About Us

Systems Development & Improvement (SDI) Center at the University of Cincinnati

The Systems Development & Improvement (SDI) Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology fosters the development, implementation, and evaluation of PK20 education research and demonstration efforts that improve opportunities to learn for children and youth, their families, and the professionals who support them. At the core of many SDI Center activities is a commitment to advocacy on behalf of all children, as well as partnerships – with school districts, with professional associations, with institutions of higher education, with regional providers, with the state – to assist in improvement efforts for all students. One such initiative is the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation (OPEPP).

The OPEPP work involves continuous learning to share current and effective knowledge, skills, and practices that help educators meet a wide range of educational needs. It also focuses on systemic improvement grounded in evidence-based practices that optimize benefits for all learners.


Systems Development & Improvement Center Staff and Partners

Deborah Telfer, Ph.D., Deborah Telfer, Ph.D., Director, SDI Center

Jennifer Ottley, Ph.D., Research Director, SDI Center

Aimee Howley, Ed.D., President, WordFarmers Associates, LLC


The OPEPP Mission

The Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation (OPEPP) helps districts build the capacity to include and leverage paraprofessional educator expertise effectively.


Our Beliefs

Paraprofessionals add to the overall instructional capacity of districts

  • Effective education for all students is possible only in systems that take action to ensure equity and inclusiveness.
  • Instruction works best when it is a team effort that includes general educators, special educators, paraprofessional educators, and related service personnel.
  • Paraprofessional educators add to the overall instructional capacity of districts.
  • Intentional planning is necessary to ensure that districts make wise use of the instructional capacity of all educators, including paraprofessional educators.

Our Goals

Our mission is to ensure school districts use paraprofessional educators effectively

  • Improve district, school, and teacher use of paraprofessional educator services to advance learning for all students;
  • Improve the capacity of instructional teams by mobilizing and coordinating all personnel, including paraprofessional educators;
  • Provide guidance and supports to districts in helping build the professional knowledge and skills of paraprofessional educators;
  • Provide guidance and supports to districts in helping build the professional knowledge and skills of teachers for their work with paraprofessional educators;
  • Help districts and schools deploy staffing arrangements that fit with best practice while also addressing local needs; and
  • Inform state-level policies and actions to promote the use of inclusive service delivery models that support the learning of all students.

Our Standards-Driven Model

The OPEPP model is built upon the Council for Exceptional Children’s Standards for Paraprofessional Preparation. These standards recognize the significance of paraprofessional educators in the improvement of teaching and learning for all students.

OPEPP offers online learning modules and workshops, technical assistance and professional development packages, and online resources and support. These resources were built to help teachers and paraprofessional educators respond to the complex demands of their work, and to work together to overcome challenges and help students attain mastery in academics and other areas of life.

Paraprofessional educators serve an essential function as part of instructional teams positioned to support the delivery of high-quality instruction to all students and thereby improve their learning opportunities and outcomes. With these goals in view, OPEPP focuses on three priority areas:

Service Delivery Redesign and Technical Assistance

Customized technical assistance and consultation to support district and school teams. Expert OPEPP Consultants use tools and protocols- created in partnership with many Ohio districts over time- to help facilitate teams to (1) analyze existing service delivery approaches, (2) design and define paraprofessional educator roles to most effectively serve students, and (3) build an open and collaborative school culture in which inclusive practices can be supported systemwide and over time.

Services include:

  • Orientation to the OPEPP model for district teams
  • Creation of tailored technical assistance packages
  • Facilitation of a District Action Planning process and ongoing implementation support
  • Data and research inquiries, findings, and reports
Online and Face-to-Face Learning

Customized online and face-to-face professional learning and networking opportunities. These services enable educators and district and school-based teams to learn from experts and from each other through varied PD aligned to Ohio’s priorities, and designed to improve instruction and learning for all students.

Services include:

  • Tailored professional development packages aligned to a district’s action plan
  • Facilitated or team-led evidence-based instructional series and courses
  • Resources to support your multilingual learners
  • Workshops and webinars
  • Online and in-person support for teams and PD
Access to Information, Resources, and Support

Access to current research-based learning resources for educators on topics relevant to district and school use of personnel, including paraprofessional educators and teacher-para teams, to help improve instruction for all students.

Services include:

  • Self-paced webinars, modules, and other learning resources
  • Digital and print learning resources
  • English Learner Toolkit

Our Partner Districts

The OPEPP project has supported the work of districts across the state. Below is a map representing past and current OPEPP partner districts.

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