University of Vermont

CDCI Community Partner Profile: Meet John Spinney, Post-Secondary Education Transition Coordinator

John works at the Agency of Education (AOE) as the Post-Secondary Transition Coordinator. We got to learn more about what brought John to the AOE and what motivates him to continue his work.

Career and Background

I grew up in a large family and my 2 youngest brothers both have Down Syndrome and were adopted as infants by my family as part of a special needs adoption process. Both of my parents were educators and education leaders. True inclusion and equity for all people was something that was instilled in me from a very young age and still to this day drives my work in education. Growing up with brothers who have disabilities has certainly inspired my work. I have been at the Vermont Agency of Education for 13 years and my work focuses on two primary areas – Transition Planning for high school students with disabilities and the implications of Act 77 for students with disabilities. I am lead on many projects related to helping VT educators get professional learning and increased capacity for delivering high-quality inclusive transition practices. Much of this work involves whole school systems in terms of creating pathways where all students can transition successfully and reach their post-school outcomes. With a robust transition process in place for all students (read: personalized learning for all) then the special educators can skillfully figure out how their students can best access this. 

For the Act 77 Flexible Pathways legislation and the implications for students with disabilities, I am involved with many collaborative projects related to this and are aimed at equity and accessibility. View the VT AOE Case Study Learning Project and see the 6 case studies that highlight the interrelationship between the PLP, IEP transition plan, and how to make the proficiency-based graduation requirements accessible for all students.

Prior to coming to AOE in 2005 I was the education director at Transitional Services for Youth and Families in Burlington, VT. My role there was to work with students who had severe maladaptive behavior and try to get them back on track with their education which included transition planning and ideally transition them back to the regular high school. When I first started at AOE I was actually the residential review coordinator but within a year or so that changed to covering all aspects transition planning best practices. Then when Act 77 was passed that was added on to my job as well.

Motivations and Successes

My main motivation is trying to continue to build on the inclusive philosophy Vermont has and keep pushing on what we can do to further make schools more inclusive and equitable for all students. Honestly, the case study learning project and the 4 years it took to put it all that together with the help of our skilled contractor (Lee Ann Jung) has been very rewarding. I really hope schools can pull from this work and incorporate aspects of it into their systems. Again, a lot of this work impacts whole school systems, not just special education and that is how we need to think. Special education should not be something that is separate and should be carried out in a way that allows for students with disabilities to access the same curriculum as their general education peers in a manner that strives to reduce stigma.