Future Reflections Winter 1992, Vol. 11 No. 1

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KNOW THE SYSTEM

             Summary of Remarks by Dr. Ralph Bartley

          at the NFB Parents of Blind Children Division

                 Annual Meeting, June 30, 1991.

One of the highlights of the POBC Annual Meeting is a presentation from the 1991 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award winner. It is both inspiring and informative to hear one of the top educators in the country explain how they teach, what they teach, and the why's of what they teach. This year our award winner, Dr. Ralph Bartley, is an administrator who came up through the ranks as a teacher.

Early in his presentation Dr. Bartley talked about his philosophy of education. "If I had to put it in a few words," he said, "I think [I would call it] common sense approaches to independence [and] common sense approaches that lead to independence." Dr. Bartley then credited Richard J. Edlund, former President of the NFB of Kansas, former National Treasurer of the NFB, and currently the 33rd District Representative to the Kansas House of Representatives, as the key person in developing his approach to the education of blind children.

"He [Dick Edlund] took this young, first-time administrator (the principal's job in Kansas was my real first administrative job) and he brought me along. He kept telling me, `Ralph, use some common sense.'"

Dr. Bartley also credited the Braille Monitor (the monthly publication of the NFB) as being a prime factor in his beliefs and attitudes about blindness. He pointed out that he had been reading the Braille Monitor for years and continues to read it.

In describing the impact his philosophy has on the on-campus program of the Kansas school for the blind, Dr. Bartley described the 1991 graduating seniors as examples of "philosophy in action." "We had eight students graduate this year....Those students ranged from a student who went half-time to public school and half-time to our school, was in the gifted program,...and [had been] elected president of his [public school] Junior class (the class had 400 Juniors) [to] a student...who was severely multiply handicapped and blind and who will be going on to a supported employment program in a community living type of situation."

100% of these students, Dr. Bartley pointed out, had a place to go after school. "Five are working, and three are going on to a university program. They all received diplomas."

As an aside, Dr. Bartley expressed his strong belief that any student who had completed his or her educational program, as judged by his/her IEP, should receive a high school diploma. Whatever the student's potential, the high school diploma recognized achievement.

Dr. Bartley then proceeded to point out that Kansas State School for the Visually Handicapped had a larger mission that just serving the 55-65 students on campus. "Our mission at the school is to serve all [blind and visually impaired] students in the state." He explained that although this usually means providing evaluation and consultation services to local school districts, the school also provides direct services--such as cane travel instruction—from time to time as needed. Since Kansas is geographically a wide state (about 450 miles across) and the school for the blind campus is located on the eastern border of the state in Kansas City, Kansas, the school hires a consultant/teacher in western Kansas to serve the local schools in that part of the state, while the staff on campus serves the eastern part of the state.

The Kansas State School for the Visually Handicapped also runs a four-week full-day summer program primarily aimed at blind public school students. This program has been in operation for about fifteen years. Dr. Bartley explained that when the program first began, the public school vision teachers were suspicious of the school's motives; they were afraid the school intended to recruit the kids for enrollment. It was a "public school versus residential school" attitude. Dr. Bartley reports that he feels Kansas has gotten beyond that [he even hires public school vision teachers for the summer program]; but warned parents not to let this attitude prevail in their respective states. "It is detrimental to our programs," he said, "to have public schools and the blind school fighting each other. There is too much to be done [to have this] going on."

Dr. Bartley then stated his strong belief in, and support of, public school programs for blind and visually impaired kids. He pointed to his professional background (he was trained at Northern Illinois University as a public school vision teacher), as well as his association with "...the best vision teacher in the state....She works for the Kansas City, Kansas, school district...my wife, Jane Bartley," as factors in his support of the integration of blind children into regular programs.

Dr. Bartley then moved on to advise parents: "Know the system. If you don't know the system, you can't know how to work the system." He then described some of the elements of the system in Kansas that both worked for, and against, good well-funded educational programs for blind kids.

One element of the system that boosts the chances for good programs is the fact that the Kansas State School for the Visually Handicapped is supervised directly by the Kansas State Board of Education, whose members are elected by the citizens of Kansas. "They [the Kansas State Board of Education] supervise three agencies: the school for the blind, the school for the deaf, and the Kansas department of education. They hire and fire three people; me [the superintendent of the school for the blind], the superintendent of the school for the deaf, and the commissioner of education."

The National Federation of the Blind has long supported the concept of separate agencies for the blind; agencies which are not buried under other, larger "umbrella" agencies in the state. Dr. Bartley asserted that having the school for the blind report in at a high level certainly works well in Kansas, especially at budget time. "An advantage we have as a separate agency is that when the Board approves my budget, the budget goes directly to the Governor and then directly to the Legislature." This gives him, Dr. Bartley explained, the opportunity to personally defend his budget requests with the Governor and the state House and Senate committees. He cautioned parents to stay on top of funding issues in their states.
Dr. Bartley then moved on to discuss one of the biggest problems in getting funding he and everyone in services to the blind faces: numbers. As a group, the blind are often described as a low-incidence population. All this means is that while the needs may be great, the total numbers of those who are blind are low compared to other groups of the disabled. "For example," Dr. Bartley explained, "the state of Kansas is a smaller state, only about 2.5 million people, and in that 2.5 million people only about 460,000 are school-age children. Of that 460,000 there are only about 250 children who are identified as blind or visually impaired." The first thing he hears when he talks budget is, "But there are so few kids." And it doesn't matter what program your blind child is in, Dr. Bartley explained, you'll hear the same thing. The public school vision teachers hear it, parents hear it. This only makes it more imperative, he pointed out, that educators and parents be prepared to defend and promote quality educational programs for blind children.

