The Special Education Department at the College of Education has a rich history in providing leadership in the education of teachers for exceptional children and research to support instructional practice. Since its inception in 1965, faculty have positioned the department to be in the forefront of major philosophical and programmatic developments, including cooperative relationships with schools in the preparation of teachers for inclusive education, teacher preparation for urban schools, collaborative and interdisciplinary research, and school-based research. The following is a brief commentary on some of the history of the department and faculty who created and led its diverse program.
Although special education was in its infancy in 1960 when USF accepted its first students in its Exceptional Child Education Program, there was a great need for teachers of children who were then termed “handicapped” as well as a need for research to guide teachers and policymakers. In 1965, the Exceptional Child Education Department, which was the initial name for the Special Education Department, was officially established. Since that time, the University has been successful in recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty whose research and work in preparing teachers are valued and recognized locally, within the state of Florida, and around the nation. The following is a description of the history and contributions of the faculty of the Special Education Department.
From 1967 to 1970, ten faculty members were employed to begin the work of the department. They included Dr. William Francis, Dr. Eleanor Guetzloe, Dr. Bernie Lax, Dr. John Merica, Dr. Shelia McCambridge, Dr. Surrendra Singh, Dr. Dorothy Sisk, Dr. Robert Weatherford, Dr. Melepomene Woods Smitzes, and Dr. Carolyn Lavely. Program development was aided by the availability of competitive funding from the Office of Special Education Program Development and Student Support of the US Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. Faculty members took full advantage of the opportunities to compete and secure much needed funding for the preparation of special education teachers for students with intellectual, physical, and emotional disabilities.
In order to meet the needs for research in special education in 1965, Institute III, also known as the All-University Center for the Study of Exceptional Students and Adults, was founded. It was one of five institutes on the USF campus that was established by President John Allen to provide opportunities for various faculty groups to conduct research. Institute III, which was located in an apartment complex on Fletcher Avenue and later in the USF College of Engineering’s building, was coordinated by Dr. Leonard Lucito. Faculty researchers who worked on a part-time basis at the center included: Drs. Louis Anderson, James Barnard, Herbert Boyd, Carol Douglas, Alden Gilmore, Marvin Gold, Calvin Pinkard, Lawrence Ricker, Clarence Webb, Charles Williams, and Dorothy Ricker. Although the Institute III was very successful in securing grant funding and conducting research, President Cecil Mackey disbanded all five of the institutes in 1971. Dr. Louis Anderson, Dr. James Barnard, Dr. Herbert Boyd, and Dr. Clarence Webb returned as full-time faculty in the College of Education and other faculty members returned full-time to their respective departments on campus.
Through Institute III, the Southeastern Materials Center for Exceptional Children Grant was obtained, and special education teachers in Florida and throughout the southeastern United States were provided assistance. Dr. Marvin Gold was director of the project which utilized a very innovative approach to provide information to teachers in rural areas. A large van on wheels housed up-to-date special education teaching materials. The materials, along with professional expertise, traveled extensively on the van and were shared with teachers in schools throughout the southeastern region of the United States.
Dr. Surrendra Singh served as the coordinator of materials evaluation for the project. In 1968, Dr. Gold hired Dr. James Barnard from Peabody College to join the project. The project was very successful, but was only funded by the federal government for a period of three years. In 1968, the materials used in the project were placed in the Educational Materials Center on the first floor of the newly constructed College of Education building. The materials continued to be used by K-12 education majors and teachers from area schools until the materials were given to the USF Library in the 1980s.
Dr. Dorothy Sisk, who joined the Exceptional Child Education faculty in 1967, founded the Gifted Education Program in the College of Education. She and Dr. Surrendra Singh were able to secure the grants necessary to establish the program. Dr. Sisk went on to become nationally and internationally known for her expertise in the field of gifted education. When Dr. Sisk left USF in 1989 to accept a distinguished professorship at Lamar State University, Dr. Hilda Roselli assumed the leadership of the program and furthered its achievements. The program is currently coordinated by Dr. Elizabeth Shaunessy.
