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Summer 2006 Table of Contents
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“What’s Up” with TSBVI Outreach?

By Cyral Miller, TSBVI Outreach Director. <cyralmiller@tsbvi.edu >

Abstract: For the upcoming school year, the Outreach Program at Texas School for the  Blind and Visually Impaired will have some changes in personnel and procedures, but will continue to offer a broad range of services and assistance to professionals and families.

Key Words: Programming, blind, Deafblind, technical assistance, outreach.

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach Program was established as a separate division of the school in 1990.  Since that time, enormous changes have occurred in educational programming for students with visual impairments in Texas.This past year, the Outreach team spent time gathering input from the field and reflecting among ourselves upon what works best, what needs to be revised or deleted, and what needs to be added to the types of assistance that Outreach staff have been providing statewide.Meanwhile, a few staff members have miraculously reached the retirement stage, and are leaving. The self-evaluation process and the retirements guided quite a few modifications to the way Outreach Programs will look and work for the future.The goal as always is to make the Outreach Program more effective and more efficient.We look forward to implementing these new systems to serve the state better and actively solicit your participation in our evolution via letters, calls and emails.

First, how we do our work

There are four major areas of change for us:

  1. how we set up our assistance to local districts that make a request concerning an individual student program;
  2. how we work with ESCs for annual planning;
  3. how we support new professionals; and
  4. when we provide Outreach services.

Individual student program requests 

From August through May, Outreach team members traveled on 122 on-site visits to local districts. Each quarter we reach approximately 30 different school districts to support local teams in implementing quality programming.  There has been feedback that the request and preparation process is confusing, but we have gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback about the outcomes from these trips. As is typical, last year over 85% of responders agreed that there was a positive change as a result of the visit, and 90.7% of respondents rated the effectiveness of the onsite consultant as either very satisfactory or outstanding. 

We want to continue to be that effective and more! Outreach and local team members have questions:  Is the positive change enough to make a significant difference in the life of that student? Could we have used an alternate approach and been able to offer more constructive assistance? How effectively do these highly time and cost intensive consultations meet local needs? Are there better ways to provide support?

For these reasons, we plan to streamline the process of requesting Outreach services and enhance our local support. The requests for assistance forms and procedures will be posted on the TSBVI website for easier access.We also are hoping to provide a greater array of tools to assist local districts. For example, if a district has questions on how to set up calendars, we hope to have links to articles, video-streaming and other tools to share, so the questions can perhaps be answered immediately, not several months when a staff member can schedule a trip. We will also electronically share incoming requests with the appropriate ESC, so that regional staff can be alerted and when appropriate support the district directly.This may cut down on delays in support to a local district.

In order to be better prepared to assist, our request process for onsite consultation will also include a way to clarify what kind of assistance is requested and what has been tried. We will then establish an action plan before leaving a site outlining positive actions to support implementation of any suggestions for change. Our goal is to make sure that when we travel to a district, we are able to truly give the best assistance possible. For this reason, we will also slightly change our internal process of assigning staff to onsite travel. It may be that different people will come to see children rather than having a single VI or Deafblind team member assigned to assist in all onsites in a particular region.  

Collaborative Regional planning

Over the years, TSBVI Outreach has expanded to include a wide range of activities, including a mentor program, the deafblind Federal grant project, VI outreach, family support staff, personnel prep coordination, regional staff development coordination, APH material distribution and much more. For all of these, we work closely with the Educational Service Centers. We are in the process of developing a more systematic process for working with each ESC so that all topics are discussed with each ESC in an organized manner. We hope that through this process, we can ensure that all statewide needs are considered equally as we plan our activities.     

Supporting new professionals

The mentor program is now 8 years old, and has been undergoing a yearlong evaluation process by a dedicated committee. One of the issues we have discovered is a need for more intensive support for some new professionals, particularly in isolated areas with fewer local resources, and mentors who are less available for in-person, in-district support. We have designed a new pilot program to see if we can boost our assistance in these areas based upon mentor and protégé request. As our time allows, we will provide hands-on visits in selected protégé’s districts relating directly to their student caseload.  Visits may be scheduled throughout the school year. Mentors will be receiving information about how to access this pilot support model from the mentor program. 

Year round assistance

As statewide calendars have shifted, so too have requests for training and support. We are closely following legislated changes in academic year calendars and will try to organize our work year to be able to respond to your requests throughout the year.

And then there are personnel changes

Retirements

Nick Necaise joined the Outreach Program in 1996 when TEA decentralized many of the VI functions, and has been running the statewide VI registration and APH Materials system ever since. Under his guidance, those systems have become electronic and much more efficiently serve all school districts in the state. Nick is now retiring to spend time with his many beautiful grandchildren and wife, Keren. It is hard to imagine the VI field without Nick!   

Craig Axelrod is also retiring. This summer he will be completing our first educational DVD, on interaction techniques with students who are deafblind, and travel to Ireland (again) before he finds out what it is like not to be at the office at 5:00 am. There are so many deafblind children and their families all across this state lucky enough to have become friends with Craig. We will all miss his hugs and positive attitude. (We have a not-so-secret plan to continue to drag him back into the field as often as possible.)

Job Shifts

Jim Durkel, formerly the Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, will move into the VI Registration and APH materials position, with modifications. He will create new avenues for training on APH materials as well as coordinate and analyze data collection tools, such as the DB Census, PEIMS reports, VI registration, etc.

Kate Moss is leaving her position as DB Outreach teacher, to become the new Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, working with ESCs to help design, coordinate and support their efforts at training professionals, paraeducators and families. She will be the facilitator of future Texas Focus conferences. Plus she and Jim together will help TSBVI Outreach continue to develop web-based and other distance-education materials.

Holly Cooper will move from her position as VI Outreach Technology teacher and join the Deafblind team as a DB Outreach teacher. She will bring her AT knowledge and experience with her and have the chance to really focus on this unique population.

Chris Montgomery will join the Deafblind team as a DB Outreach teacher. He has taught in deafblind classrooms at on the TSBVI campus as well as in the TSBVI EXIT program and has a wealth of experience across student age groups to share.

Sharon Nichols, formerly in Special Programs, will rejoin the TSBVI VI Outreach Team as an Outreach Technology teacher. We are delighted to welcome her back!

Each of these changes may create suggest other directions to move. The goal of TSBVI Outreach is to provide user-friendly, relevant, state of the art technical assistance to families and programs serving students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities and deafblindness.We continue to evolve in order to reach that goal. We appreciate your comments, suggestions, and thoughts as we grow!

Outreach Staff
Top row, l to r: Gigi Newton, Holly Cooper, Cyral Miller, Beth Bible, Edgenie Bellah, Jean Robinson, KC Dignan, Paula Effenger,
2nd row: Pat Van Geem, Eva Lavigne, Carolyn Perkins, Ann Adkins, Kate Moss, Sharon Nichols, Ann Rash, Chris Montgomery, Karen Browm. Lisa Hayes, Stacy, Shafer, Jenny Lace, David Wiley, Kneeling: Jim Durkel, Ruth Ann Marsh.


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Last Revision: September 1, 2010