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ECU receive $2 million for special education training

(Nov. 12, 2003)   —   East Carolina University has received $2.05 million in federal grants designed to answer a growing demand for more special education teachers in the region's public schools.

Sandra Warren, assistant professor of special education in the College of Education, is the principal investigator for the two grants from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The grants are especially welcome, Warren said, given the impending teacher shortage and federal demands for improved student performance.

"At this point, federal support is critical to ensure an adequate supply of personnel to serve children with disabilities and to improve the quality of training programs so that graduates possess the necessary skills," Warren said.

At a time when school districts nationwide are experiencing teacher shortages, districts that historically have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers, particularly those in rural areas, are scrambling for staff. Experts estimate that North Carolina will need as many as 80,000 new teachers during the next decade. With the turnover rate for teachers in some eastern North Carolina counties as high as 43 percent, that number could be significantly higher, according to Warren. One of the grants, for $800,000, will be used over four years to pay for tuition, fees and books for students who pursue a degree in special education through ECU's new satellite education program known as Partnership East. Partnership East links ECU's College of Education to community colleges throughout eastern North Carolina to provide accessible educational opportunities, said David Powers, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

"The funding available through Dr. Warren's grants, paired with the regional access offered through Partnership East, will support the preparation of new teachers in special education who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to complete their degrees. In return for the grant support, students will commit to teach in the field of special education," Powers said. The other grant, for $1.25 million, will be used over five years to train 150 ECU students majoring in special education to work with children who have "low-incidence," or severe, disabilities. Because the needs of children with low-incidence disabilities are so complex and challenging, Warren said, this is an area in which there is a critical shortage of teachers.

In addition to learning strategies that will help children with disabilities to succeed in general subjects like reading and math, ECU and Partnership East students will be taught how to integrate assistive technology into their classrooms. Assistive technology provides low- and high-incidence learners with tools, which can range from pencil grips to specialized desks, to help ease their learning experience.

Marilyn Sheerer, dean of ECU's College of Education, congratulated Warren and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction faculty on their latest achievement. These grants are two of only 41 funded in the United States from among 277 applications.

"As primary author and principal investigator of both these new grants, Dr. Warren has brought substantial new resources to East Carolina University's effort to position itself as one of the leading producers of outstanding teachers in the nation," Sheerer said. "The more than $2 million will fund the preparation of a significant number of new teachers in special education, an area of desperate shortage."


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481