Riding Fences

Article excerpt

Rural schools and agencies and the colleges and universities that support them continue to grapple with the twin issues of recruiting and retaining qualified personnel to meet the needs of children with special needs and their families. Data collected by state and federal governments as well as through independent studies have repeatedly found a critical shortage of personnel, producing a supply-demand imbalance that is at its most serious in inner city and rural areas. Despite large expenditures of dollars via personnel preparation and state improvement grants, there still seems to be little or no improvement in this situation. Perhaps this problem is explained at least in part by the fact that special education is seen as a less attractive career option than general education as well as by the drawbacks of working in areas often characterized by chronic poverty, social isolation and limited resources. Although those of us who have spent our lives or established our careers in rural special education have come to value the unique qualities of rural communities, we need to recognize that their challenges may appear daunting to new teachers and therapists.

In this issue, we examine several recent efforts designed to address problems in personnel recruitment and retention. Naomi Tyler and her colleagues in Tennessee share the results of a program evaluation effort that assessed the impact of Project Alliance, a federally funded project designed to stimulate program development in minority institutions of higher education. Faculty at these rural colleges and universities reported that the Project's assistance enabled them to train over 100 new special educators from diverse cultural groups who are now serving students with special needs in rural areas. Linda Holdman of North Dakota and Mary McDonnell Harris of northern Texas describe the implementation and evaluation of Project Launch, an induction program developed to improve the retention of new teachers in a rural region of the Midwest. They present the outcomes of this mentor model and discuss the differences they found in its impact on the retention of general and special educators. Mary Susan Fishbaugh of Montana, along with her colleagues in that state as well as Utah and Colorado, provides the final article in a series about the operation of the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) in the state of Montana. …