Kris Quick: Taking the Next Step in Special Education

Kris Quick special education MAEHometown: Tingley, Iowa
Degree: M.A.E., special education, consultant emphasis

Kris Quick worked as a teacher for 27 years: four years at Grand Valley School in Kellerton teaching second grade and preschool/kindergarten; five years at East Union in Afton teaching kindergarten; and 18 years at Mt. Ayr Community School teaching early childhood special education and  kindergarten. Since 2011, she has served as the PK-12 special education coordinator at Mt. Ayr.

She’s always been drawn to special education, she says. “You can see the light bulb go off when teaching and I feel that it is easier to make connections and have professional relationships with students when you teach in a small group setting,” she says. “I also love the data and ‘thinking’ part of special education. You analyze how students are doing, think about what you need to change, and it is ever evolving so you never get into a rut.”  

At 51, though established as a teacher, a desire to work at the regional Area Education Agency lingered. When a flyer about UNI’s Master of Arts in Education (M.A.E.) degree with a special education consultant emphasis showed up in her school mailbox, she inquired about the program.

An online option that fit

“Since it was online and did not require attending classes on campus, I was interested. I had previously received my endorsement in early childhood special education at UNI and really enjoyed my classes and professors. I felt this master’s program would once again be a great professional move,” Quick says. 

The master’s special education consultant emphasis, offered in cooperation with UNI Continuing and Distance Education, is intended for teachers with a minimum of four years of experience. It focuses on an instructional coaching and consultation model to improve outcomes for students with disabilities while its graduates help increase the number of professional leaders in special education. 

Quick enrolled in 2018 and soon found herself busy with work and school. “Time was a challenge with working full time, balancing family and also having time for homework. I tried to schedule time in my weekly schedule to complete homework on Saturday mornings and then have family time and no homework on Saturday afternoons and Sundays,” she says. 

She admits to being overwhelmed at one point. “I discussed it with my instructors and they were awesome!,” she says. “Dr. (Susan) Etscheidt called me one day as soon as she heard I was feeling stressed and I was not even in her class at the time.  All of my instructors really cared about our cohort and were easy to talk to and would work around our schedules.”

Learning up close
In addition to coursework, the degree requires practicum experiences as well as a choice of research or thesis. Quick had one semester of practicum experience with an instructional coach at the elementary level and one semester with two different special education representatives (PK-6 and 7-12, respectively). 

In her first practicum, experiences included designing and delivering professional development, learning about FAST assessments and intervention programs, and attending meetings with teachers in small groups to discuss student progress and student concerns. 

Through the special education consultant practicum, she administered assessments, wrote behavioral assessment plans (BIP) and functional behavioral assessments (FBA), worked with teachers on student behavior and accommodations or instruction and prepared an educational evaluation report (EER) while collaborating with other AEA employees and special education teachers.

These experiences gave her valuable hands-on experience, from paperwork and processes, to applying what she learned about different personalities in her approach to working with others.

Quick took both quantitative and qualitative research classes, particularly enjoying the qualitative course led by Amy Petersen. The cohort was encouraged to do projects and research about topics that were both interesting and applicable to their future careers. “She was easy to work with, gave examples, and made research exciting,” Quick says. 

She applied what she learned as she developed her research paper, “Teaching Executive Functioning in the Middle School and High School Classroom.” “I completed a literature review of 20 research articles and an annotated bibliography.  I also interviewed a special education teacher and observed students in the classroom to gain a deeper insight into executive function in the middle school and high school classrooms,” she says. 

A balance with COVID-19 
While this M.A.E. was delivered fully online in cooperation with UNI Continuing and Distance Education, the emergence of COVID-19 still had an impact. She ended up making slight adjustments in completing her research project while unexpectedly finding herself helping teach and care for her grandkids, ages 1 to 7. 

“I was able to complete my research in one semester, but I had planned to add more into this semester, spending more time observing classrooms and teachers.  But no matter what has happened with COVID-19, we had the experience of a full research project,” she says. 

This last semester, students also could choose to select the “pass/fail” option and complete fewer assignments--or complete all assignments and get a grade for the class. “I chose to finish my project and receive a grade. The instructor was very understanding no matter what each student chose,” Quick says. 

For others considering taking a similar step, Quick says she found the program relevant and achievable. 

“The learning was relevant to my current position and the master’s. There was an appropriate timeline of courses to complete. Each semester we took two or three courses and also took two during the summer. The instructors were the best possible and all had the same concern about our learning and also our success,” she says. 

A successful decision 
As an older student, she initially wondered whether getting the advanced degree was worthwhile. Her current superintendent pointed out the benefits, not only as a professional, but, financially, in preparation for retirement. Quick now has her sights set on the next school year and a new position she has accepted at Green Hills AEA as a special education consultant. 

With this degree, she says, “I gained the scientific research, the hands-on experience, and some "know how' to be able to walk into my job and have success. I also gained a better understanding of what a special education consultant and a special education instructional coach do,” she says. “And I also have made valuable connections throughout the state and have a cohort to always call upon in the future when in need of additional ideas and strategies.”

Spots remain available in the 2020 cohort, beginning fall 2020, for the M.A.E. in special education, consultant emphasis. More information available here or by contacting Danielle Cowley, program coordinator, danielle-cowley@uni.edu