Forty-Year Look-Back in Texas
Authors: William Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Keywords: collaboration, parents, families, retirement, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, TVI, Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, COMS, DeafBlind, National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired, NAPVI, Texas Education Agency, TEA, Education Action Committee, Personnel Preparation Advisory Group, PPAG, Education Service Center, ESC, HHSC, TWC
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I will be retiring on July 31, 2019, as the Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). My wife, Della, and I are moving to Denton, where she will be on the faculty at Texas Woman’s University starting in August. This milestone in my life has me reflecting quite a bit about how the visual impairment, blindness, and DeafBlind world has changed in Texas since I began as an itinerant TVI and COMS in 1980 at the Region XVII Education Service Center (ESC) in Lubbock.
In 1980, the University of Texas, Texas Tech University, and Stephen F. Austin State University were all three preparing visual impairment professionals. The Regional Education Service Center (ESC) system began to hire TVIs and COMS, and many had several such professionals. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had at least four consultants in the area of visual impairment. The Texas Commission for the Blind was a stand-alone agency. The Texas School for the Blind (not yet “and Visually Impaired”) was a fairly conventional residential school campus without much of an outreach or technical assistance role. About that time, a professional in our field who was also the parent of a student attending TSB led a collaboration to begin what would become the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (NAPVI).
For those of us just beginning our careers, the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s were a time of great growth and energy. Although many had come before us and had done outstanding work that formed the foundation of our field in Texas, our professors instilled a sense in us that we were pioneers of sorts. I certainly felt like a pioneer when I started, as there was very little guidance and we were mostly on our own to figure it all out. I made many mistakes that largely went unnoticed because no one was quite sure what it was I was supposed to be doing. Little by little, I learned and got better at it.
In 1980, the concept of functional vision—what it was, how to assess it, how to adapt for it, and how to improve function—was an important and relatively new focus for VI professionals. It was a time of considerable trial-and-error on interventions like early vision stimulation. My first, home-built, battery-powered, vision stimulation devices to attach to cribs with black lights and rotating fluorescent visual targets, would not pass muster today. But both VI professionals and parents (99.9% moms) were hungry for innovation and were supportive of any well-meaning efforts. The concept and importance of Daily Living Skills for our students took firm hold, and some ESCs teamed with their area school districts to offer mini-camps where cooking, cleaning, personal care, and home management training opportunities took place.
Many good things came out of our work in the early 1980s, and many who went on to become some of our field’s key leadership educators were then in their early stages of professional development. TEA was heavily involved in monitoring VI programs, and I can well remember the consultants from Austin coming to ESC XVII with their clipboards and checklists, interviewing us, looking into files, and even checking on equipment storage closets. Our statewide “vision conferences” often had as many rehabilitation staff from the Commission for the Blind as there were educators. I recall that as a really good thing for our field and am sorry it doesn’t happen much today.
In hindsight, among the things that were either lacking or were in their infancy back then was coordination and collaboration at the statewide level and the involvement of parents as partners in the education of their children. Today, both of these areas are vastly improved and are in constant search for continuous improvement.
A couple of great examples of the growth and evolution of our collaborative efforts in Texas is the Education Action Committee and the Personnel Preparation Advisory Group. Both just recently met on the TSBVI campus, as they do twice a year. The groups bring together stakeholders representing school districts, ESC’s, TSBVI, state agencies, families, consumers, universities, and related organizations. These groups don’t just meet, they do. Beyond spreading the word about our state’s needs and how effective programs are trying to meet those needs, the groups pursue initiatives that provide real, tangible resources and support to the state.
Family involvement in the above two committees is always sought and encouraged, and the groups are made better when parents and guardians are at the table. TSBVI has partnered with the ESCs, HHSC, and TWC to conduct family leadership training around the state with the intention of helping parents and guardians become more informed and active in their children’s education, and to build a system where parent-to-parent training happens with more frequency. Texas now has several family organizations around the state. How large and active these groups are can ebb and flow as their members have children graduating and moving on. Some of the most active and enduring groups have been formed by parents and guardians of children who are DeafBlind or have additional disabilities. I’m not totally sure what the key to their success has been, but it is easy to see that when they are gathered, their level of mutual support to all members in the group is impressive and celebratory.
All of this above is to say that we should be really proud of how our state has improved and met the challenges and opportunities of ensuring that we have qualified TVIs and COMS in our schools, that our students have access to a quality education, and that parents and families are our partners in improving outcomes for their children. Our system for doing so is, and always will be, imperfect. We have to be diligent and committed to seeking out solutions to our challenges, and the more we do this in a unified, collaborative manner, the better off we’ll be. Collaboration has somewhat become our trademark by which we are known by other states who recognize how our collective efforts have led to one of the best and most dynamic visual impairment systems in the country.