysis of this state’s licensing requirements and whether they could be streamlined to increase the number of qualified personnel entering the field of special education.

  • Policy changes that should be enacted into law to address the barriers identified in this subsection, with specific changes to applicable state laws or applicable state rules.

The Task Force will meet at least quarterly to identify priorities, ensure adequate resources, review progress and provide feedback, and assess and approve recommendations presented by the Core Team with consideration given to:

  • Strengths of the recommendations
  • Weaknesses of the recommendations
  • Multiplier effect of the recommendations – additional opportunities that, if leveraged, can have additional positive impact
  • Potential risks or threats of the recommendations
  • Potential impact
  • Feasibility

Shailee Patel | LEA
Earl Wiman | MEA/MFT
Tina Kerr | MASA
Abby Cypher | MAASE
John Severson | MAISA
Colin Ripmaster | MASSP
Kanika Littleton | Michigan Alliance for Families
Teri Pettit | SEAC
Rachel Toloday | Student
Joe Lubig | IHE
Rebecca McIntyre | MDE
Stephanie O’Dea | Executive Branch
Lauren Mangus | MASP
Kathy Weaver | MASSW
Anthony Strevett | MSHA
Cheryl Levine S. E. | Mediation Svcs.
Renee Brunette | Launch Michigan
Alexa Kramer | Business
Jennifer Gard | Parent
Sarah Robinson | Parent

CORE TEAM - Meets Bi-Monthly

Approximately two meetings per month, combined virtual and face-to-face

September 2024

The primary responsibility of the Core Team is to manage shorter range planning including selection of the means and resources by which to pursue specific aspects of the requirements and priorities of the Task Force.

The Core Team is accountable to the Task Force, with specific responsibilities including but not limited to:

  • Identifying the requisite variety of perspectives necessary to inform specific aspects of the work as well as stakeholders who represent the identified perspectives
  • Establishing Action Teams to develop recommendations to the Collective Action Plan
  • Provide feedback and support for engaging stakeholders and assist in the development of various focus areas
  • Determine resources necessary to support the development of the Collective Action Plan
  • Provide feedback and support for the work of the Action Teams to ensure alignment with 94d requirements
  • Review and provide ongoing & constructive feedback to Consultant and Project Manager
  • Monitor potential influencers that may impact (positively or negatively) the effort
  • Communicate, make recommendations, and provide status reports to the Task Force quarterly*

*a designee from the Core Team may be selected to attend all or part of Task Force meetings

Laurie VanderPloeg | Consultant
Kathy Fortino | Project Manager
Dave Manson | Superintendent – VB ISD [Fiscal Agent]
Scott Koenigsknecht | Deputy Superintendent – MDE
Teri Rink | Director – MDE Office of Special Education
Kanika Littleton | Director Michigan Alliance for Families
Gina Gardner | Educator Preparation & Accreditation – MDE
Abby Cypher | Executive Director – MAASE
Rachel Fuerer | Special Education Instructional Leadership Network [SEILN]
Cheryl-Marie Manson | General Education Leadership Network [GELN]
Paula Lancaster | Professor, Central Michigan University
Michelle Harmala |  Assistant Superintendent of Michigan Department of Education


Creating Recommendations for the Special Education Industry

The primary role of Action Teams is to develop very specific recommendations within a relatively narrow focus as determined by the Core Planning Team. The Action Teams are accountable to the Core Planning Team.

Varies and will largely be determined by the topic, the urgency as determined by the Core Planning Team, and the Action Team members themselves.

Action Teams are fluid and the number of action teams is determined by the work. 

  • Duration will vary depending on the complexity of the topic
  • Action Teams are not time sensitive, but are generally short term
  • Action Teams are disbanded when recommendations are finalized

Accountable to the Core Team, Action Teams are small teams focused on a specific aspect of the larger issue, yielding recommendations to the Core Team. Responsibilities in developing recommendations include but are not limited to:

  • Literature Reviews
  • Research
  • Data
  • State & Local Efforts (Michigan & Beyond)

Barriers & Influence Mapping

Approximately 36 participants representing diverse perspectives from across the state and levels of the educational arena responded to the following triggering question:
“What are barriers (local & systemic) to attracting, preparing, and retaining special educators?”


