UT receives $1.25M grant to support children with special needs in public school programs

October 11, 2013 | News, UToday, Judith Herb College of Education
By Samantha Watson

School supervisors and administrators throughout Ohio have the option to improve their early childhood special education programs with the help of a University of Toledo program funded by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Project LEA, or Leading Educators in Advancing Inclusive Early Education, addresses the knowledge and skills of supervisors of teachers who work with young children with special needs. The focus of the grant is assisting supervisors in helping early childhood special education teachers become more effective, while improving the quality of early childhood special education programs.

“In the past, we’ve always worked with teachers,” said Dr. Laurie Dinnebeil, UT professor of early childhood, physical and special education, and a co-principal investigator of the grant. “We were really excited to submit this proposal because a lot of teacher effectiveness depends on how well the supervisor does his or her job.”

The award will fund a two-year online graduate-level program for four cohorts of supervisors during the five-year span of the grant. Participants will earn an education specialist degree from the University.

Dinnebeil and her colleagues will recruit participants this fall, and the program is scheduled to begin in spring 2014. Supervisors enrolled in the program will participate in online discussions and interact with one another via video chat and periodic meetings with instructors and classmates in Columbus.

As a result of the program, administrators and supervisors will learn how to better use children’s progress data as well as data related to program quality to examine the direction of their programs. This can lead to informed improvements in the program and also help to retain talented special education teachers.

“One of the things we do know is supervisors and administrators play a really big role in the effectiveness of programs,” said Ed Cancio, UT associate professor of early childhood, physical and special education, who is co-principal investigator of the grant. “What we’re finding out from the literature is that administrative support is one of the key issues in retaining quality special educators.”

This competitive grant is funded through the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. Sixteen of 77 applications were funded, and UT is the only program in Ohio to receive an award.

Dinnebeil and Cancio worked with Professor Emeritus Bill McInerney and Project Manager Lyn Hale to write the grant, which was rated very highly by reviewers; it earned 103 of a possible 105 points.

“There’s a real need for projects like this,” Dinnebeil said. “I hope that the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Special Education Programs continue to see the value of supporting leaders in the field of public education.”

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