School of Education News

Wilkerson, Leko secure $2.5 million grant to launch special education teacher residency program

November 06, 2018

UW-Madison’s Kimber Wilkerson and Melinda Leko were awarded a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant to fund 40 graduate students who will work with students with disabilities in high-need and small, rural school districts across Wisconsin.

Wilkerson is a professor with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE) and the faculty director of the School’s new Teacher Education Center. Leko is an associate professor and the department chair of RPSE.

Wilkerson and Leko
Kimber Wilkerson (left) and Melinda Leko are faculty
members with the Department of Rehabilitation
Psychology and Special Education.
“Special educators are sorely needed across Wisconsin — with the need particularly acute in small, rural districts and in schools that serve a high number of families and children who are economically disadvantaged,” says Wilkerson.  “We are excited to work with new school district partners in this much-needed effort and look forward to preparing and supporting special educators in this innovative residency model.”

In addition to connections across the UW-Madison campus, this project will also partner with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin school districts of Beloit, Cambria-Friesland, Juda, Wonewoc-Union Center, Royall, Seneca Area, Adams-Friendship Area, and Wauzeka-Steuben. Teachers will work in 24 high-need schools within these districts.

The project is designed to promote improved academic achievement and engagement of Wisconsin students with disabilities by recruiting and preparing 40 special education teacher residents through a 14-month master’s degree program.  The project will prepare teachers in four different cohorts over the next four years.

Each graduate student will take part in a 10-month teaching residency in a high-need partner school, gaining knowledge and skills to meet the needs of students with disabilities in these districts.

Upon completion, participants will be eligible for a master’s degree in special education and Wisconsin licensure as a special education teacher (cross-categorical, K–12).

In addition, the initiative will provide two years of ongoing support and professional development opportunities to enhance the special education teacher residents’ ability to positively impact outcomes — including in reading and mathematics. Residents, their mentor teachers, university supervisors, principals, and UW–Madison faculty will all participate in a professional development community of practice (CoP) that will continue for two additional years beyond completion of the 14-month program.  This CoP augments required coursework and field experiences to enhance members’ ability to bolster achievement for students with disabilities.

All residents are eligible for a one-year living stipend. In return, they commit to teach three consecutive years in a high-need school in a partner district.


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