Salinas wins Council for Exceptional Children’s Spark Award


Erik Ketcherside

Sarah Salinas, a PhD student in the Educational Policy and Evaluation program at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, is the 2020 winner of the Jane West Spark Award from the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children. The Spark award is presented annually to an individual who advocates for special education teacher preparation and is committed to continuing those efforts. It’s named for Jane West, co-founder of the Coalition for Teaching Quality and the former staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy.

Salinas said, “I am very grateful for the continued mentorship, support and opportunities provided by Dr. Mildred Boveda, who nominated me for this award and for whom I was a teaching assistant; by my advisor, Dr. Alfredo Artiles; and all those at MLFTC.” Boveda is an assistant professor of special education and cultural and linguistic diversity. Artiles is an MLFTC Professor Emeritus whose scholarship has addressed educational opportunities and equity challenges for culturally diverse learners for more than 25 years.

Salinas shared her thoughts about the award, her motivation to work in special education, and her career plans.

How have you advocated for special education teacher preparation?

Salinas: Policy in society and education frequently either drives or reflects social practice. In my research, I focus on special education policy and instruction as it relates to teachers’ instructional practices for English learners with learning disabilities, because often special education services do not include language support. And I advocate via teaching, scholarship and service to support training grants.

In a course I co-taught with Dr. Boveda in spring 2019, I sought to leverage my policy expertise to infuse instruction and discussions with pre-service teachers about the role of special education and language policies on shaping district and campus-level practices, and of supports for students with high-incidence disabilities. We paired this with a focus on curriculum for responsive instruction for English learners with learning disabilities. Dr. Boveda and I are writing a paper about it.

As a researcher, I communicate with multiple audiences. Public-facing texts include a collaborative chapter on inclusive teacher education in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, and peer-reviewed articles for research audiences about how general and special educators’ campus and classroom context shape teacher learning for inclusive education.

And this past summer, I supported several of MLFTC’s special education teacher preparation faculty members in all stages of a grant application for the Teacher Quality Preparation Program.

What motivates you to work on behalf of special education?

My perspective on special education shapes the way I advocate for special education teacher preparation. I hold a critical lens to special education, with the intention of a “critical friend" to push myself and others to remember what the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 says: “Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society.” I posit an extension of this is that special education teacher preparation needs to expand in scope and agenda to include greater focus on understanding the sociocultural context of learning, instruction and support for culturally, linguistically diverse exceptional learners, such as English learners with learning disabilities.

How close are you to finishing your MLFTC PhD, and what happens after that?

Right now I am working with my dissertation chair, Dr. Artiles, and my committee to refine and finalize my proposal. My topic, broadly speaking, is special education reading comprehension instruction for English learners with learning disabilities.

In the future, as an early career special education faculty member, I aim to leverage my experience in grant writing and research to attain resources for my future institution and support special education training at large. I have a passion for research. That said, I also love working with pre- and in-service special education teachers.

Learn more about the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College PhD in Educational Policy and Evaluation.