2016 News Archive


Evaluation Results for SPDG Fall Regional Trainings

SPDG Facilitators trained hundreds of teachers in SPDG participating districts across the state in a day-long workshop focusing on inclusive school culture and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies.  Feedback surveys from the sessions indicated that participants believed that their knowledge and skills to support students with disabilities in the general education classroom had increased. In their comments, teachers indicated the need for continued professional development and additional strategies for their struggling students. 

Winter and Spring workshops, as well as monthly Communities of Practice are planned to address those needs and provide additional support to help increase access to core curriculum for students with disabilities, and to increase teachers’ capacity to select and use additional resources, based on assessment results, to help all learners achieve their potential.

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September 2016 News: Communities of Practice Sessions Begin

All across Tennessee this Fall, educators have been participating in monthly Community of Practice sessions to deepen their understanding of the concepts and skills presented in the SPDG Fall workshop, Increasing Access to Core Instruction. The Communities of Practice sessions are led in districts by SPDG Facilitators who help their colleagues apply principles of Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction in their classrooms.

“We’re seeing educators really dig in to the material presented in the workshop, and use these Community of Practice sessions to apply it to their own situation by trying out new approaches, asking questions, and talking it through with their peers,” said Anika Chambers, SPDG Interventionist working with SPDG school districts in Middle Tennessee. “It’s definitely making a difference for us.”

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August 2016 News: Fall SPDG Workshops Held in Districts Across the State

As a new school year is getting underway, State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) Facilitators in each of the 30 SPDG districts are conducting a full-day workshop, Increasing Access to Core Instruction for Students with Disabilities. The workshop helps participants look at the data in their own district and schools, and assess their needs in creating classroom environments that are conducive to learning for all. Educators are digging in to concepts and case studies related to Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Classrooms. 

One participant reported, “Our presenter was AMAZING! She did a great job explaining the content of the training. I also like how there were lots of activities that made sure all attendees were engaged in the learning, instead of just listening to a presenter all day.

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July 2016 News: SPDG Interventionists Announced

TN SPDG Director Theresa Nicholls has announced the hiring of three SPDG Interventionists to assist with SPDG activities.  The Interventionists will support SPDG District workshops and Communities of Practice activities, provide coaching for SPDG Facilitators, and assist in all parts of the SPDG work. 

  • Dana Johnson, serving districts in West Tennessee, will report to the Southwest CORE office in Jackson. 
  • Anika Chambers, serving districts in Middle Tennessee, will work out of the Department of Education offices in Nashville.
  • Rob Taylor will work with districts in East Tennessee and report to the East CORE office in Knoxville. 
Nicholls commented, “We are thrilled to have a full SPDG team and are encouraged by the level of knowledge and enthusiasm from each of our three interventionists.  They each bring their own experience and background and will be such an asset to our SPDG activities”.

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June 2016 News: Successful Train-the-Trainer Event Held

Over 60 invited district leaders and educators gathered in Franklin on June 6 – 10 to participate in the SPDG Train-the-Trainer professional development event, designed to prepare SPDG Facilitators and their supervisors to implement SPDG activities in their districts.  From Monday’s introductions through Friday’s good-byes, excitement ran high each day as the SPDG Facilitators participated in hands-on activities designed to strengthen and support their knowledge and skills regarding Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction

Participants learned to use rubrics and other tools to assess their own and other’s progress toward creating classroom environments that employ principles of Universal Design and Differentiation. Facilitators learned how to present a consistent message and an engaging training to their district colleagues on these topics while supervisors learned how to support them and their districts in these efforts. On Friday, participants showed off their skills by conducting a mini-session for their fellow SPDG facilitators.  Participants left tired but happy, loaded with materials, knowledge and skills to share back home.

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May 2016 News: SPDG Partners Help Support Goals

In order to reach its goals, the Tennessee SPDG utilizes three partner agencies: 

  • Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP),
  • the University of Tennessee Center for Literacy, Education and Employment (UT CLEE) and
  • the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute (UK HDI). 
Director Theresa Nicholls brings the partner agencies together to assist in implementing grant activities.  STEP Executive Director Karen Harrison and STEP Director of Communications, Learning and Development Gina Lynette help provide training and assistance to parents and families. UT CLEE Associate Director Connie White assists with grant logistics while Duren Thompson, UT CLEE manager for Online Learning and Technology, helps create and maintain the structures and strategies needed for SPDG’s technology use. UTK CLEE consultant and grant manager Donna Parker works with Theresa and other SPDG staff in carrying out SPDG activities across the state. Director Chithra Adams and Lead Evaluator David McKay of UK HDI design, implement and report evaluation results.

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Webinar Recording - April, 2017 SPDG: State of the grant

Webinar Recording -  SPDG:  State of the Grant
Facilitated by Theresa Nicholls on April 12,2016, this webinar provided leadership of the TN disctricts participating in the SPDG grant with an overview of current grant activities and goals.

