CULLOWHEE – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $1.25 million grant to Western Carolina University for a five-year effort designed to address a shortage of qualified educators and other school staff who work with students with severe disabilities and to improve the knowledge and skills of current personnel in Western North Carolina.

The grant will allocate $250,000 per year to enable Western to provide financial assistance to prospective and current teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative personnel interested in working with students with severe disabilities.

Participants in the project will be required to provide special education services to children on a full-time basis for at least two years for every year of assistance they receive through the program.

“U.S. Department of Education data show there is a 10 percent shortage of fully certified special education teachers nationwide,” said David Westling, who holds Western’s Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professorship in Special Education. “In North Carolina, there is a 12 percent shortage, and the shortage is even greater statewide for teachers of students with severe disabilities.”

The grant is designed to enhance the quality of professional services for students with moderate, severe and profound disabilities, multiple disabilities and autism – students who present some of the most challenging demands to teachers, said Westling, who co-authored the grant proposal with Karena Cooper-Duffy, WCU assistant professor of special education.

More than 700 students with severe disabilities reside in the 18 mostly rural WNC school districts stretching from McDowell to Cherokee county. The number of teachers employed to teach those students is about 125, including some who are not fully licensed, Westling said, and the region is expected to need an even larger number of teachers in the next five years.

The Department of Education grant consists primarily of funds to provide training stipends to personnel working toward degree completion. The project will provide support for training at the educational specialist and master’s degree levels, for add-on licensure, or for paraprofessionals who wish to advance in their careers.

“This grant shows that the U.S. Department of Education has a high degree of confidence in the programs and personnel at Western and the university’s ability to make a difference in the region,” Westling said. “Only 26 of these awards were made nationwide, and we were in competition with some outstanding teacher education programs. We should be proud of this accomplishment and the opportunities it will provide for many teachers in Western North Carolina.”

The outcome of the project is to ensure that teachers and other school personnel working with students with disabilities are having a positive impact on the level of educational achievement reached by these students, said Cooper-Duffy.

“In these hard economic times, getting this grant is a true miracle,” she said. “We are really excited because this will provide true educational opportunities to many school system personnel in the western region, and to the students they serve.”

The new project builds on the success of Western’s Teacher Support Program, a three-year effort initiated by Westling and Cooper-Duffy and funded by a previous U.S. Department of Education grant of $600,000. The TSP was designed to help special education teachers across WNC translate research into practice in the classroom, reduce stress, and decrease “career burn-out” that often leads to early departure from the profession. The current grant also will provide funding to assist in the continuation of the TSP.

Prospective participants in the new project – including new undergraduate and graduate students as well as currently employed school personnel seeking additional training – should contact David Westling at (828) 227-3287 or via e-mail at westling@email.wcu.edu, or Karena Cooper-Duffy at (828) 227-3285 or via e-mail at kcooper@email.wcu.edu.

Maintained by the WCU Office of Public Relations
Last modified: Friday, October 3, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University