From Middle School Student Volunteer to Assistant Secretary: Meet OSERS Assistant Secretary Glenna Wright-Gallo

Glenna Wright-Gallo, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

By Kristen Kushiyama, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

The U.S. Department of Education welcomed Glenna Wright-Gallo as the assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), May 15.

Wright-Gallo, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as OSERS assistant secretary, May 10, 2023, has spent more than 25 years supporting students and adults with disabilities.

Her experience includes working in a school district as a special education teacher and an administrator before she served in leadership positions at Utah and Washington’s state educational agencies.

As the Utah State Board of Education’s state director of special education, Wright-Gallo emphasized monitoring to improve outcomes — specifically under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Her work as Washington’s assistant superintendent of special education in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction enabled the state to strengthen collaboration between students with disabilities and general education partners and families.

“At the state level, I had the ability to work with stakeholders and partners to design a monitoring system that addressed the needs of students across the state,” Wright-Gallo said.

With the needs of the state in mind, Wright-Gallo encouraged an examination of how resources were used and consideration of opportunities to be more responsive to students’ and families’ needs.

Coming into her role as the OSERS assistant secretary, Wright-Gallo acknowledged the vital need for supporting infants, toddlers, children, youth, and adults with disabilities at the right time in their lives.

“I have felt a sense of urgency in every position I’ve ever had,” Wright-Gallo said. “When I was a teacher, I was with those students for a year if I was lucky and had limited time to make a difference. At the state and federal levels, we must remember how important this work is and that what we accomplish will impact real children and families.”

She noted the urgency is often due to the finite time allotted to each phase of development and learning for individuals with disabilities.

“We have a limited time for early intervention, for preschool, for pre-K through 12th grade and for post-secondary education. If someone isn’t getting vocational rehabilitation services to help identify careers they are interested in and get the supports they need, there’s a loss of earning potential and career advancement,” Wright-Gallo said. “All of these stages are very timebound and have a tremendous impact on the individual. If we lose sight of that, we lose our effectiveness.”

Additionally, Wright-Gallo cited her interest in identifying areas for improvement, making strides to improve those areas and challenging pre-conceived beliefs about what individuals with disabilities can achieve.

“I want to improve things; I want to change things that are not working; I don’t want to admire problems; and I like to ensure that I will meet the requirements of whatever it is I want to do. That has really driven me to continue my education and learning in areas of interest,” she said.

Wright-Gallo’s personal journey to improve people’s lives started at a young age, and she knew she always wanted to be a teacher. She first gained an interest in programs serving students with disabilities during her middle school summers. Wright-Gallo’s neighbor, who was a master’s student in the University of Nevada – Las Vegas special education program, would take her daughter and Wright-Gallo to the university in the summers. The two girls helped at the university’s integrated preschool program, which Wright-Gallo described as similar to a model demonstration site or an evidence-based program example that could be implemented more broadly.

In college as an education major, Wright-Gallo had not decided to specialize in special education until she had the chance to take an introduction to special education course.

“As part of the class, they had us do some site visits and observations,” Wright-Gallo said. “I knew immediately where I was meant to be and switched my focus of study to special education.”

Wright-Gallo’s undergraduate internships gave her the opportunity to work with students with behavioral support needs.

“I’ve been really intrigued by behavior and behavior as a form of communication,” Wright-Gallo said. “Every time I had the opportunity to dig into an area of interest, I took it. I was supported in my undergrad studies and throughout my entire career to be able to explore those options and interests, and it has led me to where I am today.”

Wright-Gallo became a special education teacher and continued to pursue her interest of working with students with disabilities.

“As an early career teacher, I already had a predisposition and interest in working with students with behavioral communication needs and gained some additional expertise in that area,” Wright-Gallo said.

Wright-Gallo decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education, which created opportunities in her district that allowed her to gain a specialized skill set around working with students with disabilities and students with the most significant behavioral support needs.