  • 127 Barriers generated and clarified
  • Categorized according to significant similarity (yielding 14 categories)
  • Prioritized – each participant selected her/his top 5 Barriers. Core Team members also prioritized

The core team then engaged in a process of “influence mapping” a subset of the barriers (informed by the prioritization results), whereby they assessed the influence relationship of two ideas at a time. 

LeKisha Franklin-Shorter | Detroit Public Schools Community District
Jodie Fowler | Ingham Intermediate School District
Sarah Winslow | Ingham Intermediate School District
Anthony Strevett | Michigan Speech Language Hearing Association
Emily Brewer | Ingham Intermediate School District
Sean Kottke | Michigan Department of Education
Melinda Carroll | Avondale School District
Rebecca McIntyre | Michigan Department of Education
Heather Eckner | Autism Alliance of Michigan
Joseph Fisher | Grand Valley State University
Tom  McKee | Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District
Derek Cooley | Godwin Public Schools
Mary Bradley | Muskegon Area Intermediate School District
Brooke Lund | Berrien Regional Education Service Area
Susan Koceski | Oakland Intermediate School District
John Jaquith | Michigan Department of Education
Toni Glasscoe | Lansing Community College
Michael Yocum | Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators
Rebecca Reed | Allegan Area Educational Service Area
Mindy Miller | Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Area
Jennifer Zienert | Michigan Education Association
Victoria Martinez | Michigan Alliance for Families
John Severson | Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators
Abby Cameron-Standerford | Northern Michigan University
Angie McArthur | Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District
Kathy Weaver | Michigan Association of School Social Workers
Jim  French | Portage Public Schools
Evan Kussner | student, GVSU
Tammy Jackson | Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals
Heather Rutledge| Lake Orion Community Schools
Chandra Madafferi | Michigan Education Association
Dana Billings | Michigan Department of Education
Michelle Kussner | Oxford Community Schools
Chris  Frank | Macomb Intermediate School District
Adam Zemke | Launch Michigan

Special Education Administration Credentials

A workgroup embarked to reveal the challenges underlying the shortage of special education administrators. With many decades of collective experience in the field, the workgroup set out to identify the key factors contributing to the shortage.

Derek Cooley | MAASE
Abby Cypher | MAASE
Brian Davis |  MASA
Gina Garner | MDE
Eric Hoppstock | Berrien RESA
Scott Koenigsknecht | Clinton RESA
Kanika Littleton | Michigan Alliance for Families
Steve Polega | SVSU and Genesee ISD
Michelle Proulx | Lapeer ISD
Nancy Rotarius | MDE

Teacher Credentialing & Standards

The charge for the Credentialing Action Team was to make recommendations for required credentials to be a special educator (EC & K-12 environments) that reduce or eliminate some of the current challenges related to attracting individuals to the profession.

The impact is likely:

  • New and/or revised MARSE rules
  • Changes for teacher preparation institutions

The Core Team engaged in a robust review process of the options and submitted their recommendation to the Task Force for consideration

  • The Task force will gather additional information to assess feasibility
    • This may include establishing several Action Teams to identify additional details necessary to implement the recommendation, informing feasibility

Abby Cypher | Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education
Rachel Fuerer | Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD
Gina Garner | Office of Educator Excellence, Michigan Department Education
Michelle Harmala | Madonna University
Alissa Hofstee | Kent Intermediate School District
Hannah High, Speech Pathologist, Kent City Community Schools
Eric Hoppstock | Berrien Regional Education Service Area
Karen Howey | Wayne Regional Education Service Area
Mark Kuipers | Clinton County Regional Education Service Area
Paula Lancaster | Central Michigan University
Concetta Lewis | Rochester Community Schools
Kanika Littleton | Michigan Alliance for Families
Chandra Madefferi | Michigan Education Association
Cheryl-Marie Manson | VanBuren Intermediate School District
Victoria Martinez | Michigan Alliance for Families
Justin Michalek | Macomb Intermediate School District
Lohren Nzoma | Detroit Public Schools Community District
Bradley Paddock | Walled Lake Consolidated District
Teri Rink | Michigan Department of Education
Nellie  McDaniel | Waverly Community Schools

Building Leader – Inclusive Leadership

Purpose: Make recommendations to address barriers to attracting, preparing and retaining special educators that are within a building leaders sphere of influence.
Goal: Identify practical, scalable and sustainable strategies to improve conditions for teaching and learning. 

