Identifying the Special Education Customer: Where Should You Sharpen Your Lens?


Whether board member, administrator, or service provider, it can be difficult to identify, in a crowded field of stakeholders, where to focus.  The Harvard Business Review (Nov/Dec 2017) reports that "studies consistently report that three-quarters of change efforts flop -- either they fail to deliver the anticipated benefits, or they are abandoned entirely."  Often, the authors describe, because the "quest" is off target.


HBR goes on to state the "organization must identify the specific quest that will lead to greater value generation."  Okay, so we know 'value,' but what does this mean for a school district enterprise?  Let's take a closer look at HBR's 'Five Quests' to see where a school district fits in:


1. Global presence:  which we can translate to 'Community presence'


2. Customer focus: "understanding your customer's needs, and providing enhanced insights, experiences or outcomes..."


3. Nimbleness: "accelerating processes or simplifying how work gets done to become more strategically, operationally, and culturally agile."


4. Innovation


5. Sustainability


Generally, the community presence of a given school system is already in scope.  If community support is missing, it is usually apparent in the metrics of funding voter levies, and volunteerism.  Having eyes on your volunteer program including engagement and retention rates, and building relationships with local employers to incentivize employee volunteerism are effective ways to increase community presence for the school system, as well as job engagement for the worker.  Further, having a diverse and meaningful set of tasks will ensure that the volunteer corps feels valued and is motivated to return.


Regarding customer focus, it is apparent that special education services remain an area of consistent need, but one that can appear resistant to true innovation.  Further, in the scope of special education services, who is the actual customer?  The inability to thoroughly define the 'customer' may be the value limiter.  Take some time and develop an action plan for all of your customers.  Failure to take the perspective of each leaves gaps where both quality and value escape the system. 


The student and family are obvious 'customers' but tend to be geographically defined.  Nevertheless, you'll already have existing metrics in place to determine your performance in this role.  In the special education space, the role of 'customer' becomes quite crowded with the addition of specialist staff (OT, PT, SLP) and the ongoing needs of a quality therapy team which at times feels like a separate enterprise altogether.  Examining your therapy team as a 'customer' may be one way to manage recruitment, retention and continuing education needs of this demanding, but critical workforce.  What factors affect these metrics in your district, and which of them feel in your control?  Are there benefits to outsourcing the therapy team to a contracted provider, allowing you to focus on the relationship between the district and the certificated/classroom staff? 


Speaking of contracted providers, these vendor relationships may prove to be your quest's sweet spot.  By contracting with a vendor, the district gets to be the customer while the agent works hard to retain your business, your satisfaction, and meet your value metrics.


Something to consider.  


Next month we'll be discussing innovation tools with small budgets.  Join our newsletter and stay up-to-date with school-based therapy insights from STARS!


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Topics: School-based Therapy, Speech Therapy, Special Education, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy

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STARS School Services

Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy Pre-K and K-12:

  • Direct therapy to children with disabilities (ages 3-21) as specified within the IEP
  • Consultative services and training for classroom/special education teachers and other implementers of students’ goals/objectives
  • OT/PT/ST screenings and evaluations
  • Participation in diagnostic evaluations/staffing and IEP meetings
  • Preparation of required reports/documentation of services
  • Consultation on assistive technology and equipment needs
  • Extended school year coverage
  • Homebound services (as needed)
  • Other therapy-related assistance to IEP committee/school district as needed


Effective Scheduling

STARS School Services uses an electronic system of time monitoring and therapist scheduling. The system is used throughout the STARS’ program and is monitored on-site and at our corporate offices. This system allows for the effective scheduling of student therapy sessions, IEP minutes and therapy personnel.



• Cost Savings
• Predictable Annual Cost


• Accountability
• Proven Service Delivery Model


• Monitored Productivity Standards
• Automated Systems


• Compliance
• Proven Trust