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Thursday, November 30, 2006

End of an era

I hear that Phil Gieseler is leaving the SLD. I can't say I'm happy about that. I often disagreed with Phil, but I always appreciated that he was willing to explain his thinking and to listen to mine. (Or at least appear to listen.)

But what I remember Phil for best was the epiphany he gave me at the beginning of my consulting career. After having submitted applications for school districts for years, I had, shall we say, an ill opinion of the SLD, finding them capricious and intractable. Then I went to the old "Train-the-Trainer" session in DC. (For those new to the program, training used to be given to 4 representatives from each state who were then to turnkey the training to the applicants in their state.) I remember when Phil got up to give his presentation, I was all excited. Here was the guru of eligibility, the ultimate arbiter of appropriateness. Finally, I could get straight answers to my many questions on eligibility, straight from the horse's mouth.

But then in his introductory remarks, he said something like: "I think I have a pretty good handle on the FCC's thinking on eligible services." My jaw dropped, and my spirits fell; where could I get answers to my questions?

Then the scales fell from my eyes, and I finally understood: the SLD was not making capricious decisions, they were just trying to figure out what the FCC wanted. That one sentence changed my whole approach to the SLD. The SLD is not the enemy, they are just trying to do what the FCC wants. They cannot give straight answers to simple questions unless the FCC has given that straight answer, and like me, they are groping in the fog. The SLD doesn't get to make the decision they think is right, they follow the rules set down by the FCC as best they can. No longer do I try to convince them that I am right. Instead, I try to convince them that the FCC wants whatever it is I'm asking for. And now I have a nice relationship with the SLD, and I like my job better.

So thanks for that, Phil. That one sentence was more important to my understanding of this program than anything you could have said about eligible services. You made my professional life much more pleasant. Best wishes.

One thing I've been wondering since that fateful Train-the-Trainer: were Phil and Sam Waterston separated at birth?

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