Creating school environments that promote high expectations for students with disabilities can be a difficult task for school and district leaders—especially if those leaders don’t have strong special education backgrounds.
Three states, including Delaware, will use new federal grants to help prepare better-trained educators to tackle the work.
The state already offers a special education director credential, but it does not specify what knowledge or skills individuals must have to quality—and only 42 percent of the state’s special education directors have the credential, said Beth Mineo, the director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies.
To close that gap in skills and preparation among administrators, the Delaware Department of Education and the University of Delaware will launch the Special Education Administrative Leadership (SEAL) program this summer using a five-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
“There is no guarantee that even when someone holds the credential currently, that they’re going to have the array of knowledge and skills that we know to be really critical in this role,” Mineo said. “Leadership is critical for setting the tone, making sure that everybody is functioning not just within the law, but reflecting evidence-based practices.”
As part of the training, selected applicants will conduct research on an actual special education challenge that exists in their school or district, attend retreats that expose them to a range of special education topics, and participate in internships that immerse them in school, district, and state-level work on special education issues. The participants will learn how staff members, such as speech language pathologists and occupational therapists, support students with disabilities and the needs of particular student populations, such as children who have hearing loss, vision impairment, and autism.
The 18-month curriculum will also include school leadership training from the University of Delaware Academy for School Leadership.
The college is currently accepting applications. The first cohort will begin in August.
“We want to influence people at all levels of the system,” Mineo said. “We’re not just targeting people at the pinnacle ... but people who see themselves as being able to be influential.”
That could be a special educator who wants to develop their leadership skills or a principal or assistant principal who feels like they need a more complete grasp of special education law and practices to meet the needs of students with individualized education programs.
The program will train 55 educators around the state in four cohorts.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded similar grants to develop statewide leadership programs and networks to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.