Faculty Spotlight – Kevin Sutherland, PhD

Kevin Sutherland is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. Dr. Sutherland also serves as director of the department’s doctoral studies program. He has been a principal investigator or co-investigator on federally-funded projects — totaling more than $26 million — that involve the development and evaluation of evidence-based programs in schools, and has created assessment tools to examine teachers’ fidelity to and adequacy of implementing these programs in classrooms. Dr. Sutherland’s research interests are emotional/behavioral disorders, intervention development, and treatment implementation and fidelity. He’s currently working on a Tier 2 intervention (BEST in CLASS) designed to address the needs of young elementary students who demonstrate persistent and intensive challenging behaviors, which place them at future risk for developing social, emotional and behavioral disorders. The BEST in CLASS intervention is designed to enhance and support early childhood teachers use of effective instructional practices that can help prevent young children’s challenging behaviors and support learning. The project is currently finishing its second year and Dr. Sutherland would like to see the project become long term. He is also interested in middle school violence prevention. In order to gain a better understanding of his work he recommends that students read Sutherland et al. (2008), published in the Journal of Special Education.

Dr. Sutherland’s work as a faculty member consists of many meetings, commitments to current projects, days solely committed to research team meetings, lab meetings, planning, decision making, training, collecting data, and interfacing with teachers. Due to the multiple research projects and responsibilities as a professor, new challenges come up everyday. Some of the challenges arise from the large staff he supervises, writing manuscripts, and reviewing grants for IES. Also, due to his busy schedule he usually only teaches one class a semester. When Dr. Sutherland steps away from the rigor of the day/week he likes to run and play basketball, he also loves to cook and eat. Cooking is something Dr. Sutherland finds peace in. He enjoys having friends and family around for dinner, hosting dinner and holiday parties. He says his grandmother taught him, “food is love.” Additionally, he sets aside time during the evenings or at night to read a novel or content such as the Sunday New York Times for at least 30 minutes.

During graduate school, Dr. Sutherland appreciated his advisor and the opportunities he provided for growth and personal development. His advisor was personable and had an open door policy. His advisor helped him develop better time management and prioritization skills. His advisor also contributed to his research interests. Interestingly, Dr. Sutherland had the same advisor as fellow colleague and VCU professor Jason Chow. Dr. Sutherland recommends students take advantage of the growth and opportunities provided by the program and department, he also suggest students take a lot of research methods classes. He specifically suggests taking statistics methods based on the study you plan to complete. He also encourages students to own their research and be skilled, knowledgeable, and organized.

Interview conducted by: Evandra Catherine, doctoral student, Special Education and Disability Policy






Faculty Spotlight – Yaoying Xu, PhD

Dr. Yaoying Xu is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. She teaches master’s and doctoral courses including assessment, instructional programming, multicultural and global perspectives in education, and single subject research methods. Dr. Xu’s current research interests are an extension of her dissertation which focused on social aspects of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and how children’s social interaction affects their academic performance. In addition to her original research interest, Dr. Xu is currently the principal investigator for Project KSR which is a five year project funded by OSEP to prepare fully credentialed early interventionists/early childhood special educators (EI/ECSE)for high-need communities. The project objectives are to a) prepare 40 fully credentialed EI/ECSE personnel and support beginning early childhood special educators with conditional licenses to obtain endorsement in EI/ECSE; b) increase community-based competencies of EI/ECSE personnel for high quality services in high need communities and inclusive programs; and c) enhance use of evidence-based practices in assessment, program planning, and progress monitoring that will lead to improved outcomes for children and families.

She believes personnel preparation and quality of early intervention practices make a difference in children’s functional developmental outcomes. Additionally she believes families will see improved outcomes, specifically through community based family engagement. In order to gain a better understanding of her work on culturally and linguistically diverse students, she recommends doctoral students read her published article, Culturally appropriate context: Unlocking the potential of response to intervention for young English language learners (2008).

As a faculty member a typical day is very loaded with meetings and hours of emails, which she finds most time consuming. She doesn’t have a heavy teaching load, but finds herself transferring work to home. To disengage Dr. Xu has found a new hobby of playing tennis. She says it requires a lot of focus and is extremely therapeutic. She usually plays 2-3 times a week at her athletic club. She also enjoys exercising.

