William Carey University is one of three Mississippi universities working with the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform, or CEEDAR, Center.
CEEDAR is a national initiative that partners with state governments to develop better special education teachers.
William Carey is now on a state task force of 20 people. The task force is includes Delta State University and Ole Miss along with William Carey.
The program initiatives of improving teacher licensing, program evaluation and preparation are based on the Mississippi Department of Education's Special Education Task Force Summary Report from December 2014.
William Carey will focus on teacher program preparation reform, or how to make sure teachers are educated properly in their education classes to benefit students when they're at the head of the class.
"It's called preparation reform and there's how we're going to prepare our elementary and secondary students and our special education students to have a more lasting impact in the school districts," said Dr. Barry Morris, associate professor of education.
Dean of Education Ben Burnett said, "Our focus here at William Carey is to prepare the next generation of teachers in whatever classroom they're going in, but we certainly want to prepare our new teachers to be effective and relevant in the special education classroom."
Both said Dr. Brenda Thomas, coordinator of special education, was the driving force behind the university applying for the five year grant program.
"She understands the children that are slipping through the cracks," Morris said. "She also understands the fears of teachers in recognizing how to overcome that shift in attitudes from fear to 'I can do this. I can work with these children. And they are not disabled, but have a number of gifts.'"
Burnett said he understands the need for well-prepared special education teachers.
"As a former principal and superintendent, I certainly know firsthand the needs and the importance of emphasizing the needs of our special learners in our schools," Burnett said. "We're doing a better job across America of serving our special needs students, but we have a long way to go."
And Morris said it's not just the special needs students who will benefit.
"The purpose of special education teachers is not only to reach out to all of these children with needs, but to train teachers in the schools to change their attitudes, their dispositions, to build a new paradigm inside of a school that says the power of these children and their gifts is going to be much more than their disabilities."