Moving on, Dr. Bartley proceeded to highlight his beliefs in four other areas related to the education of blind children.

Teacher Training: "This is a problem. The universities have so much control over the [teacher] certification process, but yet they are not turning out enough people, so we have a [shortage]. My [belief] is either turn out the people or get out of the business." One solution for the problem, Dr. Bartley stated, was alternative certification. In other words, establish an alternative certificate for people who have the necessary skills (knowledge of Braille, for example) or experience, but who don't have a university degree or certification in the education of blind children. This has been done in other areas of regular education, such as math and science, Dr. Bartley pointed out, so why not visual impairment? He urged parents to look to trends in regular education--such as alternative certification--for solutions to problems in special education for the blind.

Accreditation: Recognizing the National Federation of the Blind's history of support for quality accreditation and, as a consequence, our long opposition to the National Accreditation Council for Agencies serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC)—an agency which has besmirched the name of accreditation by indiscriminately accrediting some of the worst agencies for the blind in the nation--Dr. Bartley emphatically stated: "We [the Kansas State School for the Visually Handicapped] are not NAC accredited." He then pointed out that the school is accredited by the same body in the state of Kansas which accredits the regular elementary and secondary schools. In regard to accreditation, Dr. Bartley believes that residential schools should seek accreditation from state or regional bodies which accredit other schools in their communities. Again, he urged parents and educators to watch for trends in regular education. For example, there is a new accreditation process called "Outcomes Accreditation" which he believes can prove to be a very appropriate process for residential schools for the blind.

Cane Travel: "I always get asked," Dr. Bartley said, "When do you start a kid with cane travel?'...When I first started (this was back in the mid-sixties) everybody told me [that] you don't start a kid [on cane travel] until junior high, tops....That didn't make sense to me and so,...about ten years ago, I began to tell people, `When they are shoved out the door of kindergarten, give them a cane.' Now, I think they ought to issue canes [to blind kids] in the hospital." Dr. Bartley said if anyone accused him of being unprofessional because of these views, they should know that he has four degrees, including a degree in the education of the blind, and a doctorate in educational administration.  

Braille: Dr. Bartley reaffirmed his strong support for Braille instruction for blind and visually impaired children. (Kansas had recently passed a Braille bill which provided that no blind or visually impaired child should be denied the opportunity to learn Braille. Dr. Bartley had been a key supporter of that bill along with the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. It was this joint support and effort which made passage of the bill possible.)

Dr. Bartley then completed his remarks with a description of the long-term, ongoing cooperation between the Kansas State School for the Visually Handicapped and the state and local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. "It is the strength of our program," Dr. Bartley said. "There is a lot of cooperation, there is a lot of communication. I am not saying we always [agree with each other] or that everything is always rosy in Kansas, but we have been talking ever since I came to Kansas, and that was fifteen years ago."  Dr. Bartley described how the Kaw Valley chapter of the NFB of Kansas helps sponsor the school's two major awards: the Braille Student of the Year award and the Braille Math student award. The chapter has purchased prizes--a Perkins Braillewriter and a talking calculator--for the winners.

Shortly before convention, Dr. Bartley told the audience, the NFB of Kansas had sponsored a week-end Braille 'n Speak workshop on campus for students and other interested persons. The minimum per session (each session lasted a day) was 12. There were enough people signed up to extend the workshop into Sunday; 16 people attended on Friday, 17 on Saturday, and 12 on Sunday. "Our students had the opportunity for a day-long seminar with Dean Blazie (inventor of the Braille 'n Speak and head of the company which manufactures it); this would not have been possible if it had not been for the NFB of Kansas," said Dr. Bartley.

Dr. Bartley also explained that the school for the blind and the NFB in Kansas had cooperatively conducted numerous seminars for parents of blind children in the state. The school also uses NFB materials, such as the outstanding publication Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired, by Doris M. Willoughby and Sharon Duffy.

Perhaps the most significant cooperative program, however, is the Career Day sponsored by the NFB of Kansas for students at the school for the blind. Blind adults come in to talk personally and candidly with the students (no teachers are in the meeting) about careers and life in the sighted community. Dr. Bartley explained that this provides the students with the opportunity to meet and get to know blind role models.

With this, Dr. Bartley concluded his remarks and accepted questions from the audience. As might be expected, his speech and views were received with great enthusiasm and perhaps a little envy from parents who would like to have more educators and administrators like Dr. Bartley in their own states.

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