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News from the Superintendent

Posted: August 24, 2018

Working to Improve Special Education Morale

In her weekly message to employees, Supt. Reedy discusses a study to measure employee satisfaction among special education teachers and staff.

I started my career as a special education teacher, so I know first-hand what a rewarding but also challenging job it can be. That is especially true in Albuquerque Public Schools, where nearly two out of 10 students receive special education services. 

About 15,000 of our students, roughly 17 percent, have some type of disability, a disproportionate number compared to other districts and charter schools in the state because Albuquerque is a hub for services. More than 8,700 of our students have a learning disability; 1,400 have a speech or language impairment; 1,100 have autism. We also serve students with other health impairments, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, hearing and vision impairments, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury and multiple disabilities. The challenges are considerable, but we embrace the student for the unique individuals they are. 

If you are fortunate enough to work with these students, you know what a joy it is to help them learn and thrive. You know how caring and supportive, if not exhausted, their families can be. You know how worried so many of them are about the futures of their children who will no longer be eligible for public school services after 22 years of age.  

You also understand the demands of the job. It takes a special kind of heart, a more patient soul, to support many of these students. Not everyone is cut out for this type of work. Special education jobs are the hardest to fill in APS and across the nation. Right now, we still have about 160 special education teacher openings. 

Our special education teachers and staff need to know that they are appreciated, their work is valued, and they are making a difference. So, when I heard not long ago that some of our colleagues weren’t feeling that way, we knew we needed to look further into the matter.

This summer, APS and the Albuquerque Teacher Federation commissioned a professional research and polling company to conduct a study to measure employee satisfaction among our special education teachers and staff. The survey also assessed satisfaction with their work environment, employee morale and communications.

The survey took place during a two and a half week period in late June/early July when 402 teachers and staff were interviewed by phone.

We are in the process of taking a detailed look at the results, but I thought I would share some of the initial findings with you.

The vast majority of those interviewed (89 percent) feel the work they perform benefits APS students, and about three-quarters of them said they are satisfied with the type of work they do. I am so glad to hear that they know their value.

However many special education teachers and staff members said communication is lacking and morale is low. They cited a need for clear direction, timely communication, and collaboration opportunities.

Many of those interviewed also said they feel overworked, having to spend a lot of time on mandated paperwork, lesson plans and preparation. And they feel they are not fairly compensated for the additional time they spend on these tasks.

I want to assure you that we value the results of this survey and find the information useful. We have asked the Council of the Great City Schools to visit APS and spend time with us reviewing processes and procedures as well as sharing best practices from other large urban districts. In the past, visits of this nature have proven very beneficial to the district.

We also are putting together a joint APS/ATF committee made up of special education school and department staff to share insights, knowledge and experiences and to collaboratively work on solutions that will help improve morale.

This is hard work. We must review teacher responsibilities. We must find better ways to communicate and explain state and federal requirements so that there is a clear understanding by all stakeholders. It is a difficult balancing act. How are ever-changing laws and regulations to be met while safeguarding, as best we can, staff time and ability to do the job?

We cannot meet our obligation as a district to provide the best educational opportunities for all students if our employees feel overwhelmed. This applies to everyone in the APS family. Our goal is to recruit, hire, support and retain the best teachers for our students. 

Please know that I value our special education teachers and staff. If you are among them, then thank you for all you do. If you work alongside them, please let them know how appreciated they are.

Our students deserve nothing less.