Dr. Surrendra Singh, the College of Education’s first international faculty member, was very active in securing several grants from the U.S. Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. In addition, Dr. Singh coordinated the Potentially Handicapped and the Varying Exceptionalities Grant Programs. The “potentially handicapped” label was created in order to identify young children who displayed characteristics that would predict that they would have learning difficulties as they entered and advanced in school. The preparation of teachers for these children was designed to prevent them from experiencing more severe learning problems.
The Varying Exceptionalities Program prepared teachers to teach children with different types of disabilities. This program was certified for teachers until 2000, when certification programs designated for each disability area was created. Dr. Singh was also active in involving College of Education students in assisting students with special needs in schools within the Hillsborough County School District through the Intensive Tutoring Program. Later, he attended Tufts University as a post-doctoral student and became a Diplomat Fellow of the Prescribing Psychologist Register and is currently a licensed, clinical neurological psychologist. He retired from the College of Education in 2006.
Dr. Herbert Boyd and Dr. Bob Weatherford developed one of the first programs to prepare teachers of students with emotional and behavior disorders in the country. Dr. Eleanor Guetzloe later joined the program and developed a national reputation in the field of suicide prevention.
Dr. Carolyn Lavely became a member of the Exceptional Child Education Department in 1970 and was successful in securing grant funding to develop programs to prepare teachers of students with mentally retardation. The grant provided a stipend of $1,600, free tuition, and $400 for each dependent for students studying to become teachers of mentally retarded students. In 1978, Dr. Lavely took a leave of absence from USF to become chief assistant to the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. She served in that role for six years under State Representative Hyatt Brown, (1978-80), State Representative Ralph Haben (1980-82), and State Representative Lee Moffitt (1982-84).
During her tenure at the Florida House of Representatives, Dr. Lavely worked on the PREP Bill which was passed by the Legislature in 1984, the Merit Pay for Teachers in Florida Bill passed by the Legislature in 1982. In 1984, Dr. Lavely was able to establish the Institute for Instructional Research and Practice (IIRP), which was followed in 1989 by the founding of the Institute for At Risk Children, Infants, and Their Families in the USF College of Education. Through the two institutes, Dr. Lavely has secured more external funding than any other faculty member in the history of the University.
Dr. Bernie Lax, whose specialties were the physically handicapped and motor disabilities, also taught courses for teachers with students with mental retardation and visual impairments. He provided students in his visually impaired classes with real life experiences of blind persons by having them function for a day while blind folded. Dr. Lax was also instrumental in establishing a crisis phone hotline for students and was an advocate for issues relating to accessibility for persons with disabilities on campus.
Dr. Leonard Lucito was the first coordinator of the USF Exceptional Child Education Program from 1964 to 1967, with Dr. Bob Dwyer serving as a faculty member. When Dr. Lucito left USF to become Director of the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped in the US Office of Education in Washington D.C., Dr. Dwyer then served as Chair of the Exceptional Child Education Department from 1967 to 1971. The program areas in the department during this time prepared teachers of students with mental retardation, emotional disturbance, potential handicaps, and special gifts and talents. The Speech Pathology Program was coordinated by Dr. Clarence Webb and later by Dr. Stewart Kinde, who was also in the Special Education Department until 1970, when the program was moved to the College of Social and Behavioral Science.
Dr. Johnson came to USF from Ohio State University in 1971 to chair the Exceptional Child Education Department and served in that position until 1980. During his tenure, he continued to secure grant funding for undergraduate and master’s degree programs in areas of gifted education, mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, and emotional disturbance.
Dr. Mauser assumed the leadership of the newly named Special Education Department in 1983 and served in that position until 1988 when he resigned and served as a faculty member until his retirement in 2002. Dr. Mauser had a strong commitment to special education teacher preparation and sought to improve the quality of the undergraduate program. He worked closely with Alice and Jack Richardson to establish endowed undergraduate scholarships for special education majors.