Co-leads: Colin Ripmaster (MASSP) and Kathy Barker (MAASE)
Sarah Allen | Crawford Ausable School District
Rosaleigh Johnson | Walled Lake Consolidated Schools
Brad Hale | Brown City Community Schools
Todd Jones | Kent ISD
Amy Hendry | Warren Consolidated Schools
Heyam Alcodray | Dearborn Public Schools
Sherrie Buchzeiger | Oak Park Schools
Brent Jandron | Oakridge Public Schools
Amy Peterson | Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD
Gina Schmitt | Grand Haven Area Public Schools
Nicole Carter | Novi Community School District
Jacqueline Goosen | President Macomb Intermediate Federation of Teachers
Bradley Paddock | Farmington Public Schools
Cheryl Price | Concord Community Schools
CJ Van Wieren | Whitehall District Schools
Sidney Bailey IV | Portage Public Schools
Sandra Hargraves | Harrison Community Schools
Todd Simmons | Cedar Springs Public Schools
Lance Sumpter | Beecher Community School District
Susan Toth | South Lyons Community Schools
Christina Hinds | Northview Public Schools
Louis Steigerwald | Norway Vulcan Area Schools
Tawny Hisscock |  Atlanta Community Schools
Todd Simmons | Cedar Springs High School
Carol Greilick | NorthWest Ed, Special Education Director
Kristina Tepper | Principal, Havel Elementary, UCS
Jack Dodd | Principal, Maple Lane Elementary, Macomb ISD
William Jones | Hillside MS, Northville
Sid Bailey IV | Portage West Middle School
Kimberly Hodsdon | Malow Jr HS, Principal
Nicole Carter | Novi, Principal
Vernon Burden | Lake Orion, Assistant Principal
Gina Schmitt | Grand Haven High School
Sue Toth | Special Education Director, South Lyon Schools 
Kenyatta Hill-Hall | Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy
Val Boggan | Kalamazoo Central, Principal
Rukshana IIahi | GRPS, Special Education Director
Crystal Cutler | Ingham ISD/Lansing, Special Education Director

School Psychologists

The focus of this Action Group is to increase the number of school psychologists in Michigan and to remove the barriers for individuals entering the field.

Michele Millhouse | Clare Gladwin RESD
Tracy Hobbs | NorthWest Education Services
Dr. Cheryl Somers | Wayne State University
Dr. Amanda Unger | West Shore ESD
Renee Thelen | Clinton RESA
Dr. Jana Aupperlee | Michigan State University
Dr. Lauren Mangus | Beaumont/Corewell Health
Dr. Vincent Hodge | St Joseph County ISD
Dr. Sarah Rowe | University of Detroit Mercy
Syriah Dobis | Lake Orion Community Schools

