Mayer-Cunningham is a special education advocate, representing families who have children in public school with a 504 plan or an IEP Individualized Education Program. Her journey began nearly 25 years ago, as she was trying to garner services for her own son. Upon learning that she was struggling to read and understand the IEP, she decided she would do everything in her power to ensure she became an expert who could use her knowledge to empower others. She spends her time teaching students, parents, family members, and teachers how to leverage and maximize IEPs.
“My job is to share uncomfortable truths about educating children with disabilities, in a way that people continue to listen,” says Karen Mayer-Cunningham, the self- proclaimed “Special Education Boss” who has spent the better part of the past two decades advocating for students with an Individualized Educations Program (IEP).
As founder and CEO of The Special Education Academy, Mayer-Cunningham has worked with thousands of students, parents, family members and teachers to navigate the IEP standards (that vary from state to state and school to school).
Mayer-Cunningham acknowledges and acts upon the need to educate the educators and teach them how best to engage students and how best to teach student strategies when implementing the 504/IEP.
She says it starts by educating the teachers and providing them with the tools they need to “see” disabilities, even the ones that aren’t visible. The next step is to give the teachers tools to then provide special education students with the highest quality education possible that works for each individual student.
Mayer-Cunningham not only works to educate teachers, but primarily works to equip families with special needs to maximize their education so they can have gainful employment, independent living, and further education.
The “Special Education Boss,” Mayer-Cunningham’s, dream is to see a world that allows children with special needs to reach their highest potential. She says, “When we equip people (to properly help those with disabilities), we all win.”
Learn more about the optimum strategies to have students receive an expected benefit from their specialized instruction here:
New Business Model Please!
In addition to educating parents and teachers, Karen Mayer-Cunningham says we need to overhaul the special education system.
“Schools need a different business model and need to be given the tools to help every kid be successful,” she says.
“Unfortunately, parents often completely trust that the schools know what they are doing,” she says.
However, Mayer-Cunningham explains that many teachers in many schools are not receiving the proper training necessary for special education success.
“How are these schools monitoring and measuring special education success?” she asks.
Mayer- Cunningham shares that if a teacher thinks helping to improve a student’s reading fluency means that they will read to them instead of encouraging the students to do themselves, no one is winning.
“Kids who have disabilities have to learn to work for everything,” she says. Students can be coached to become comfortable working towards goals and achieving metrics.
Mayer-Cunningham goes on to share that not many children with IEPs are graduating with the ability to get and hold a job after graduation and that is disappointing.
“The why doesn’t matter… it is the what’s next? How do I move forward to get it right?” asks Mayer-Cunningham.
Focusing on the future and moving forward is just how Mayer-Cunningham encourages the families she works with. Her philosophy is quite simple. “When we get it right for the child, we get it right for everyone,” she says.
The Special Education Boss, Karen Mayer-Cunningham, is hosting a 5-part webinar series, Navigating and Negotiating Successful IEP and 504 Outcomes, where she will share how to navigate the process of getting your child appropriate support at school. Sessions will cover the evaluation, present levels, annual IEP goals, accommodations, supplements, and the service delivery model. Webinars will be 8/17, 9/21, 10/19, 11/16, and 12/21 at 7:00PM ET. Register today!
Karen Mayer-Cunningham will also be hosting a 5-part webinar series called “Ask the Advocate” where she will be answering family questions* in effort to help parents understand the processes, procedures, and parent rights in a 504/IEP. Webinars will be 8/31, 9/28, 10/26, 11/30, 12/28 at 7:00PM ET. Register today!
*Have a question for the Special Education Boss? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org; Karen Mayer-Cunningham can answer your question in an Ask the Advocate webinar.