KC Dignan, PhD
Administering a program for the education of children with visual impairments presents singular challenges to the ablest of administrators. Visual impairments pose unique educational issues. It is through vision that we gather the vast majority of information about our environment. Even a mild limitation in functional vision will have an impact on our ability to gather and use information about people and the world around us.
Visual impairments range in severity from very mild to severe or no vision. A child may acquire a visual impairment at birth or at any point throughout his or her life. Age, severity of impairment, and personality characteristics will all have differing impacts on one’s development and visual functioning. Visual impairments occur in conjunction with all levels of physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities. In fact, between 60%–75% of students with visual impairments have additional disabilities. When considered together, these factors make the population of children with visual impairments an extremely heterogeneous group.
The incidence of children with visual impairments is low compared to other disabilities. Only about 1% of the children receiving special education services have a visual impairment. Disability-specific services blend medical and educational information and cover an extremely broad range of pedagogy. Students with visual impairments are primarily served by VI professionals: teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and certified orientation and mobility specialists (O&M specialists or COMS). A majority of VI professionals serve students through a mostly itinerant model.
Unique challenges are presented to administrators due to:
- low numbers of students with vision impairments,
- the limited numbers of VI professionals available to serve them,
- the unique characteristics of the itinerant model of service delivery, and
- the extremely diverse learning needs of students with visual impairments.
Additionally, many administrators have limited information about and experience with visual impairments, or have questions about the hiring and supervision of VI staff. This Toolbox will help administrators better navigate some of those challenges.
What is the Administrator’s Toolbox?
The Administrator’s Toolbox is a collection of information and tools that can assist special education administrators in:
- understanding certification requirements,
- advocating for new or additional staff,
- developing more effective recruiting techniques, caseload analyses, and hiring practices,
- evaluating and/or updating job descriptions, and
- assessing the performance of VI professionals.
This Toolbox provides administrators with easily accessed information in a flexible framework that can accommodate modifications necessary to meet specific local district standards.
This resource is published exclusively on the TSBVI website. Administrators are welcome to print the entire document or those chapters that will support their needs. Administrators can incorporate specific sets of information, such as one or more of the job descriptions, into an existing district format. The information can simply be downloaded or copied to a word processing program.
Why an Administrator’s Toolbox?
This Toolbox is intended to help administrators develop disability-specific resources and data for hiring and supervising VI professionals. In May 1997, in 2001, and again in 2005, all district special education administrators in Texas received a survey about recruitment of VI professionals. In that survey, administrators were asked which types of information would be useful in helping them to recruit VI professionals. Respondents indicated they were very enthusiastic about the topics presented, especially information about caseloads, training options, and sample job descriptions.
How was it developed?
The intent was to develop a set of useful resources for administrators, regardless of their experience with visual impairments, which are pedagogically sound and considered valid by the people who will use it. To that end, people in many roles were consulted—special education administrators and VI professionals in Texas, and from around the country. These professionals were consulted in a variety of ways, through surveys, consultations or other methods.Their feedback resulted in this Toolbox.
Every resource has its limitations. Authors must make some assumptions. The following assumptions that should be considered when evaluating the usefulness of this Toolbox:
- Programs for students with disabilities may serve students in local school districts, various types of cooperative arrangements, charter schools, or other types of administrative arrangements. For the purposes of this Toolbox, these service areas will be generically referred to as “districts.”
- Many states have an intermediary administrative educational system. States may call them “intermediate school districts,” “regional education service centers,” or other similar titles. Additionally, programs in many states have outreach programs at residential schools for the blind. Often these programs help provide administrative support, direct services, and/or technical assistance to districts, especially in low-prevalence areas. For the purposes of the Toolbox, these will be generically referred to as “education service centers.”
- Districts already have many existing resources to assist them in achieving their goals. This Toolbox is intended to support those existing resources by supplying information specific to visual impairments.
- Districts will modify the included job descriptions, interview questions, procedures, and other resources to meet their specific individual needs.
- Job descriptions are the foundation of the performance evaluation for school district personnel. Every performance evaluation, regardless of the method used, must be based on the job description.
- Orientation and mobility specialists (O&M specialists or COMS) and teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) are members of two separate professions that respond to separate professional competencies, performance standards, and certification/licensure requirements.