When I asked Dr. Xu what she liked most about her doctoral program, she responded, her favorite part was the sense of community amongst her peers. Her program was fairly large with about 50 students in the program. The School of Education also had a lunch lounge in the building which permitted time for peers to collaborate and support one another. The closeness of the group often times blurred the line between personal and professional. She and her peers found themselves attending family celebrations, birthdays, and other outside social events. While in her program she had two faculty advisors which was a huge benefit. She mentioned her primary advisor was strength oriented, easy going, caring and a good listener. Her secondary advisor was very structured and ridged about their schedule. They mainly collaborated on writing and research.   She was pushed by both her advisors and considered both of them friends.

She recommends doctoral students: always stay positive, it may sound easy, but can be challenging, and never give up or let others’ behavior affect you.

Interview conducted by: Evandra Catherine, doctoral student, Special Education and Disability Policy

Faculty Spotlight – Debbie Speece, PhD

Dr. Debbie Speece is the associate dean of research and faculty development within the School of Education, and a tenured Professor of the Department of Counseling and Special Education. Speece’s research interest is understanding variables that place children at risk for reading disabilities and interventions that may ameliorate that risk. As the associate dean for research and faculty development for the School of Education, Speece is responsible for promoting the scholarly agenda of the school through education and awareness of research opportunities, individual work with faculty and grant development. An average day consists of a tsunami of emails and meetings, most of which are productive and interesting. Speece doesn’t get an opportunity to meet with students as much as she’d like due to her current position, but is willing to meet with students interested in grant writing and to serve on dissertation committees. Speece’s experience as a graduate student gave her unique opportunities to participate in grant writing. She highly recommended the book, How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva, Ph.D. (she gave me a copy!) She also recommends doctoral students to read “A professor goes to Washington: An open letter to colleagues” published in Remedial and Special Education (2015) to learn how one can be an advocate for research at the federal level.


I also asked Dr. Speece what did she like most about her doctoral program. She attended UNC – Chapel Hill’s Education Psychology program. She mentioned it was a great program and that she was a pre-doctoral fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, was able to work with many interdisciplinary researchers, secured an externally-funded grant that funded her dissertation, produced several publications and knew she would go into academia. She enjoys exercising, spending time with family, grandchildren, and making time for herself a least one day a week.


Dr. Speece’s recommendations for doctoral students are: before graduation publish at least two peer-reviewed papers, get as much grant writing experience as possible—volunteer for all the grunt work!, and take as many methods classes as possible.

Interview conducted by: Evandra Catherine, doctoral student, Special Education and Disability Policy




Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The issue is: What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004)

Endrew F. is a student with autism whose parents argued that the boy had not been provided a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, as required by IDEA in the years he attended public school in Douglas County.  His parents therefore enrolled him in a private school, where he did receive a meaningful education — quickly learning math, in particular, and overcoming behavioral problems. The parents then sought reimbursement from the public school district .

Relying on the federal statute, Endrew’s parents asked the Douglas County School District to pay for Endrew’s private schooling.  The district (hearing officer) and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado both said no. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concurred determining that the school district had provided FAPE because the boy received “some” educational benefit that was “more than de minimis” during his years in public school, making his education “appropriate,” even if it was not meaningful, and now the family is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in.

“Some courts, including the Tenth Circuit, hold that an IEP satisfies the (IDEA) if it provides a child with a just-above-trivial educational benefit, while others hold that the act requires a heightened educational benefit,” reads the family’s petition to the high court. “Resolving the conflict among the circuits will ensure that millions of children with disabilities receive a consistent level of education, while providing parents and educators much-needed guidance regarding their rights and obligations.”

Supreme Court received case December 22, 2015

Oral Arguments began January 11, 2017

Jeffrey L. Fisher Esq.; on behalf of the petitioner (Endrew); challenges the standard in IDEA, that schools provide instruction and related services to the child that are reasonably calculated to provide “substantially equal educational opportunities”

The standard – “substantially equal educational opportunities”

Neal K. Katyal Esq.; on behalf of respondent (Douglas County) maintains that the standard set in Rowley is understood based on its “unchallenged” interpretation over the past 34 years – that de minimis educational benefit is adequate

The justices’ concern is that de minimis sets the standard too low and seeks to determine what word should be used in the current standard “substantially equal educational opportunities.” The justices posed the question, instead of “equal” what word should replace it?

