National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative

An education Doctoral Program for Urban Leadership in Special Education

About the Project

This federally funded project is a collaborative partnership including the University of Central Florida, two Florida urban school districts, and special education leaders from around the country affiliated with the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative.
The initiative will provide three major outcomes:

  1. Development of a model program for an Educational Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) with a specialization in Special Education Leadership for urban special education administrators;
  2. Creation of a cadre of experts and special education urban leadership to act as the National Faculty that will aid in instructing doctoral candidates and provide ongoing advice for the implementation and evaluation of the initiative;
  3. Graduation of urban special education administration fellows with doctoral degrees to serve as leaders in their respective school districts and as new members of the National Faculty, which will form the core of the national network of urban special education leaders.

This initiative is designed to address the gaps between the traditional preparation of urban special education mid-level administrators and the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed for full implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004.

Special education must function as an integral and complementary component of best practices in education for all students. It is important to support the movement towards inclusive education for all students, including those with mild to severe disabilities, and determine the best instructional practices in general education classroom to support the growth and development of students with disabilities. Special educators play an important role in building a unified system of schooling that supports learning of all students. Leadership is needed to make these goals are reality. One important purpose of the program is to provide high-quality, collaborative opportunities for leadership development in special education.


Suzanne M. Martin, Ph.D.
Project Director

Suzanne M. Martin, Ph.D. is a professor of Exceptional Education in the Child, Family and Community Sciences Department, College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida. From 2000-20006, she served as the Assistant Dean of Education for the College. Prior to joining the College of Education and Human Performance, Dr. Martin served as a department chairperson and faculty member at other institutes of higher education. Dr. Martin has a long history of leadership activities in higher education as well as educational organizations. In her career, Dr. Martin has taught elementary school students, junior high school students with special needs, community college students preparing to be paraprofessional in special education classroom, undergraduate students and graduate students. She has served as a President of the International Council of Exceptional Children and as a Program specialist/ Branch Chief at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. She has been awarded grants from the U. S. Department of Education that have allowed her to pursue her work in teacher education and leadership training. She is the recipient of many awards and the author of numerous articles on teaching and leadership as well as a book on women in leadership.

Dena Slanda

Dena Slanda, Ph.D., serves as the Project Coordinator for the National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative at the University of Central Florida. As the recipient of the Preeminent Postdoctoral Program award from the University, she also serves as the Project Coordinator for a federally-funded grant dedicated to the preparation of teachers and teacher leaders with the skills to improve outcomes for students with disabilities with high-intensity needs. Dr. Slanda completed her Bachelor’s degree at George Mason University and earned her Master’s degree and Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Central Florida in Exceptional Student Education. She has conducted numerous national, state, and local presentations focused on school-wide reforms, urban education, mentoring doctoral scholars, diversity in recruitment, culturally responsive leadership, and intensive interventions in both elementary and secondary settings. Her professional experiences in the K-12 schools include a serving as a secondary intensive reading teacher, a general education teacher for Science and Technology, an active member of the literacy committee and the MTSS committee. Dr. Slanda continues to teach at the college level for both undergrads and graduate students.

Katie M. Miller, Ph.D.
External Evaluator

Katie M. Miller, Ph.D., serves as the External Evaluator for 2015 NUSELI grant. Dr. Miller is an Assistant Professor of Exceptional Student Education at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) on the Boca Raton campus. She received her doctorate in Exceptional Student Education at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Her research focus is examining evidence-based interventions infusing technology to increase academic performance for students with disabilities. She has a particular interest in Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) in writing. Dr. Miller is passionate about teacher education and finding best practices for increasing special education teacher efficacy. Originally from Buffalo, New York, she completed her undergraduate and graduate work in Elementary and Special Education at Daemen College. She spent five years working as a special educator in the elementary setting in both Kissimmee and Cape Coral, Florida. Most of her experience has been working in urban settings with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Prior to joining the ESE Department at FAU, Dr. Miller worked as the Project Coordinator for the National Urban Special Education Leadership Initiative (NUSELI) at UCF.