Special Education

Picks Named for High Ed. Dept. Positions

Selections for special ed., vocational-adult programs would join at pivotal time
By Sean Cavanagh & Christina A. Samuels — July 09, 2009 2 min read
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President Barack Obama plans to nominate a state schools chief from the Midwest and the leader of a New England nonprofit group to fill two high-ranking positions at the U.S. Department of Education, with oversight over special education programs and over vocational and adult education.

Alexa E. Posny, the commissioner of education in Kansas and a former federal Education Department official, is the president’s choice to serve as the assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, known as osers.

For the position of assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, the White House said Mr. Obama will nominate Brenda Dann-Messier, the president ofthe Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center, Inc., an organization focused on adult literacy and learning, in Providence, R.I.

Both appointments require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

If confirmed, Ms. Posny, 57, will be making a return trip to the department. In April 2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush, she was appointed the director of the office of special education programs, which is part of osers. Ms. Posny left the federal agency in May 2007 to return to Kansas to lead that state’s education department. She has also served as Kansas’ state director of special education, the director of special education for the state’s Shawnee Mission district, and as a Title I technical adviser for districts around the country.

The office of special education and rehabilitative services oversees implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guides the schooling of 6.7 million students nationwide. The office also ovesees vocational rehabilitation and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Nancy Reder, the director of governmental affairs for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, in Alexandria, Va., praised the choice.

“We’re delighted,” Ms. Reder said, noting Ms. Posny’s Title I and special education experience in particular.

Focus on Adult Education

President Obama’s other new selection, Ms. Dann-Messier, 60, would oversee the department’s efforts in career and technical education, which have a budget of more than $1 billion a year and help fund vocational and job-training classes in high schools and community colleges in subjects ranging from automotive repair to construction to health care.

At Dorcas Place, Ms. Dann-Messier has overseen a wide range of efforts, some of which have received federal funding, to improve the skills and literacy of adults,the organization’s Web site says. It has promoted cooperation between schools and family and health services, and established a program to help immigrants who were professionals find jobs in their fields, according to the organization.

Ms. Dann-Messier’s selection seems consistent with the Obama administration’s emphasis on “adult career pathways,” and the connections between K-12, college, and the workforce, said Kimberly Green, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium, in Silver Spring, Md.

Ms. Green said she hoped Ms. Dann-Messier could improve cooperation between high schools and community colleges and strengthen the academic plans required of recipients of federal vocational education funding.

“We have an opportunity to break a lot of the stereotypes out there,” said Ms. Green, referring to public perceptions of unchallenging academics within career-oriented education programs.

A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as Picks Named for High Ed. Dept. Positions


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