Ryndak’s appointment to B.O. Smith Professorship will benefit children with severe disabilities

Posted May 20, 2009

Children with severe disabilities figure to benefit from groundbreaking research by University of Florida special education researcher Diane Ryndak, in new studies supported by her appointment to the 2009 B. O. Smith Research Professorship.

While occupying the prestigious three-year post, Ryndak, an associate professor, will investigate methods to improve educators’ decision-making in the instruction and placement of students with disabilities in inclusive, general education classes. Her study will take place at an area high school with inclusive services and classes already in place.

The Smith professorship supports new, cutting-edge research of promising education faculty who are preparing to go up for full professor at the College of Education. It carries the potential for $3,000 annually in research funding and a $5,000 yearly salary stipend, renewed year to year based on research progress. The award also covers the cost of a part-time research assistant for two semesters. Appointments last three years and are staggered so a new professorship is awarded annually. Other current B. O. Smith professors are Kara Dawson in education technology and Cynthia Griffin in special education.

Ryndak (right), a UF special education faculty member since 1995, has forged an international reputation for her school-based research on the effects of inclusive education and the development of leadership and teacher preparation programs in the field. A 2003 Fulbright Research Award allowed her to spend two semesters in Poland to help advance inclusive education services in the Polish school system. She has worked with a Polish Ministry of Education task force to recommend national policy changes advancing inclusive education services and options for all Polish students with disabilities.

In 2007, Ryndak received a four-year grant worth $800,000 for Project Rise (Research in Inclusion and Systems Change in Special Education), which supports the preparation of new leaders in the area of severe disabilities. The grant funds research on inclusive education and instructional methods, provides technical assistance for practicing teachers in inclusive classes, and supports sustainable change in school districts to benefit all students, including those with special needs in inclusive classes.

As Ryndak explains about the benefits of inclusion: “If only six students with severe disabilities are in a class, with whom do they get to model and share experiences? By providing them with services while in a general education class, students with disabilities have more opportunities to interact and communicate with their classmates. They have more opportunities to demonstrate their comprehension and knowledge through interactions with their classmates.”

In her studies funded by the Smith professorship, Ryndak will assess conventional practices currently used to set and modify the instructional content for students with severe disabilities in inclusive classes. She will use her findings to develop an in-service approach to improving those processes “so they more closely match the latest research-proven practices,” Ryndak said, “with the expectation of improved outcomes for the students with severe disabilities.”

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Larry Lansford, COE News & Communications; 352.392.0726, ext. 266; llansford@coe.ufl.edu