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Hott Receives $3 Million Grant

SPIDERS words on a gray spider web

Hott Part of $3 Million Grant to Fund Special Education Graduate Students

headshot of Brittany Hott in a blue shirt and grey sweater

Associate Professor Brittany Hott, along with colleagues at the University of Louisville and the University of North Florida, was awarded a $3,536,402 grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. Clinical Professor John Jones will serve as affiliate faculty on the project.

The purpose of Project SPIDERS (School-university Partnerships Influencing, aDvocating, and Engaging Rural Special educators) is to support 18 doctoral students at three existing doctoral degree programs that prepare special education personnel for leadership positions in high-need rural school systems. Six doctoral students from the University of Oklahoma will receive full tuition and fees, yearly stipend, research support, conference travel and internship opportunities for up to four years of study.

The grant’s goal is to prepare special education personnel who are well-qualified and can act effectively in leadership positions in high-need rural schools. One of the conditions of accepting a spot in the program is for every year of funding, students will be required to serve students with disabilities for two years.

“We aim to fully leverage faculty expertise across three institutions,” Hott said. “The University of Louisville has significant expertise in teacher education and personnel preparation; the University of North Florida has strong leadership and policy; and the University of Oklahoma has excellent special education research courses, particularly focused ​on applied research.”

The programs will work collaboratively, teaching some courses across universities to prepare a network of scholars who will stay in their rural districts and have the skills to measure well, influence policy and ensure high-quality professional development. Project SPIDERS students will pursue part-time doctoral study while continuing to serve their districts.

“We are experiencing a lot of retirements and have a critical need for all teachers, but especially special education teachers in Oklahoma,” Hott said. “Rural areas often don’t have the salaries to compete with suburban and urban areas and it has been tough to fill these needs. Rural districts are really great places to work, so why not grown our own?

“Why not grow our own teachers from paraprofessionals and grow our own leaders? Special Education knowledge is so important, not just for special education teachers or directors, but general educators who serve kids with disabilities and principals and superintendents who are overseeing schools and districts.”

The project will be evaluated using a mixed methods approach, using quantitative and qualitative data, with oversight from a project advisory board that includes rural practitioners, families who have children with disabilities served in rural settings, and scholars.

The partnership with the University of Louisville and the University of North Florida grew out of familiarity as Hott, Ginevra Courtade (Louisville), David Hoppey (North Florida) and Pamela Williamson (North Florida) have worked together on various projects over the past decade. All of the principal investigators were themselves OSEP grant scholars, and this grant that fully supports doctoral students financially and academically is a way to pay forward the help they received in furthering their careers.

Putting together a proposal for a grant of this magnitude is no easy task. The group had about a six-week time frame to pull together the 700-plus page application, also relying on support from graduate students at their respective universities.

The collaboration on this project isn’t limited to the colleges of education at these universities. The OU Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion signed a letter of support to offer training across all three universities. University of Louisville’s Teaching and Learning Center will join in support across all three institutions; University of North Florida will help with leadership training.

“We really maximized not only faculty expertise, but also the benefits of our institutions,” Hott said.

In the search for the six OU doctoral students, the response from districts and superintendents has been overwhelmingly positive. The call for doctoral candidates went out on Oct. 1, with an application deadline of Jan. 1. Before the end of October, more than 30 Oklahoma professionals had expressed interest in the project.