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New school director Holly Lane embraces tradition of ‘vigorous research’

Holly Lane

Holly Lane

The University of Florida College of Education has appointed one of its own—associate professor of special education Holly Lane—as the new director of the college’s School of Special Education, School Psychology and Early Childhood Studies (SESPECS).

Lane, an accomplished scholar in literacy education, has served as associate director of the school since 2012 and also coordinates its doctoral program in special education. She succeeds Jean Crockett, who is leaving the post after seven years to resume her teaching and research responsibilities as a professor of special education.

Lane and Crockett will share director duties during the summer transition until Lane assumes sole leadership on Aug. 16.

Lane said her most important role as school director will be to ascertain how she can best support faculty in their work —“and then keep everything else out of their way.”

“We have an exceptional group of scholars and teachers, so supporting their outstanding work will be my top priority. With several retirements coming over the next few years, I also expect new faculty recruitment, development, and mentoring to be a large part of the job,” she said.

Currently, Lane also directs the University of Florida Literacy Initiative (UFLI), a joint program of the College of Education and its affiliated P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School—with several outreach and public-school projects designed to help students who struggle to read or write.

Her research interests include literacy intervention and prevention of reading difficulties through effective early literacy instruction and teacher education. She has published a multitude of peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and a book.

In her 22 years at UF, Lane has served as the lead or co-principal investigator on contracts and grants totaling more than $8 million. She and faculty colleague Nicholas Gage were recently awarded a $1.25 million grant from the federal Office of Special Education Programs to support a doctoral leadership training program focusing on special education.

She also leads the evaluation of a intensive reading improvement effort called “Winning Reading Boost,” developed by the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning. The program, funded in March with $400,000 from the Florida Legislature, is being used to help five failing elementary schools in south St. Petersburg improve the reading of their most struggling students.

Lane said sustaining the school’s strong research program is an ongoing priority for SESPECS.

“A vigorous program of funded research allows for more flexibility in what we do as a school,” she said.

Lane also is strong on teaching and academics. In 2014, she was instrumental in helping the college’s dual certification program—in elementary and special education—become one of the first teacher preparation programs in the nation to receive accreditation from the International Dyslexia Association.

She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in special education from UF and is previous winner of the college’s Outstanding Graduate Teacher Award. She is the 2016 vice president of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children and is on track for the group’s presidency in 2018.

Lane taught special education in public schools for eight years in three North Florida counties before joining UF’s education faculty in 1994.

Her predecessor as school director, Jean Crockett, has headed SESPECS for the past seven years.

Jean Crockett

Jean Crockett


During Crockett’s tenure:

  • Two major centers for research and professional development were established: the interdisciplinary Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies, and CEEDAR, the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform. The latter center was created with the aid of a $25 million federal grant, the largest award in College of Education history;
  • Federal research and training funds generated by SESPECS faculty more than tripled from $15 million to $52 million;
  • The school added seven faculty members, including two as part of UF’s top-10 Preeminence initiative;
  • Crockett’s program, special education, consistently ranked among the top five in its specialty area in the U.S.. News and World Report rankings.
  • Seven Ph.D. graduates captured prestigious national dissertation research awards.

Students in UF’s special education program will benefit from Crockett’s return to teaching and research. She is an acknowledged leader in the field, previously serving as president of the Division for Research of the international Council for Exceptional Children from 2007-2011.

Crockett, who has a doctorate in special education from the University of Virginia (1997), has served as special education editor of the Journal of Law and Education for 15 years. She has published five books and multiple book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles. Since 2008, she has designed and produce the “Doctoral Student Seminars in Special Education Research,” an online seminar series engaging 10 doctoral students scholars selected annually through a national competition sponsored by the Council for Exceptional Children.

“I have had the opportunity to support programs and scholars who are nationally and internationally recognized for the strength of their research and influence on public policy,” Crockett said. “I am confident that Dr. Lane will build on these impressive strengths with innovative and creative leadership. I wish her all the very best.”

