How Arizona’s Master’s Prepared Educators Are Meeting Their Students’ Needs
The total number of special needs students in Arizona today is over 35 percent higher than it was in 2001. This huge jump and subsequent increased demand for special education teachers is actually a reflection of improvements the Arizona Department of Education has made in identifying these students.
The US Department of Education reports that out of Arizona’s 980,337 students, approximately 11.4 percent (111,963) have some form of disability:
- 52,742 students with a specific learning disability
- 19,705 students with a speech or language impediment
- 7,843 students on the autism spectrum
- 7,843 students with emotional disturbances
- 7,353 students with an intellectual disability
- 1,471 students with hearing impairment
- 490 students with visual impairments
- 294 students with traumatic brain injuries
- 98 students who are deaf and/or blind
One of the key pieces of legislation addressing special education is Arizona Revised Statutes Title 15 Chapter 7 Article 4.1: Gifted Education for Gifted Children. Having been in force since 2007, this law makes it mandatory for school districts to locate all students with special needs and provide them with, “education commensurate with their academic abilities and potentials.” In large part, master’s prepared special education teachers have been key to putting this law into practice at the local level throughout the state.
Creating Individually-Tailored Programs to Help Gifted Students Succeed in Arizona
Over the last two decades the Arizona Department of Education has vastly improved the way it accommodates students with disabilities. In May of 2016, Arizona lawmakers allowed the department to take the next step forward as they approved the largest education budget yet – $9.6 billion – with an eye towards meeting the growing demands for special education throughout the state. Examples of how these funds that have been allocated for special education include:
- $53,725 for Arizona Autism Charter Schools
- $6,905 for the Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- $4.47 million to the Washington Elementary School District in Glendale
- $667,730 for the Cave Creek Unified School District
Arizona Autism Charter School – This is the first tuition-free public charter school in the state where master’s-prepared special education teachers are focused on the educational needs of children with autism, serving grades K-8 in the Phoenix metro area. Special education teachers develop evidence-based strategies based on applied behavior analysis with each student at this school.
Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Located in Mesa, this public charter school serves K-12th graders. Special ed teachers have advanced training in deaf education including American Sign Language. The goal of this program is to graduate students who are college-ready, able to play sports, and engage in the broader community.
Washington Elementary School District in Glendale – This district’s Gifted Services Department is tasked with implementing the state’s laws that relate to special education. This means identifying special ed students and their specific needs, which includes pairing them up with the appropriately trained special ed teachers. For students that need extra attention this department runs independent K-6 and 7-8th grade education programs, as well as a four-week summer school.
Cave Creek Unified School District – North of Scottsdale, this district has a number of programs that work to assist students with special needs coordinated through its Special Education Service Department. Educators work to identify and meet the needs of each individual student they encounter to maximize their potential to learn and develop socially. This includes duties like locating and evaluating young students with special needs and working with Arizona State University’s Autism/Asperger’s Research Program.
How One Arizona Teacher is Helping Special Needs Students Become Lifetime Learners
Special education coordinator Krista Quinn is a noteworthy example of a teacher who used her advanced education to achieve her goal of helping her students meet their full potential and become as she puts it, “lifetime learners.”
Based out of Sonoran Trails Middle School in the Cave Creek Unified School District, Quinn calls the Special Education Department her home away from home. Citing teaching as her passion, Quinn’s enthusiasm is contagious for both her students and her colleagues. In April of this year, that enthusiasm resulted in her being awarded the district’s Teacher of the Year award.
Quinn isn’t the only teacher with advanced special education training to be recognized from this district. Janelle Perrin, a PhD-prepared educator with the district was named the state’s Adapted PE Teacher of the Year in the 2015-2016 term, an award grated by Arizona Health and Physical Education, a non-profit organization. As an adapted PE teacher, Perrin faces the challenging task of designing physical education programs that are tailored to each of her students’ special needs. This ranges from activities for students who are in a wheel chair to activities for students who are on the autism spectrum.