These experiences helped shape her path to leadership roles and attitude for improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.

“I think it’s imperative that each of us takes a stand — that we identify what needs to be improved and commit to making those changes personally and professionally. That’s the only way we are going to move ahead,” Wright-Gallo said. “We are in this line of work because we care deeply about the community for various reasons, whether it has to do with our background, our lived experiences, our family members or our personal philosophies.”


  1. Just seeing this article now, promoted by a blast on the 200 million dollar pilot on improving post secondary outcomes. In learning about that and reading about your background (macro and micro) and particular interests (e.g. children with behavior communication needs), I was so impressed. You are just what the doctor ordered to shake up business as usual in special education on the fed, state. and local level. While I am now mostly retired, I worked as a disabilities rights lawyer for about 45 or my 50 year legal career. I had the distinct pleasure of working with whom I consider some of the pioneers e.g. Lou Brown, Anne Donnelan, Gary Lavigne, Bob York, Mike Giangreco (spelling), Mark Gold, Allen Crocker, MD, Ed Sontag. and so many otherd on the children’s and adult side of disabilities. You seem to be cut from the same mold as those folks, passion-wise and skills and knowledge wise. Keep up the great work.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. It is great to know a person with a background in teaching special education with a passion for learning is in a leadership role.

  3. Congratulations, and Welcome.nuestros estudiantes no pueden serguir siendo tratados injustamente discriminados por distritos escolares que violan los derechos y acosan alas familias . Confiamos en el canbio de este sistema en tus manos . Nuestros hijos con el apoyo apropiado son capases de aportar mucho aesta nacion !! Bienbenida.

  4. My name is Aurea Ortiz, mother of a son that was born with multiple disabilities. I feel your passion, because it is the same type of passion and commitment for education that I have. Everyday was a tick tock clock with my first child because as a mother in Puerto Rico in the late 80’s it was almost impossible to get help. My husband and I had to work very hard to pay all services for my child because there was no help. Came to PA when he was 4, not able to talk in any language, OCD, ADD and Mild Autism. Finally, I found the financial and medical help that he needed. It took a good developmental doctor at Good Sheppard, Dr. Seneft, and a good team to get him rolling, and good teachers. It woke me to understand that parents need to be 100 percent involved. Went back to school and studied special education and was able to help my son and be a team member in his IEP. Went and became a School Board member at BASD to help change the way the school system sometimes leave these children behind. Worked with a state representative that care about education. Got involved with my church and community in getting this word out. Now retired, at 62 years old, I can look back at that young woman that was going crazy with her first child, not knowing what to do, to a woman that had a purpose and a mission. My son is 35 years old. He graduated from High School, graduated from Community College and went to Missouri for his Bachelor. He even signed up to student interchange in Russia during his community college years. It was the sense of urgency as a mother and a wonderful team of teachers, therapist, friends, church and community that build up my son. I am grateful because I know that a good education changes everything. Now I am retired from the state but still working in my community. Working with my husband that is a Pastor. Helping other mothers that had the same fears that I had and the sense that the clock was running out of time. I prepared my son for life because I knew I was not going to live forever. Thank you for your passion and you have an ally in Bethlehem, PA that will pray for you to be successful in this great endeavor. I am a volunteer at Bethlehem WDIY NPR radio show called Charla Comunitaria and we give information and interview people making a difference in our community.
    We would love to have you one day so more people will understand that there has to be a sense of urgency, passion and purpose when we deal with the issue of special education and education in general. This podcast airs only once a month and the interview is in English, but I make sure that our Spanish audience also understand what are we talking about. Once again, welcome and thank you for being straight forward in the way you present the urgency and the great responsibility of educating the generation that will be taking care of all of us in the near future.
    With gratitude

  5. I look forward to your leadership at the national level! You have proven yourself time and time again with a sharp focus on equitable education for students with disabilities. I can’t wait to see the changes that you will lead our special education system through in the coming years. Congratulations!

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