Houston ISD, University of St. Thomas join forces on special-ed leadership program
The University of St. Thomas School of Education has received a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare graduate students for leadership positions in special education.
According to a school release, UST is working with the the Houston Independent School District over a five-year period to alleviate a shortage of special education leaders.
The university and school district are recruiting candidates for a study program that will award 80 master's degrees in education with an emphasis on special education leadership.
"We are thrilled to partner with the University of St. Thomas on this initiative that will help Houston's schools better serve students in our special education program," Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier said in the release. "In HISD, we believe that all students deserve to attend schools that are run by highly effective campus leaders, and that is especially true for students with special needs."
Dr. Randy Soffer, grant director and UST School of Education assistant professor, said training special education teachers and educational leaders is fairly common, according to the release. Where this program differs, Soffer said, is that it aims to train master-level students to become special education leaders.
"The Office of Special Education Services in HISD is very forward thinking, and we feel our collaboration on this grant project will be very productive," Soffer said in the release.
With almost 8 percent of the district's student population involved in special education classes, there is a need to improve the quality of special education services, Soffer said in the release.
One area in need of improvement, according to the release, is putting the focus of special education instruction on post-secondary education and employment opportunity rather than strictly academic gain at the primary or secondary level.
The program will focus on on low-performing and high-poverty schools serving students with mild to moderate disabilities. It will combine online and personal instruction classes.
Also, according to the release, the program will culminate in a practicum course master's students are required to complete in order to apply what they have learned. The program also includes a service project related to the work students are expected to do after graduation.
The program requires students to work for two years in a special education leadership role for every year they receive a scholarship from the grant.
The Houston Independent School District is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States. It has 279 schools and more than 200,000 students in a 301-square-mile area.
The University of St. Thomas, founded by the Basilian Fathers, is Houston's only Catholic University, the release states.
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