Administration Names Four for Top Education Posts

By Debra Viadero — May 03, 1989 3 min read

Washington--President Bush last week named Robert R. Davila, a hearing-impaired vice president of Gallaudet University, as the assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.

If, as expected, the Senate confirms the nomination, Mr. Davila will be the first handicapped individual and the first Hispanic to head osers in its nine-year history.

Mr. Davila’s appointment was announced along with three other choices for top administrative spots in the office. Education Department officials said the nominations were announced together as a “balanced ticket” aimed at least in part at calming the fears of parent and disability groups that had expressed concerns over the special-education philosophies of some of the nominees.

“Each one of the individuals comes from a different area of special education,” said Bill R. Phillips, who is chief of staff to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos. “We’ve worked many months now in talking to a lot of people, and we think these people offer a balanced approach.”

“It’s no secret that from time to time there’ve been controversies in that office because of differing approaches,” he observed.

The son of migrant farmworkers, Mr. Davila has served since 1978 as vice president for precollegiate programs at Gallaudet, the nation’s only university for the deaf. In that capacity, he is in charge of the university’s two schools for younger deaf students--the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf.

‘Open and Fair’

Some organizations originally opposed Mr. Davila’s appointment because they feared that, coming from a special-school background, he would be not be a strong advocate of integrating handicapped students into regular classrooms.

But the Washington-based special-education community welcomed Mr. Davila’s nomination last week.

“We’ve just known him to be a very open, fair, and balanced man,” said Joseph Ballard, a lobbyist for the Council for Exceptional Children.

A Counterbalance

Some members of the disability community see Judy Schrag, who currently serves as assistant superintendent of education for Washington State, as providing a counterbalance on the new management team.

Ms. Schrag replaces Thomas Bellamy as director of the office of special-education programs.

Ms. Schrag has overseen her state’s special-education and support programs since 1980. Before that, she served for five years as Idael10lho’s director of special education.

Ms. Schrag has been associated with the “regular-education initiative"--a movement to teach mildly handicapped children entirely in the classroom, rather than pulling them out for separate instruction.

In an interview last week, however, Ms. Schrag said she favored ensuring “a full continuum” of services for handicapped children, ranging from special schools to regular classrooms.

Also selected for top management jobs in osers were Nell C. Carney as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and Michael E. Vader as deputy assistant secretary in Mr. Davila’s office.

Ms. Carney currently is assistant director of the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped, while Mr. Vader has served as deputy director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Like Mr. Davila, Ms. Carney is a Presidential appointee and must be confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Vader and Ms. Schrag, who were appointed by Secretary Cavazos, need no confirmation.

Management Perspective

Special-education advocates compared the new appointees favorably with their counterparts in the Reagan Administration.

“Schrag and Davila are both trained in the profession,” in contrast to the previous Administra8tion, noted William Schipper, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “And that’s where we start to set up our hopes.”

Lobbyists also praised the new officials’ management experience, which they said had been lacking in recent years.

Madeleine C. Will, who headed the office from 1983 until this spring, came to the job as a parent and former advocate with little experience in running a large organization.

“That particular office has had some problems in management,” Mr. Phillips acknowledged, “and we were aware of that and we wanted to get that corrected.”

He added that the announcements were long in coming because the department took extra care to “interview anyone interested, as well as talk with different groups.” Department officials also “squired” Mr. Davila around to meet with various disability groups, according to advocates.

“It’s just good to get the place up and running again,” said Mr. Schipper of nasdse. “It needed attention.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 1989 edition of Education Week as Administration Names Four for Top Education Posts