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UNF receives $3.5M US Dept. of Education grant to prepare rural special education administrators

The University of North Florida, in a collaboration with the University of Oklahoma and the University of Louisville, has been awarded a $3.5M grant from the U.S. Department of Education to address the critical shortages of special education administrators to serve in rural districts.

Project SPIDERS (School-university Partnerships Influencing aDvocating and Engaging Rural Special Educators) will kick off this spring. The funding will support 18 doctoral students (six at UNF) through doctoral programs that prepare special education personnel who are well-qualified for and can act effectively in leadership positions in rural school systems.

“Recent research ranks Florida, Oklahoma, and Kentucky amongst the highest need rural schools in the country,” explained Dr. David Hoppey, UNF SPIDERS program director. “Our goal is to prepare scholars that have the opportunity to impact special education policy and practice in the areas most needed.”

Scholars will receive tuition and fees for four years, a stipend of $15,000 annually, research support of $7,000, classes across the three partner institutions, mentored internship experiences, targeted professional development activities, and the opportunity to conduct research and program evaluation that supports rural special education teachers, students and families.

Emerging research suggests that rural school leaders report significant challenges in monitoring special education caseloads, providing access to appropriate instructional materials, and participating in the development of district-wide goals related to students with disabilities. These challenges are confounded by the difficulty in recruiting and retaining special education teachers in rural districts.

The overall goal of Project SPIDERS is to equip rural special education scholars with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to lead rural districts forward in the area of special education. Leadership competencies embedded in the grant include: developing an understanding of applied research methods needed to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and services for students with disabilities; building leadership capacity in the area of special education policy and advocacy; and developing and facilitating teacher professional learning that targets using research-based strategies that show promise for improving outcomes for students with disabilities. These efforts will occur as the scholars engage in a network across the three universities and states.

Faculty involved include Dr. Pam Williamson, UNF Exceptional, Deaf and Interpreter Education chair, and Dr. David Hoppey, UNF program director, as well as Dr. Brittany Hott from the University of Oklahoma and Dr. Ginevra Courtade from the University of Louisville.

Learn more at the UNF Project SPIDERS website.