- VI professionals certified both as TVIs and as O&M specialists are referred to as “dually certified.” Dual certification presents unique administrative responsibilities. These responsibilities will be discussed in various contexts.
- Placement decisions for students with visual impairments are based on consideration of a full continuum of services. Each child’s unique individual needs are considered when determining placement.
- Districts have a working relationship with the VI professionals (TVIs and/or O&M specialists) at their local education service center, or outreach program at a school for the blind. These professionals are available for various types of assistance, such as completing a caseload analysis, guiding a program review, assisting with a job interview, and recruiting new people into a VI training program.
How to use the Toolbox?
Each chapter is independent of other chapters; however, chapters are related. Each chapter expands on current information, strategies, and resources used by administrators. For further information, consult your state education agency, education service center, special education administrator or VI consultant, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Web site (www.TSBVI.edu), and/or other district resources.
The following scenario—a district anticipating a change in its VI population and service-delivery options— illustrates how one might use this Toolbox:
Sunshine Independent School District (SISD) is adjacent to a thriving urban community. Because of new economic developments in the Sunshine area, many people are moving to the district, resulting in changes in the population of children who receive services from special education.
The Sunshine Independent School District has been a part of a special education cooperative that has been restructured. Sunshine ISD is no longer part of the cooperative and will now provide services independently. Services from the VI teacher (TVI) had previously come from the fiscal agent for the cooperative via a shared service arrangement (SSA); O&M services came from the education service center located about 60 miles away. The original TVI decides to stay with the fiscal agent. So, Sunshine needs at least one new VI teacher immediately and should also plan for growth over the next few years.
As the new administrator for the special education program in Sunshine ISD, you are responsible for ensuring that the needs of the students with visual impairments are being met. However, your experience with these students has been limited, and you are not sure you understand who the students are and what their needs are. To assist you in fine-tuning the VI program you could complete the following activities:
- In order to determine the extent and amount of VI services needed, you need to conduct a caseload analysis. (Refer to the Caseload Analysis Guidelines chapter of The Administrator’s Toolbox, and to the additional documents provided in Additional Resources, as updates become available online.)
- Based on the caseload analysis, you find that your district needs a full-time TVI immediately. O&M services can continue from the education service center for the time being, but it seems clear that you will need a part-time O&M specialist within the next 2 or 3 years. Growth patterns indicate that additional VI staff may also be needed at that time. Additionally, the district will be charged for the services and with only a few more students it will be more cost-effective to have one on staff.
- Your options include training an existing staff person or recruiting and hiring a new person from outside of the district. You decide to hire a VI teacher from outside of the district, and, because it will take 2 to 3 years to train an O&M specialist, you identify an existing staff person to start O&M training next spring.
- Because you realize that it may be easier and cost-effective to identify and recruit a full-time O&M specialist, you decide to develop a cooperative arrangement with the neighboring districts that had been part of the original co-op/SSA. (Refer to the Recruiting VI Professionals andthe Hiring Options chapters as they become available.)
- To clarify the roles and responsibilities of the new positions and establish the foundation for the performance evaluation, you select the job description that best matches your district’s philosophy. (Refer to the Job Descriptions chapter.)
- Now you will need to identify how you are going to find your new VI teacher. (Refer to Recruiting VI Professionals andHiring Options as they become available online.)
- Before you begin interviewing your pool of applicants, review the sample interview questions. (Refer to the InterviewResources chapter.)
- You recall that, after having a student with a visual impairment and working with an O&M specialist from the ESC, a special education teacher expressed a strong interest in becoming an O&M specialist. You review the training optionswith her. (Refer to the Training and Professional Development Options chapter.)
- Depending on the new VI teacher’s level of experience, you may want to her to participate in a mentor program. If the new VI teacher is a recent graduate, or from another state, a mentor can help her adjust to her new position. The teacher who is enrolling in the O&M training program should also be involved in a mentorship program. (Refer to the Mentoring chapter.)
- As your new staff settles in, you meet with them to discuss specifics of how he or she will be evaluated, including how the standard performance evaluation will be used to evaluate itinerant, consulting educators. (Refer to Performance Evaluation.)
The previous scenario illustrates how the chapters both work together and can be used individually and customized to meet your particular needs. Each chapter also provides specific tools for your use.