   SOURCEHolly Lane, PhD. UF College of Education; 352-273-4273
   SOURCEJean Crockett, UF College of Education; 352-273-4292
   WRITER: Larry Lansford, communications director, UF College of Education; 352-273-4137


UF honors Special Ed’s Stephen Smith for mentoring Ph.D. students

Ask University of Florida special education doctoral candidate Donna Pitts to describe Stephen W. Smith, her faculty adviser and supervisor on two federal research grants on which she works as a research assistant, and she can give you two answers.

Professor Smith picks a shady spot on the front lawn of Norman Hall to review a spreadsheet with second-year doctoral students Michelle Cumming and Kristin Merrill.

Professor Smith picks a shady spot on the front lawn of Norman Hall to review a spreadsheet with second-year doctoral students Michelle Cumming and Kristin Merrill.

There’s her academic response: “Dr. Smith has been an encouragement at every step (of my doctoral experience), and is always available as teacher, trainer, mentor and adviser.”

And there’s the deeply personal side: “Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with cancer, and through the diagnosis, treatment and recovery Dr. Smith supported me with the utmost of compassion and encouragement. I am honored to have such an accomplished, caring and supportive individual as my adviser and committee chair.”

Pitts’ remarks are atypical in that her tough but triumphant battle with cancer figures into her UF doctoral experience. But many of Smith’s current and former students echo Pitts’ comments about the personal attention and compassion he imparts on his students.

That explains why Smith, one of the College of Education’s most prolific researchers and grant generators, is one of just six University of Florida professors to receive its 2014 Doctoral Mentoring Award. The campuswide honor recognizes excellence, innovation and effectiveness in mentoring doctoral students through their final dissertation projects. Each year, the UF Graduate School awards faculty recipients with $1,000 for use in supporting their doctoral students.

“I believe the most critical aspect of education is the development of indeplendent learners,” Smith said. “I find mentoring, advising and supporting doctoral students in their work the most challenging and satisfying part of my professional duties.”

Jean Crockett, director of the college’s School of Special Education, School Psychology and Early Childhood Studies, said Smith’s commitment to excellence in doctoral education “has been a significant factor” in the graduate program’s high national standing. (U.S. News and World Report rates UF’s special education program fifth nationally in its latest survey of America’s best graduate schools.)

In his 25-year academic career, Smith has generated more than $10 million through 26 research and training grants. For the past 16 years, his research has focused on developing new teaching tools and strategies to help students self-regulate their disruptive impulses and aggressive actions in the classroom.

At UF, Smith has received three teaching awards, a Top 100 UF Researcher award, and has served twice as a UF Distinguished Research Professor. He has served as a panel scientist for the federal Institute of Education Science’s social and behavioral education research division since 2008.

In 2012, his research advances earned him a prestigious three-year appointment to the college’s Irving and Rose Fien Endowed Professorship, which comes with money supporting doctoral student hires and technical assistance.

Over the years, Smith’s research and training projects have funded the dissertation studies of more than 30 Ph.D. students, not only in special education but also in school and educational psychology, research and evaluation methods, school counseling, and curriculum and instruction.

Smith draws his doctoral students into the research and teaching process—writing grant proposals, participating in team research meetings and working with senior faculty researchers on novel projects, presentations and research papers. A number of his students have received competitive scholarships and fellowships funding their dissertation research projects in collaboration with Smith’s investigations, and many often rise to leadership roles and learn to mentor each other.

In a letter supporting Smith for the mentoring award, UF second-year doctoral student Michelle Cumming cited Smith’s “infectious passion for the field.”

UF 2012 Ph.D. graduate Gregory Taylor, a special education instructor at the University of Ilinois, recalled  how in his first semester at UF Smith enlisted him to co-author a research manuscript that resulted in his first peer-reviewed academic publication. That experience, Taylor said, “infused confidence about my writing abilities that motivated me to complete my (doctorate) degree.”

Another of Smith’s former students, Christopher Van Loan, now in his sixth year as assistant professor at Appalachian State University, wrote: “As I have reflected back on my early career, I realize that his advice still guides me in most professional decisions.”

Smith believes successful mentors “must have the courage to hold students to high standards” and craft mentoring situations that enable students to acquire the skills they need.

“Mentors must have the insight to recognize the skill set that students bring to the table, and support them in developing their strengths while attending to some of their needs,” he said.

   SOURCE: Stephen W. Smith, UF College of Education,
   WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education;