Dr. Paul was recruited by Dean Bill Katzenmeyer in 1988 to become Chair of the Special Education Department. Dr. Paul was able to increase the diversity of the faculty in the department through the hiring of five under-represented faculty members: Dr. Daphne Thomas, Dr. Deborah Harris, Dr. Brenda Townsend, Dr. Kofi Marfo, and Dr. Donnie Evans. D. Paul also established the Senior Scholars Program in the department which attracted Dr. William Morse, Dr. William Cruickshank, and Dr. William Rhodes, who were nationally recognized special education professors, to assist in increasing the research productivity of the Special Education Department. He also initiated an extensive review of the doctoral program and led a complete revision of the curriculum for doctoral study and, with the faculty’s support, instituted a requirement that doctoral students would be required to enroll full-time in doctoral study. In addition, Dr. Paul organized seven collaborative research groups made up of faculty from the Department of Special Education, other departments in the College and University, and doctoral students. The research groups met for two hours each week to plan collaborative research studies. Resulting from these groups were several funded grants, research published in scholarly journals, and a book on the integration of special education students. Dr. Paul developed a collaborative research culture, a strong programmatic commitment to working with school districts in the region, and with the Florida Department of Education. This resulted in the establishment of several cooperative arrangements with local school districts and funding to support research and work with schools, many articles and several books. Dr. Paul resigned as chair of the department in 1998 and continues as a member of the faculty.
Dr. Townsend, a first time faculty member from the University of Kansas, joined the Special Education Department in 1992. She soon secured grant funding to recruit and successfully prepare several cohorts of African American men to be special education teachers in urban schools. She has also been able to obtain funding to develop and implement master’s degree and doctoral level programs in special education for under represented minorities through the LASER Project.
Dr. Donnie Evans, who developed and obtained funding to support an Ed.D. program in collaboration with the Educational Leadership Department to prepare special administrators and supervisors, left USF to become Director of Exceptional Child Education and later an Assistant Superintendent in the Hillsborough County School District. In 2006, he became Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island.
Dr. Loeding became a member of the Special Education faculty on the Tampa campus in 1994. She had served for 25 years as a speech language pathologist, sign language instructor, and interpreter in providing education and services to persons with disabilities. She received a grant from the US Department of Education to development a sign language version of a generalizable interpersonal vocational skill assessment for which she won a national award from John Hopkins University. She moved to the USF Lakeland campus in 2000, where in addition to teaching, she directs the PRO-NET Project. Dr. Loeding continues her research on the development of a computer-based program which translates sign language into written words as the person signs. The program has achieved 85% proficiency to date.
Dr. Epanchin joined the faculty in 1989 and served as Chair of the department from 1998 to 2001 before leaving to become an associate dean at the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While at USF, Dr. Epanchin provided exceptional leadership in working with local school districts to prepare teachers. She received several federal grants to support her innovative work Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk County Schools. She was recognized nationally for her work in special education teacher education and served as president of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children.
Dr. Thomas agreed to serve as chair of the Special Education Department in 2002. Since that time she has provided exceptional leadership, representing the department at the state and local levels, and establishing a strong infrastructure. She has been outstanding in recruiting and mentoring minority students and providing excellent leadership in maintaining the cutting edge progress of the department. She also has continued her professional interest and research regarding families of children with disabilities.
For more than forty years, the Department of Special Education has been supplying outstanding teachers of exceptional students to Florida schools and continues to work to create even more innovative and exciting research-based programs. The doctoral program has also enjoyed success and, like the teacher education program, is recognized nationally for its quality and contributions to the field. Doctoral students who have graduated from the program are now employed as leaders in school districts and as faculty in major universities, including Ohio University, University of Indiana, University of Florida, and Stanford University among others.