Technical Notes:
In order to access this webinar recording you may need to download and install the AT&T Connect participant application (software). If you do not have administrative level access to your machine, or are attempting to view this recording on a mobile device, you may need to contact your local tech support for assistance.

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April 2016 News: SPDG Districts and Facilitators Announced

The opportunities presented by the SPDG work prompted about 50 school districts to submit applications to participate.  Of these, 30 districts were selected based on their strong commitment and good foundation for SPDG to build upon.  These districts represent all parts of the state and bring unique strengths and challenges to the SPDG work.  

Each district selected a SPDG Facilitator, an educator who will participate in a week long Train-the-Trainer event and provide training and support for SPDG efforts in their district.  Over the course of the 2016-2017 school year, SPDG Facilitators will conduct 3 full days of district training and multiple Communities of Practice sessions in support of the concepts, skills and practices presented in the trainings.

The selected SPDG Districts and Facilitators are:

  • Alcoa City Schools, Mary Beth Warwick, Facilitator
  • Achievement School District, Tarvis Williams-Mull, Facilitator
  • Bradford Special School District, Emily Waddell, Facilitator
  • Bradley County Schools, Shalee Lastoria, Facilitator
  • Cannon County Schools, Alice Parker, Facilitator
  • Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, Elaine Hoffert, Facilitator
  • Clay County Schools, Barbara Seeley, Facilitator
  • Cleveland City Schools, Christy Fretwell, Facilitator
  • Clinton City Schools, Shannon Cook, Facilitator
  • Cumberland County Schools, Tiffany Reeves, Facilitator
  • Dickson County Schools, Tiffany Jacoby, Facilitator
  • Elizabethton City Schools, Becky Wagner, Facilitator
  • Fayetteville City Schools, Sara McCormick, Facilitator
  • Franklin Special School District, Diane Miller, Facilitator
  • Gibson County Special School District, Chasity Reasons, Facilitator
  • Hawkins County Schools, Karen Pearson, Facilitator
  • Lawrence County Schools, Meredith Sandlin, Facilitator
  • McMinn County Schools, Patti Rogers, Facilitator
  • Metro Nashville Public Schools, Alison Brown, Facilitator
  • Murfreesboro City Schools, Amy Miller, Facilitator
  • Rhea County Schools, Brenda Hill, Facilitator
  • Robertson County Schools, Misti Swindle, Facilitator
  • Sequatchie County Schools, Lisa Condra, Facilitator
  • Sweetwater City Schools, Heather Henry, Facilitator
  • Trenton Special School District, Leigh Ann Newton, Facilitator
  • Tullahoma City Schools, Kim Adkins, Facilitator
  • Warren County Schools, Shea Panter, Facilitator
  • Weakley County Schools, Rebecca Covington, Facilitator
  • West Carroll Special School District, Ariel Fisher, Facilitator
  • White County Schools, Trevanda Allison, Facilitator

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March 2016 News: Districts Apply to Participate in SPDG

The opportunity to be a part of the SPDG work is generating a lot of excitement in Tennessee.  This was evident during Director Theresa Nicholls’ SPDG informational session at last month’s Partners in Education conference.  District leaders from across the state participated and asked many good questions about what their districts would be required to do, and the results they could expect, from SPDG participation.  District leaders left the workshop armed with new information and enthusiasm for SPDG work in Tennessee, and a commitment to tackle the SPDG District Application as soon as they return home.

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February 2016 News: Tennessee SPDG Goals

Tennessee’s State Personnel Development Grant’s goals support the State Systematic Improvement Plan and will move Tennessee toward improving academic outcomes and post-secondary opportunities for students with disabilities.  The SPDG will also increase alignment between early childhood programs and the K-12 system to ensure that students enter Kindergarten with the academic, social and emotional skills necessary for success.  These outcomes will be supported by professional development, coaching, and Communities of Practice activities.  The TN SPDG will also develop online modules based on trainings that will extend learning opportunities throughout the state.  The TN SPDG goals are:

  • TN SPDG Goal 1:  Improved Performance of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities to Ensure Successful Transition to Post-secondary Opportunities
  • TN SPDG Goal 2:  Ensure that Tennessee’s Students enter Kindergarten with the Necessary Academic, Social and Emotional Skills for Success

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January 2016 News: Tennessee Wins SPDG

In 2015, Tennessee applied for a State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U. S. Department of Education.  The purpose of SPDG is to assist state educational agencies in reforming and improving their systems for personnel preparation and professional development in early intervention, educational and transition services in order to improve results for children with disabilities. The Tennessee Department of Education was notified that the state was one of nine states awarded a grant. The Tennessee SPDG is a 5-year grant for $5 million and will be directed by Theresa Nicholls, Executive Director, Office of Special Populations. Nicholls commented:

We are so excited about the opportunity to support our hard working educators in their efforts to improve inclusive practices for students with disabilities in Tennessee.  These grant activities will encourage instructional practices that can benefit ALL students.  We look forward to seeing the long lasting effects of this work.

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