University of Vermont

Ed.D. Program Lands Major Grant to Prepare Special Education Administrators

The University of Vermont’s doctoral program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies won a $992,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund a five-year project aimed at increasing the number and quality of special education administrators in the state.

The grant, among 16 selected from a pool of 85 proposals, will fund the Transformative Leadership for Special Education Administrators Project designed by faculty in the College of Education and Social Services to prepare special education administrators at the local, district and state level. Approximately 70 percent of the grant will be used to cover tuition and fees in the form of paid internships for five doctoral-level students in the Ed.D Program focused on special education leadership.

Key aspects of the UVM project include a commitment to evidence-based practices that promote effective interventions, integrated and inclusive supports, and culturally responsive and collaborative partnerships with families; the development of leaders whose research and leadership will support inclusive policies and funding mechanisms; and embedded practicum and dissertation experiences in high-needs schools. Faculty and students will rely heavily on partnerships with local high schools with high-needs children; special education administrators; the Partnership for Change Grant funded by the Nellie Mae Foundation; and the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at UVM.           

Katharine Shepherd and Kieran Killeen, both associate professors in the Ed.D program with experience in special education, served as co-principal investigators on the grant, which was in response to a call from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to address a nationwide need for more special education administrators. It was also based on feedback from UVM alumni working in the field. “Our alumni, many of whom are experts in the field, brought us a tangible problem that we felt needed to be addressed,” said Shepherd. “This really came from the ground up based on feedback from alumni working in the field, who really care about special education.”

Meagan Roy, Director of Student Services at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union and 2010 graduate of UVM’s Ed.D program, was among the alums offering insight into how the program could better prepare special education administrators in Vermont, which has 90 supervisors and administrators serving about 14,000 students with disabilities. According to the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators, Vermont is lacking candidates with the skills needed to oversee implementation of best practices and systems that respond to increased student diversity in Vermont’s schools.

“Education is different than it was 10, 15 even five years ago and so are the skills needed for educational leadership,” said Roy. “Taking a special ed law class and a school business management class is not going to sufficiently prepare you for leading in a system, so the fact that there’s now a more cohesive program at the doctoral level is very exciting. One of the things I really like about the grant is that the program they’re developing starts to think differently about special education leadership versus general education leadership, which prior to now has been very separate. None of the current research supports that siloed approach to education."