feinsodAs many of you know, special education is a subject that is near to my heart. I began my career as a special education teacher, and working with children who had special needs brought me an incredible amount of satisfaction. In fact, I can honestly say it forever changed my life. The fulfillment I received from working to make childrens’ lives better dispelled any doubt I might have had about my career choice. I suspect that most educators – and not a few board members – have had similar epiphanies.

This is one reason why I look forward each year to a particular day in May: the day we present the Innovations in Special Education Awards.

The awards, which are jointly sponsored by NJSBA and ASAH, a non-profit that represents private special education schools, honor exemplary special education programs. This year 10 schools were recognized, and, as happens every year, the event was a soul-stirring reminder of the inspiration found in watching young people meet incredible challenges, with the help of unbelievably talented and dedicated teachers and administrators.

This year, the lump-in-the throat moment came when the New Road School Chorus sang at the beginning of the luncheon program. We were reminded of the courage and fortitude that these children demonstrate on a daily basis, and of how they are true role models for us all. We can all learn from their perseverance, their positive, can-do attitude, and their burning desire to learn.

School Leader readers can learn all about the 2016 Innovations winners and their programs in the article that begins on page 15. It’s part of a special section that also discusses special education law and teacher training, and highlights a program that brings together general education and special education students.

NJSBA has another unique resource for information on special education programs: the A+ Ideas, Practices and Programs page on our website. The site is a repository of some 150 good ideas from districts around the state. Topics covered include everything from curriculum and student achievement board leadership to shared services and community relations. There is a section on special education programs in the electronic library. I urge you to take a moment to review the programs at staging.njsba.org/resources/a-plus-ideas-programs-and-practices/.

When I was studying for my doctorate, I had a professor who often used a quote that has stayed with me: that the measure of a society is found in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

I take pride in the fact New Jersey’s schools have outstanding special education programs. How we educate and treat these exceptional children speaks well of our state. We answer the courage these children display daily with a commitment to provide an education that will help them each reach their full potential.

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod is NJSBA’s executive director.