The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services is excited to announce that Laurie VanderPloeg is joining the team as Director for the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). We have full confidence that Laurie’s depth of knowledge and experience as well as her dedication to preparing students for success will move us forward in our commitment to raise expectations and improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities across the country.
Laurie has dedicated the past 38 years to ensuring that students with disabilities have access to a high-quality education, and her passion for empowering students to succeed began long before she entered the field. Laurie’s mom was a teacher who helped develop one of the first instructional support models for a school district in Lansing, MI, and her work ethic inspired Laurie to seek a similar career path.
“My mom was my first mentor and role model,” Laurie said. “I watched her commitment to her profession and observed her passion for meeting the individual needs of students.”
During the four years she spent earning her Bachelor of Science degree at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI, Laurie’s passion for meeting the needs of students with disabilities grew. After she graduated in 1976, she kicked off her career by working with high school students as a special education teacher at Wayland Union Schools.
Laurie’s experience in the field of special education expands far beyond the classroom. After teaching high schoolers and middle schoolers for 15 years, Laurie returned to Grand Valley to earn her master’s degree in special education administration, which has proven valuable in her work. She has since served as supervisor of special education for Grand Rapids Public School District, special education consultant with the Michigan Department of Corrections, and most recently as director of special education for Kent Intermediate School District. She also plays a vital role in helping special education administrators develop strong leadership competencies by teaching classes in Grand Valley’s Special Education Administration Program.
As Laurie steps into the role of OSEP Director next month, she is excited about the opportunities this position will afford her to continue raising expectations and improving outcomes for children with disabilities.
“My focus will be on developing and supporting an effective system that is going to meet the unique and individual needs of children with disabilities,” Laurie said. “We need to look at the structures we have in place to ensure that each child is prepared for success.”
Laurie believes one key element to preparing children for success is confronting the shortage of special education personnel that the nation is currently facing, and she aims to support States in their work to recruit and retain special education professionals. Through the leadership roles Laurie has held with the Council for Exceptional Children, the Council of Administrators of Special Education, and other national organizations, Laurie has built strong relationships with local special education directors and state special education leaders, and she looks forward to continuing these partnerships in her new role as OSEP Director.
In addition to her professional experience serving children with disabilities, Laurie brings to the Department a more personal interest in improving special education. She is the mother of a son with disabilities, so she has a unique understanding of the obstacles that families of children with disabilities face.
Laurie’s commitment to supporting special education teachers, administrators, and instructors across the country reflects her commitment to helping every child reach their full potential and lead successful lives. Please join us in welcoming Laurie to the U.S. Department of Education, where we are all working together to rethink special education and ensure that nothing limits any child or student from being prepared for what comes next.