DSU educator awarded grant to address special ed shortage
A Delaware State University education faculty member is using her expertise in special education to create a certification program in that area for the State of Delaware.
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Dr. Rachel Juergensen, DSU Assistant Professor of Special Education, a five-year grant of just over $1.06 million to develop a Delaware Special Educator Certificate Program (Project DE-SPEC).
The Project DE-SPEC is designed offer master degree-level courses that will enable more teachers to obtain Special Education Certification, and more importantly reduce the shortage of special education teachers in the state.
As of the summer 2023, there were 165 vacant special education teaching positions in the State of Delaware. Similarly, shortages in this teaching area are experienced throughout the country.
“The need for special education teachers in Delaware is critical, and without intervention, the severe shortages and subsequent negative impact on students with disabilities will continue to prevail,” Dr. Juergensen said.
It is therefore believed that the Project DE-SPEC is a viable way to increase special education certified teachers and thereby reduce the statewide shortage in that area.
The courses – to be offered to teachers already providing instruction in Delaware school systems – will focus on providing teachers with the competencies needed to provide effective, culturally and linguistically responsive instruction to improve outcomes for children with disabilities.
More specifically, through the courses participants will gain knowledge and experience in how to practice within ethical and legal guidelines, address each student’s developmental and learning needs, and apply evidence-based literacy instruction for students with disabilities. The course will also increase competencies in understanding the learner and the learning environment, effective instruction, as well as in creating and contributing to a safe, respectful and productive learning environment.
In addition to acquiring the necessary competencies to be effective special education teachers, they will also learn early intervention strategies that could keep some students with disabilities from being referred to a special education setting.
In addition, Dr. Juergensen said the Project DE-SPEC courses will not be a financial challenge for participating teachers.
“I have always been an advocate for removing the financial burden on teachers, because they are not paid enough,” Dr. Juergensen said. “This grant will cover their full tuition, books, certification testing fees and they will also get a small stipend.”
During the first year of the grant, Dr. Juergensen will develop and finalize Project DE-SPEC courses, expand her relationship with school districts throughout Delaware and recruit teachers to enroll in the program. The first cohort of teachers will begin their course work in the fall of 2024.