The case was submitted after oral arguments

Written by: Evandra Catherine, First year doctoral student,

Special Education and Disability Policy RTPA


Join us for a discussion about the implication of a Trump presidency on disability policy and educational policy in particular. This webinar will be lead by disability policy experts, Drs. Jane West, and Michael-Gamel McCormick and is scheduled for Tuesday, November 22nd from 4pm-6:40 pm. More details are provided below:

How will the Presidential Election results affect P-20 public education, special education, and disability advocacy?  Over the next four years, new Washington leadership is likely to change many federal and state programs and policies including the role and responsibilities of the U.S. Department of Education.  In addition, ESSA, the Common Core, IDEA, school vouchers, higher education policy, and the scope of multiple education regulations will likely be reconsidered.   What are emerging signs about these anticipated changes?  Who might serve in key education roles in the Trump Administration?  How will the 115th Congress work with the Trump Administration? How do these changes affect the ongoing work of education advocates  To learn more about these questions and related topics, please join us for a FREE webinar on November 22, 2016 4:00-6:30 p.m. (EST) hosted by two leading Washington education policy experts:  Dr. Michael Gamel-McCormick and Dr. Jane West.

Dr. Michael Gamel-McCormick is the Associate Executive Director for Research and Policy at Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Before joining AUCD, Michael was the Disability Policy Director for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin. He was also senior education policy advisor for Sen. Harkin. Prior to joining Senate staff, Michael was the professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies for 17 years, dean of the College of Education and Public Policy, and Director of the Center for Disabilities Studies, Delaware’s UCEDD, all at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Jane E. West is a federal education policy expert who provides consulting services to a range of national teacher education and special education organizations.  She specializes in assisting professionals in informing and participating in the policy making process in Washington DC.  She served as a Senior Vice President at the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) for eight years where she led AACTE’s advocacy and policy efforts. Prior to her AACTE appointment, she was a founder of Washington Partners LLC, a government relations firm.  Jane began her policy career on Capitol Hill as senior education advisor on the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

This is free webinar sponsored by the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Counseling and Special Education, and is supported by U.S. Department of Education grant #H325D150077-15 as part of VCU’s Research to Policy Advocacy (RTPA) doctoral leadership training project.

Tue, Nov 22, 2016 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM Eastern Standard Time

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
10-15 minutes prior to the start of the session follow this link:  http://aucd.adobeconnect.com/r5c692o7nku/

  • Select “Enter as a Guest” and type your name
  • Click “Enter room”

 You can also dial in using your phone.
If you need to dial in, you can call 866-317-5076; no access code or ID is necessary

Secretary of Education to Visit VCU’s Richmond Teacher Residency Program

  Brian McNeill
University Public Affairs
Phone: (804) 938-7558
Email: bwmcneill@vcu.edu


U.S. Education Secretary to visit Richmond Teacher Residency program

RICHMOND, Va. (Nov. 1, 2016) — U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. will visit Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School in Richmond on Wednesday to highlight the Richmond Teacher Residency program.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program — a partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education — is a highly competitive graduate teacher residency program that recruits, prepares and supports teachers, preparing them to meet the distinct challenges of urban school systems.

“Secretary King’s visit highlights how federal dollars are being used to transform the preparation of teachers for our most challenged schools,” said Therese A. Dozier, Ed.D., director of the Richmond Teacher Residency program. “It affirms the innovative work that the VCU School of Education is doing in partnership with Richmond Public Schools through the Richmond Teacher Residency program to prepare highly effective urban teachers who are committed to the students of RPS for the long term.”

King will visit Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, located at 7825 Forest Hill Ave., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2.

He will be joined by VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; VCU School of Education Dean Andrew Daire, Ph.D.; and Richmond Public Schools Associate Superintendent of Academic Services Andrea Kane, Ed.D.

The U.S. Department of Education recently published regulations to help strengthen teacher preparation by ensuring that new teachers are ready to succeed in the classroom and that every student is taught by a great educator. The regulations aim to bring transparency to the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, provide programs with ongoing feedback to help them improve continuously, and respond to educators across the country who do not feel ready to enter the classroom after graduation.

