Special educators with extensive classroom or leadership experience often move into administrative positions. Administrators are considered upper-level managers, which means they generally forfeit eligibility for tenure and membership in the teachers’ union. (They’re represented in a separate union.) These management positions within special education can be very rewarding: special education administrators take active roles in decision-making, and they can help facilitate many positive outcomes for students with special needs.
In most districts, the highest special education administrative position is director of special education, sometimes called director of special programs. Reporting directly to the superintendent and the school board, this administrator oversees all facets of the special education department, including programs, services, personnel and budget. The director also oversees a team of administrators known as special education coordinators.
A Day in the Life
Though it is difficult to provide an hour-by-hour snapshot of a day in the life of a special education administrator, it is possible to list the types of tasks that such an administrator completes on a daily basis. Most directors and coordinators will spend one to two hours each day attending to each of these areas.
Special education administrators drive the programs and services provided by their school districts. Strategic planning meetings may cover a range of topics, including development of annual benchmarks, testing and compliance goals, opening and closing classes, program development, enrollment forecasting and compliance issues.
Support and Service Implementation
Special education administrators are often responsible for providing support to individual principals and teachers at a single school or group of schools. They visit these schools regularly to troubleshoot issues and to support and mentor teachers and administrators, as well as to offer guidance to help schools and classrooms implement specific individualized education program (IEP) services.
Special education administrators also manage the business side of running a department. The director plans the budget and monitors costs. The administrative team is then responsible for verifying that services billed by outside providers were actually delivered, and that those services are mandated by students’ IEPs.
General Licensing Requirements
To be considered for the position of special education director or special education coordinator, an applicant must have an administrative credential. Though the requirements for an administrative credential vary by state, they usually mandate that an educator have a minimum of five years of teaching experience and a valid teaching credential. Though it is certainly beneficial for administrative hopefuls to have special education experience, it is actually more important that they have a strong background in leadership and experience in multiple leadership roles. It is also important that they have a thorough understanding of special education law. Many special education administrators have graduate degrees, although this is not necessarily a job requirement.
For more information on certificate requirements for special education teachers, visit the teacher certification section of the Special Education Guide website.
Areas of Specialization
Some districts categorize special education administrators by specific skill sets; for example, some districts have coordinators that primarily provide mentoring and support to new teachers. Coordinators can also be in charge of technology, including computerized IEP systems and cloud-based file storage. Some districts even hire special education administrators to strictly monitor and evaluate IEP compliance.
Special Education Administrators on the Career Path
Many special education administrators begin their careers as special education teachers or as school psychologists. This background creates a strong foundation upon which they can build their knowledge of the complex legal and compliance issues that administrators oversee. Others find their way into special education administration after serving as school principals and vice principals. These leaders often make excellent special education administrators because they have experience attending IEP meetings and evaluating special education teachers.
Many special education administrators remain in their positions until retirement. Others move into the private sector, or take positions as educational advocates and consultants. Some even move into politics, where they work as advisers on key legislative topics.
If you’re a teacher or administrator looking to advance your career with a special education degree, check out our comprehensive list of master’s degree programs by state focused on special education
National Organizations of Interest
The following organizations serve the interests and needs of special education administrators: