It’s hard to imagine a more complex and demanding responsibility for a school district administrator than overseeing the education of children with disabilities.
Such leaders are in high demand; Seattle Public Schools’ new special education director, Wyeth Jessee, is the ninth person to hold the job in 10 years.
A new two-year master’s degree program to train future special ed directors has begun meeting that demand, graduating its first group of 10 students last summer. All the graduates, who already had at least five years experience in special education, received job offers.
The program, Enhancing Capacity for Special Education Leadership, is run by the University of Washington Bothell and Washington State University.
Graduates receive a UW Bothell Master’s degree in Education with emphasis in Educational Leadership.
State and federal dollars pay 90 percent of the cost for each scholarship in the program. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed $2.3 billion education plan includes $800,000 to pay for 20 new slots and also to create a central location for “best practices” in special education at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Special education directors must ensure that the district follows federal law and provides a “free appropriate public education” to every child who qualifies, understanding that parents and educators sometimes disagree about those words mean.
And now mere compliance with the law is not good enough — school districts are expected to boost academic achievement for students with disabilities and improve their chances for further education and employment once they leave school.
To meet those challenges, students in the ECSEL program take a series of year-long seminars that focus on improving management skills, coordinating individual learning plans for students, understanding the intricacies of special education law, setting policies, training staff and developing better relationships with parents and community advocates.
They focus on special education leadership at the school level in the first year and at the district level in the second year.
Weekend classes and a blend of online and in-person instruction makes it possible for professionals already working in schools around the state to complete the requirements for a master’s degree and state administrator certification without leaving their home districts.
The current class of 18 students is expected graduate in 2016.
Candidates for the ECSEL program must have a minimum of five years of experience as a special education teacher, school psychologist, speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist or physical therapist.
The application deadline for the next group of students in the program will be in March, 2016.