As part of his visit, King will talk informally with a group of Richmond Teacher Residency graduates, residents and mentor teachers. He will also visit classrooms to see Richmond Teacher Residency teachers in action. He will also hold a question-and-answer session with the news media.

Richmond Teacher Residency is funded through a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership grant.


 About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org

Disability Employment Awareness Month: Helping Youth with Disabilities Transition to Employment

2016posterenglishfrontOctober is designated National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) by the United States Department of Labor – Office of Disability Employment Policy. As we come to the end of the month, we thought it fitting to take a moment to reflect on the many contributions of people with disabilities to our workplaces and to consider how we, as educators, can help facilitate the entry of young adults with disabilities into the workforce. The theme for NDEAM this year is #InclusionWorks. In this post, we’ll consider how inclusivity in our thinking, planning, and practices can both address barriers to and promote the competitive, integrated employment of young adults with disabilities as they transition from school to work.

Emphasizing the steps to encourage successful transition is necessary because significant gaps exist between the employment outcomes of people with disabilities compared to their typical peers. Only 21% of people with disabilities over the age of 18, report that they are employed, and many of that group are employed in segregated “sheltered” settings and receive pay below the national minimum wage rate.1 The recent passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) provides for training and support for individuals with disabilities to gain and maintain competitive employment in integrated settings within communities. Further effort is needed to ensure a more equitable and dynamic employment marketplace that is inclusive of people with disabilities.  

What constitutes a successful TRANSITION from school to work, or from school to adulthood after students exit high school? For the majority of us, having a job that we enjoy and working towards living on our own without depending on others for resources is part of a successful transition. This goal holds for students with disabilities as well. The question then becomes “What can we do as educators and community service providers to support students with disabilities to have successful post-school outcomes?”. We can begin by focusing on and building interagency collaboration. Recent WIOA legislation requires Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) providers and schools to work together earlier and more cohesively to support transitioning students. Collaboration does not end with schools and VR working together; encouraging student and family involvement in transition planning is also a necessary part of successful transition.

Educators can also support student involvement by fostering the development of self-determination skills for students with disabilities. Self-determined students are active members on their transition planning teams, demonstrating competencies such as goal setting, choice making, and self-advocacy. Students should feel that they are integral members of the transition team, having input and making choices with the surrounding support of the education and VR systems.

Ending sub-minimum wage discrimination for people with disabilities, creating funding incentives for community integrated employment, and expanding relationships with businesses to match production demands with skilled workers with disabilities are three policy initiatives currently in discussion. Recent research has suggested the promise of both customized employment approaches and internship programs in bridging the gap from school to work. Customized employment is a model where a tailored job description is created that matches the job seeker’s abilities with the needs of an employer. Project SEARCH is an example of a year-long internship program that partners businesses with employment and educational agencies to provide job training and sustainable employment to students in their last year of secondary education. These approaches offer the promise of a more integrated and diverse workforce that builds on the strength of all individuals and employees.  

We’d like to end with a few practical guidelines for educators to help promote the successful employment of young adults with disabilities:

  • Learn about the services offered by and the rules for accessing adult agencies, such as state vocational rehabilitation agencies and local community service boards. Reach out to representatives of these agencies. Share information and contacts with transition-aged students and their families. It can be tricky for transition-aged students and their families to navigate the entry into adult services world; accurate and readily available information can make a significant difference.
  • Be creative in developing a wide range of work experiences while students are in school. Work collaboratively with your state vocational rehabilitation agency to offer different work experience models to meet the individualized needs of transition-aged students with disabilities. Plan with the end goal in mind – integrated, competitive employment.
  • As educators, keep a pulse on the current needs of the workforce and identify what skillsets employers are going to be looking for. Develop classroom and community activities that will help students acquire these skills.
  • Develop relationships with local businesses. Oftentimes, businesses are more than willing to be a part of the transition to work process for young adults with disabilities, but they don’t know how or they haven’t been asked.
  • Keep the hopes and dreams of young people at the forefront of transition planning and practices. Help students with disabilities to live the kinds of lives that they want.

Resource Links:


1Wehman, P. H. (2011). Employment for persons with disabilities: Where are we now and where do we need to go?. Journal Of Vocational Rehabilitation, 35(3), 145-151.