Brian works closely with the special services team comprised of counselors, speech pathologists, psychologists, learning resource teachers, and classroom teachers where I have seen firsthand his dedication to putting students and their needs first in the decision making process.”

— Amanda Boyce
Learning Specialist, Santiam Canyon SD

Special Education Director

What I have learned from Special Education as a school leader:

  • Instructional approaches in special education can effectively increase a classroom teacher’s repertoire of teaching strategies if the right coaching takes place.
  • The two keys to effective special education programs are; 1) a talented educator who is 2) an effective advocate for the students she/he serves. These two characteristics are the best supports for students who need either increased time or specialized instructional strategies to reach grade level standards.
  • In large schools effective partnerships with outside organizations can serve a district by allowing students from throughout the district to attend special programs in a sustainable manner.
  • Special Education work can be very gratifying when you understand what is at stake for students and their families.

Special Education is an area of school leadership that came to me over years of being a site principal and the superintendent of small rural districts with a variety of programs in my buildings. I have always been fascinated by special education and its role in increasing student opportunities to close gaps that are understandably based in medical or environmental circumstances outside of students control.

As a large campus Rolling Hills is where I expanded my knowledge of and work with special populations. We had a variety of programs on campus, from our learning resource center to a treatment centered program for emotionally disturbed middle school students, and including special day classes for severely disabled students.

An opportunity to work closely with special education staff around these diverse sets of students needs is one of the key leadership areas I took to my future positions.

At Pringle Elementary I learned the key to effective Learning Resource Center programs and the effective evaluation of highly specialized autistic students in a grades K-3 program. In both instances I learned how to compassionately support students (and their families) through targeted Behavior Intervention Plans, careful listening to specialist recommendations, the analysis of specialized assessments, and matching student needs with staff skills.

It was a revelation that the key to special educator effectiveness in learning resource centers was the rate of student exit and the rate of student support measured by classroom teacher derived strategies under the support of the resource teacher. You can review Pringle’s Reading Flooding Model for the pre-RTI approach to get a better sense of how we re-routed students within general education and closed the skills gap in the areas of reading.

As the director of three districts special education departments I have been involved in a variety of issues that come about with the challenge posed by the transition of leadership often seen in some districts. In two of the programs I took over one of my first requirements was to certify for the State that the district was in compliance with the maintenance of effort requirements defined under Part B of IDEA. In more than one district I had to complete manifestations of determination (including mediation hearings) regarding students’ free and appropriate education rights. In each of these situations I worked effectively with families, legal counsel and school staff to assure the services we provided were of the highest expectations.

Four things that working with Special Education programs brought out in my leadership skills:

  • Closing the gap for all students in sub-populations means involving the special education staff early in the conversations about struggling students.
  • Youth Services Teams (YST) are critical components of comprehensive services for students who are consistently on the move from school to school.
  • Unified curriculum (curriculum coherence) is the key with special education teachers who need to blend specialized strategies with classroom curriculum for inclusion models.
  • Special Education teachers training make them effective leaders of Student Study Teams, lending effective support to classroom teachers searching for effective classroom instructional strategies.