Regional Collaborative Networks: Creating Stronger Communities to Support Students

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in January 2024. 

The Beginnings of the RCN
When the START Project launched in 2001, we wondered how a small team of START staff could address the needs of students with autism in a large, diverse state. As we connected with ISDs and districts across the state, we immediately knew that our best hope of supporting students with autism in every part of Michigan was by working regionally with the staff and administrators embedded in schools. They were our best resource as they knew their communities, students, and families best.

Creating networks within each region of the state provided a system of communication and collaboration. This allowed staff supporting students with autism to come together to not only learn from START but to contribute their work to be shared across the state and build capacity to deliver evidence-based educational programming to all autistic students. The Regional Collaborative Networks (RCN) became the state-level infrastructure for START, allowing regular communication and sharing that strengthened the work of all.

Organization and Values of RCN
The RCN map shows the geographic organization of RCN, with some RCN made up of multiple ISDs while the larger ISDs serve as their own RCN. Members of the RCN, including school staff and family representatives, meet regularly to address priority areas that support the education of students with autism. These priorities allow ISD and district staff to meet local needs for evidence-based training and coaching support to school staff. 

"[W]e are all working toward creating educational environments that promote inclusion, belonging, and meaningful opportunities for every student."

The RCN are linked by a common set of values about how to best serve autistic students. Our shared values are communicated in the work we do together and are conveyed through the training curriculum and the START-isms, which can be seen in schools around the state. Fundamentally, we are all working toward creating educational environments that promote inclusion, belonging, and meaningful opportunities for every student. 

RCN share these key components:

  • Shared mission, philosophy, and goals consistent with START 
  • Training and coaching for implementation of evidence-based practices 
  • Development and dissemination of information, resources, and tools to support students and families 
  • Collaboration with school partners, families, and regional stakeholders

What do RCN members do? 

  • Define, implement, and evaluate goals based on the annual priorities and the identified needs of the region.
  • Ensure representation of districts in their region.
  • Meet regularly to address defined goals and implementation of planned activities. 
  • Network, share, and problem-solve to benefit school staff, students, and families across the region. 
  • Promote the development of trainers in their region who disseminate evidence-based practices. 
  • Share progress through stories and data, and report on challenges and local needs.

How does START work with the RCN?

  • Provide contract funding to RCN to implement goals around the priority areas of training, coaching, implementation of evidence-based practices, and peer to peer support.
  • Attend RCN meetings to share information and learn from the members. 
  • Provide training and ongoing support to trainers and coaches to build expertise in every region.
  • Host state leadership meetings for collaboration and planning. 
  • Facilitate a bi-directional communication system that allows START to 1) share information and resources with RCN to pass along to schools and families, and 2) capture feedback and innovative practices from RCN representatives working with schools to further develop training opportunities and resources.

START-RCN Partnership
In the 2022-2023 school year, Michigan had 25,147 students with an autism eligibility for special education services. It is through partnerships with the RCN that START is able to reach so many students. RCN members are generous with their ideas, resources, and time so that Michigan has a network of hundreds of school professionals who continue to build on each other's work. The START Project’s role is to develop, facilitate, and support the direct work of RCN. 

START is grateful for the dedication of our RCN partners who share the mission of supporting students with autism and related disabilities to have opportunities to be engaged in their community, learn alongside their peers, and experience a rich, meaningful life.

Written by: Amy Matthews, Ph.D., BCBA, Project Director and Jana Benjamin, J.D., Project Manager

START RCN Webpage and RCN Map
START and RCN - Informational Flyer

Page last modified July 8, 2024