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SHSU To Work With Univ. Of Vermont

Ted Creighton
Ted Creighton

Sam Houston State University was one of only six universities in the nation recently selected to participate in a major nation-wide effort.

Through this initiative, led by the University of Vermont, modules of instruction will be designed to improve public education for students with disabilities and those considered “at risk” by preparing school principals and superintendents on ways to address such issues.

SHSU professor Ted Creighton and doctoral student Franci McConnell-Roberts have been chosen to work with the Institute for Leadership, Disability and Students Placed at Risk, an institute that is being established this fall at UVM after having received a $1 million anonymous gift specifically to initiate the effort.

“The two of us are charged with creating modules of instruction that we will distribute to all the universities who have principal and superintendent preparation programs,” Creighton said. “It is an attempt to get at the leaders, meaning the principals and superintendents of the schools, and help them understand how they can better design programs, instruction and activities to help students who we consider to be falling below the surface, or between the cracks.”

Those modules of instruction will come from an annual dissertation of each student scholar from the participating universities during the five-year project.

“Hopefully we are going to get six dissertations annually designed around helping leaders understand students with disabilities and those at risk of dropping out or failure of some kind,” he said.

McConnell-Roberts, who is the principal of The Rubicon Academy in The Woodlands, said she has chosen to explore the topic of collaborative community schools, which involves bringing different services to a campus, to benefit families with poor-paying jobs or none at all. Such services include social workers, psychologists, pediatricians, adult job trainers and placement advisers, legal assistants, tutors, and adult literacy and parenting specialists, she said.

“These are all separate agencies or professionals that the parents have to make appointments with, fill out paper work for, make financial arrangements with, take time off of work for and so forth; and, therefore, usually end up not doing it. On top of that, many parents do not hold a job or they have a very low-level, poor-paying job because of illiteracy problems,” McConnell Roberts said.

“Needless to say, children trying to grow and achieve in such an environment have a great deal of difficulty. They become poor learners and quite frequently discipline problems,” she continued. “This in turn leads to the problem of finding teachers who want to work in a disadvantaged environment. In other words, poverty breeds poverty because of the insurmountable walls that inhibit or prohibit these children and their families from being successful.”

Under the collaborative school program, all of these types of services become available on the school campus, making it, in essence, “the heartbeat of the community where all needs are met.

“The school is now the community center of the neighborhood, and open almost 24 hours a day, where the children receive all the educational, health, and emotional services right on their school campus," she said. "Parents receive training in literacy and parenting skills and job placement assistance right on the school campus.

“Student teachers do their in-service training, and hopefully return as fully certified teachers, on this type of campus and universities also lend their educational expertise to the teachers and administration of the school on a continuous daily or weekly basis.”

As part of her work, she and Creighton will author several modules, in video or DVD form, which will provide information such as what steps a school can and should follow to become a collaborative school environment, what schools are out there as role models, and statistical evidence that this approach is effective for disadvantaged and at-risk students.

“The results of the research will hopefully show statistically significant evidence that this type of environment contributes to higher student achievement and is more beneficial to low income, at-risk students than the usual public school situation, thereby making this type of school reform a viable option in urban and poor rural areas of the country,” she said.

In addition to the research itself, Creighton will be responsible for selecting a different doctoral student every two years to participate in the program.

Preliminary surveys have found that of the 600 universities with programs in high school administration preparation, most have said they would utilize the materials being produced in this effort, Creighton said.

“An important feature of this program is that there will be no charge, so we would get in touch with professors and say, ‘You’re teaching principal preparation. Is there anything we can help you with; would you like to have the following resources? And it’s just a question of them saying ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” he said.

Though the project was initiated by Susan Hasazi, professor of educational leadership and special education at UVM, Creighton said the only tie SHSU and the other schools have to the university is a training orientation at the university and the funding that is coming from it. Creighton and McConnell-Roberts received Stafford Faculty and Student Scholarships for their research.

“The real power of this particular project is that it is not tied to a lot of restrictions and conditions. They’re leaving the individual universities pretty much alone in terms of designing what instruction they think is appropriate,” he said. “It’s pretty loose in terms of what Franci and I decide to contribute, which is good.”

The positions of the participating universities geographically will give the institute more diverse findings on some of the same issues because the universities span the U.S. directionally. The other universities chosen to participate include the universities of Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah and Oregon.

“Things are different around the country enough that if we all were restricted in the same way, in my mind, I don’t think it would work at all. It’s regional in that sense,” he said. “All six of us will contribute to the larger pie, so to speak, that all professors will have access to.”

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Sept. 16, 2003
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