Role of elementary school leaders in special education decisions

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


This study was designed to gain an understanding of tasks elementary building leaders are personally involved with special education building tasks and identify building leaders who self-identify as highly engaged in special education. Instructional leaders must have a full understanding of educational practices as they relate to special education. Building level leaders are asked to perform many different tasks daily. With over 7.0 million students identified as needing special education services, many building leaders struggle with their knowledge of special education and their role. Many Educational Leadership programs do not require a building leader to be educated specifically in the area of special education practices and law thus creating a disconnect in instructional leadership. A case study design was used in answering the four research questions. A survey, Questionnaire on the Special Education Roles and Functions of the School District and/or Building Level Administrator, was administered to elementary building level leaders in one western urban school district in Denver, Colorado. Once quantitative data was collected and analyzed, a qualitative phase using interviews with self-identified highly engaged elementary leaders was conducted. The findings suggest principals who are highly engaged in special education tasks have an understanding of their role and what strategies are needed to be an effective special education instructional leader. These strategies include being (a) collaborative, (b) accountable, and (c) being in a position to create trusting, authentic relationships with stakeholders. It is important for building leaders to have appropriate training to (a) access information through on-the-job training, (b) to prevent a lack of knowledge in IDEA tasks, and (c) be held accountable for ensuring special education programs are adequately supported in their building.




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