Behavior Support

Kelly Rogers | Charlevoix-Emmet ISD Co-lead
Stephanie Dyer | Grand Valley State University Co-lead
Melissa Nantais | Michigan MTSS Co-lead
Abby Cypher | MAASE Facilitator
Renee Thelen | Facilitator Clinton County RESA Facilitator
Carolyn O’Hearn | Alt+Shift
Christine Dillon | North Country Community Mental Health
Amy Wassmann | Michigan Department of Education
Cynthia Carver | Oakland University
Stephen Seelye | Pellston Public Schools
Gina Sanderson | Lenawee ISD and START Project
Alex Keesling  | Genesee Intermediate School District 
Andrea (Angie) Jasper | Central Michigan University
Lynnette Borree | Clinton County iSD
Rebecca Hasson | University of Michigan
Lisa Grost | Parent/MDHHS State Hospitals
Jacob Daar | Northern Michigan University 
Mollie Tanner | Clinton Community Schools
Dolores Wylie | Detroit Public Schools Community District
Calvin Gage | Gage Consulting for Challenging Behavior LLC
Joe Zima | St. Clair County RESA
Sara Deyarmond | West Branch Rose City School
Craig Donahue | Michigan Health Council (MDE Contractor)
Sarah  Vander Baan | Choice Schools
Michele  Eaddy | Thrun Law Firm, P.C.
Amanda Thielen | Michigan Alliance for Families
John Shiner | Manistique Area Schools
Concetta Lewis | MAASE/Rochester Community Schools
Susan Toth | South Lyon Community Schools
Jennifeer VanTol | Tuscola ISD
Sarah VanderBaan | Choice Schools
Matt KoekKoek | Oakridge Public Schools
Leah Vagaski | Brandon School District
Jon LeFevre | Saginaw ISD
Cheryl Brown | Ann Arbor Public Schools
Terri Nekoogar | Macomb ISD
Nicole Goulet | Charlevoix -Emmet ISD
Jacob Daar | Nothern Michigan University
Christine Dillon | North Country CMH
Joe Zima | St. Clair County RESA
Sally Burton-Hoyle | Eastern Michigan University
Derek Nowka | Lincoln Park Public Schools
Lisa Grost | Michigan Department of Community Health
Nathan Konydyk | Washtenaw ISD
Kevin Robydek | Portland Public Schools
Nicole McGrath | Calhoun ISD
Shannon Shy | Livingston ESA
Stephen Gaitens | Lincoln Park Public Schools
Currine Demeuse | Clare Public Schools
Cyndi Geiger | Ionia ISD
Jaime Oppenlander | Grand Haven Area Public Schools
Amanda Theilen | Michigan Alliance for Families
Matthew Brodhead | Michigan State University
Hana Wasel | Cornerstone Charters
Amy Gjonaj | Oakland Schools
Angela Nettleton | Eastern UP ISD
Gina Sanderson | Lenawee ISD
Teresa Belote | St. Joseph County ISD
Michelle Etson | Mt. Morris Schools
Jackie Smith | Beckley School District
Trevor Warczinski | Macomb ISD
Lynette Borree Copper Country ISD
Stefanie Maiuri | Bridges Development Center
Angela Telfer | Kalamazoo RESA
Mike Esseily | Dearborn Public Schools
Heather Eckner | Autism Alliance of MIchigan
Briona McKinney | Oakland Schools
James Nuse | Ionia Public Schools
Andria Eisman | Wayne State University
Amy Wassman | MDE
Sarah Deyarmond | West Branch Rose City Schools
Mallory Bycraft | Bay-Arenac ISD
Fatima Otham | Oakland Schools

Speech and Language Pathologists

Speech Language Pathologists are in the process of identifying barriers (local and systemic) to attracting, preparing, and retaining school-based SLPs.

Eileen Prihoda | LSD, Executive SE Director
Megan Hanson, NCRESA | Rural, West, ISD
Diane Jandron | NMU Director of Clinical Services
Ann Marie Haan | SLP, Early On, KISD
Julie Rairigh | ELPS
Hannah High
Diane Katakowski
| Oakland ISD SLP Consultant
Kelli Pfiester | Five Lakes Therapy
Cori Dewey | TBAISD
Stacy Turke | OT, Ingham ISD


Peggy Yates | Co-lead Alma College
Chandra Madafferi | Co-lead MEA
Pam George | Cornerstone University
Michele Harmala | Madonna University
Tricia Bailey | Alma College

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Including Interpreters

Roxanne Balfour | MDE
Karen Howey | Retired Wayne RESA
Celeste Johnson | Wayne RESA
John Kirsh | MDE
Rex Vernon | Michigan School for the Deaf
Camille Jeter-Lorello | Michigan School for the Deaf
Debra Burkhardt | Kent ISD
Darlene Dorsette | Detroit Public Schools Community District
Tammy Nyen | Marquette-Alger RESA
Michelle VanKleek | Northwest Education Services
Leanne Hansen | Allegan Area ESA
Dan McDougal | Madonna University
April Davidson | Lansing Community College
Janel Frost | Michigan Hands and Voices
Sarah Freitag | Copper Country ISD
Kara Mounce | Kalamazoo RESA
Anita Vereb | University of Michigan
Chris Spike | Bloomfield Hills Schools
Megan Seipke-Dame | Bloomfield Hills Schools
Erin Seipke-Brown | Bloomfield Hills Schools

OPTIMISE Key Partners

OPTIMISE Leadership

Laurie VanderPloeg

OPTIMISE Consultant

Kathy Fortino

OPTIMISE Project Manager