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October 7, 2013

Planning for Change in the VCU-ACE Cohort 1 Technical Assistance Divisions!

-- Staci Carr, VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Coordinator

It is hard to believe that the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance project has started its third year with the Cohort 1 divisions.  These eight public school divisions and one regional program have made a lot of progress in a little time!  As we look back at their progress, much of which has been chronicled here in our E-news, we are reminded of the saying by anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  All of the divisions from this first cohort have lived up to that quote.  They have embraced systems change and coaching as a way of changing practice within their divisions.  As we enter our “wind-down” year and begin the move from intensive in-division support to the follow-along phase, the divisions have proven to be fully invested in maintaining the goals developed and charging forward to address additional division-wide initiatives to meet the educational needs of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Realizing the importance of scaffolding and providing ongoing support to these divisions, VCU-ACE has developed a plan to do just that.  In year three, every division will engage in a collaborative assessment process and establish plans to continue their work on goals and systems change as the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associates (TAAs) fade from their direct work in divisions.  VCU-ACE will also provide guided follow-along in years 4 and 5 of the model.  In year four, VCU-ACE TAAs will continue to provide guidance to division staff who oversee the project within the division, and will assist in completing fidelity checks and helping the division maintain their efforts to improve services for youth with ASD.  By year 5, VCU-ACE TAAs will provide faded support and encouragement to Cohort 1 divisions. 

After year 5, these first divisions that were accepted into the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance program become part of a community that will be available for support and problem solving on an ongoing basis. As new cohorts join this community we hope to spread collaboration and consistency across the state.

(VCU-ACE Cohort 1 school divisions are: Arlington, Botetourt, Greensville, Hampton, Henrico, Newport News, Richmond City, Wise County, and the Northern Neck Regional Special Education Program)

Coming Up in the November ENews – Information on Applications for Cohort 2!!

Don’t Miss the VCU-ACE October Webcast!

Register Now!!  On Tuesday, October 8th, Samantha Marsh Hollins will share information on Standard Diploma Credit Accommodations for Students with Disabilities via the VCU-ACE monthly webcast.  The 2012 General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia to emphasize college and workplace readiness for all students, including students with disabilities. The legislation eliminated the Modified Standard Diploma, effective with students entering the ninth grade for the first time in 2013-2014. The General Assembly also directed the Board of Education to make provisions for students with disabilities who previously would have been candidates for the Modified Standard Diploma. The Board of Education responded to the legislature in June 2012 by amending the Standards of Accreditation (SOA) to permit credit accommodations for students with disabilities pursuing a Standard Diploma. Each student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan determines whether credit accommodations are appropriate. In March 2013, the Board of Education approved guidelines for school divisions on allowable credit accommodations.  Immediately after the webcast, Mrs. Marsh Hollins will be available to answer questions through a live chatroom. 

Samantha Marsh Hollins is the Director of the Office of Special Education Program Improvement with the Virginia Department of Education. She is a doctoral candidate in the Special Education and Disability Policy Leadership Program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

If you are unable to view this webcast as it airs, please visit the archived webcasts page on the VCU-ACE website after October 8th.  All previous ACE webcasts can also be found here and are available for your viewing at anytime.

An Update on the PARAPro Project at VCU-ACE!

VCU-ACE had a busy summer training paraprofessionals -- almost 1,000 people went through the online course Autism Spectrum Disorder for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports in June, July, and August!  This course was launched in April, 2012, and to date, VCU-ACE has trained over 3,500 people through both online and live training.  The online course is offered each month and consists of five modules.  The modules cover the characteristics of ASD, a brief history of ASD, dignity and respect, the IEP process, the roles of the paraprofessional, instructional strategies and supports, environmental supports, social and communication instruction, and behavior supports.  An activity book allows participants to apply the knowledge and skills they learn to both case studies and their own jobs.  As a reminder, the VCU-ACE course for paraprofessionals does meet the requirements of H.B. 325.  If you have any questions about the VCU-ACE course for paraprofessionals, please contact Dr. Selena Layden at

***Please note – due to the holiday break for public school divisions, the Autism Spectrum Disorder for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports course will not be offered in the month of December.  Registration for the January and February sessions is now open.  

News from the VA ABA Consortium!

VCU has recently received notification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. ® that they are now officially able to offer an Approved Course Sequence that, with other requirements, will lead students to be eligible to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Examination®.  Applicants will have to meet additional supervised experience and degree requirements to qualify to take the exam.  VCU continues to partner with the Virginia ABA Consortium, a four university collaboration that also includes George Mason University, Lynchburg College, and Old Dominion University.  The first cohort of this consortium is currently finishing their final course and the second cohort is well under way.  The third cohort will begin in the Fall semester of 2014 and applications will be available soon!  For more information about the program, please visit the VCU-ACE website or contact Dr. Selena Layden at

Great News for VA in the Area of Early Screening and Diagnosis of ASD!

The Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University recently received funding for a project titled "Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening and Diagnosis:  Early Systematic Training in Effective Practices (ASD Early STEP)."  The grant project is a collaborative effort with the Partnership, VCU-ACE, and Commonwealth Autism Service.  The project provides three years of funding to train professionals who serve young children, including early interventionists, pediatricians, and others, in three state locales.  Family members of children suspected of having ASD will also receive training and support.  VCU-ACE is excited be a part of this grant opportunity!

Exciting Things to Report from Newport News Public Schools!

Summer has ended with anticipation of new learning and exciting challenges in the Newport News School Division!  In response to the Virginia General Assembly Bill 325, Newport News has encouraged all Instructional Assistants to take the VCU-ACE online course, Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals:  Providing Effective Instruction and Supports.  In August, Instructional Assistants, who work in the self-contained classrooms for students with autism and had already taken the ACE online training, participated in a 2-day training on evidence-based practices presented by Wendy Clayton (NNPS) and Charlene Wentland (VCU-ACE).  This training was developed to bridge the ACE online training to classroom practice.  The goal for the training was to provide support for implementation of the strategies learned into the classroom environment.  The next steps in this process will be for coaches to provide modeling and fidelity checks on practice in the classrooms this fall.

In August, self-contained teachers and SLPs participated in a workshop presented by Taryn Goodwin, ACE Training Associate, to review the VB-MAPP assessment tool and to prepare for an upcoming training in October.  Teachers are expected to have 3 assessments completed by the October training date in preparation for further instruction on developing IEP goals, data collection, and VB-MAPP goals and objectives.  Communication programming is a priority goal in Newport News!

All self-contained ASD classroom teams in Newport News are working on the goals set based on results from the APERS (Autism Program Environment Rating Scale – National Professional Development Center on ASD) assessment completed last school year.  Two Professional Learning Communities were formed in the spring as a result of the APERS assessment goals.  Secondary teachers have been studying Social Skills instruction through their Professional Learning Community.  At Warwick High School and Denbigh High School the students with ASD are involved in social skills groups this fall as a result of the professional learning community work of their teachers.  Both of these groups include students with ASD and neurotypical students.  Elementary teachers have been working on developing, individualizing, and using visual supports for their students.  The Professional Learning Communities will begin meeting again in October. 

Newport News is now working in collaboration with the New Horizons Regional Special Education Program on training and administration of the APERS. This collaboration will benefit both programs in being able to administer and utilize this great assessment tool!  The Autism Service Improvement Team (ASIT) in Newport News has worked hard to establish higher expectations for programming for students with autism spectrum disorders and continues to set the bar at the next level so that student outcomes will continue to improve.  Go Prairie Dogs!!