Development and Current Status of the Northeast Regional Collaborative effort to Restore Professional Pre service Training Programs in Visual Impairments.


Teacher shortages in the field of visual impairments reached a crisis level on a national basis that was sharply exacerbated locally by the closing of the only teacher training and related service program in blindness in the northeast region. (Boston College Orientation and Mobility program closed 1992, followed by the closing of the only state teacher licensing program in visual impairments 2000.)
The Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts responded to a regional professional call for assistance and pulled together leadership from each of the six New England states. Representative leadership from UMass Boston, Perkins School for the Blind and collaborating states, responded to the Federal Government’s endorsement of the National Plan for Training Personnel in Visual Impairments, designed a regional distance education program that would address each of the states’ needs for low incidence teachers and related service professionals . The design that became a reality reflects a central program that allows regional student access to web-based courses. This collaboration is further enhanced by local field experience under the supervision from licensed teachers of the visually impaired and nationally certified related service professionals from the state in which the student resides. The New England-wide distance education, regional training program in visual impairments was initiated in 2001/2002, with development funds from each of the NE state Departments of Education through a shared commitment of $30,000 from each state. This commitment afforded the University $180,000 for an initial curriculum development budget and an opportunity to pursue additional federal and private support.
In July 2002, UMass Boston was recognized by the Federal Office of Special Education for being the first University to model the National Plan for Training Personnel (NPTP) and approved for one of three highly competitive awards for 1.5 million dollars in discretionary funds over five years ($300,000 per year). These funds were directed to advance the ability of the University to implement the developing regional program licensing Teachers in Visual Impairments (TVI) across the six New England States.
In July 2003, UMass Boston was again recognized by the Federal Office of Special Education and granted an unprecedented 2nd award of 1.25 million dollars ($250,000 per year for five years) in an equally competitive application process to establish the same regional distance education model program providing regional access to the preparation of related service professionals in Orientation and Mobility (O&M).

Funding: Currently the Northeast Regional Center for Vision Education is approaching the final two years of development funding under the current federal awards $550,000, annually. The six state Departments of Education continue to support the regional center providing funding for field resources relating to locally based student pre-practicum and practicum experiences as well as recruitment and placement of graduates into the work force. Total support received from state contracts FY 06 total $120,000. Private support from Perkins School for the Blind FY 2006 totaled $100,000. Total development and general support received from the community of supporters FY 2006 demonstrated a highly motivated and committed community depending on UMass to meet the high need in this low incidence area for pre service teacher training.

Enrollment Report: Student applications for fall 2006 were at record high exceeding the capacity of the program. Over thirty new matriculated students were added to the continuing students who are completing the two year, part time degree tracks in O&M and TVI. The current combined number of matriculated students across both programs is approaching 100 (fall 2006) depending on the number of graduates. Student enrollments are across all six New England States and New York. Additional partnerships are being explored with the state of New Jersey which also is without a Pre-service Training Program in Visual Impairments.

Academic Advancements: The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments curriculum was approved by the University as an official degree track and accredited by the Massachusetts Department of Education as an approved state licensure program. Students completing the program are eligible to pursue the reciprocity of licensure agreement across all six NE States. The O&M Graduate certificate has recently passed the faculty council as a newly recognized degree track and is accredited by the National Professional Association, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI).

Current Staffing: Staff of the academic programs include an academic Director of Programs, Dr Laura Bozeman, two part time Coordinators per program Janice Barron and Marybeth Dean--TVI, Paula Kosior and Darick Wright—O&M. The Institute for Community Inclusion further supports the academic programs with 4 additional support staff: Robert McCulley Director Development, Huan Zhang web support, Valerie Haven Access Technology, and Joshua Shea marketing and development.

Future Directions: The current operational plan to establish a sustainable effort is calling for a university commitment to one full-time, state funded tenure track position along with a community supported additional full time faculty. We currently have a tenure track position line in place with the support of the Dean and the start of an endowment fund of $46,000 toward a private campaign to secure a 2nd position. The Institute for Community Inclusion will continue to contribute to the operational expenses and negotiating long term support commitments from each of the state Departments of Education. It is essential to the success of the work done to date and over 14 years to secure a University commitment for one full-time, tenure track position at this time.