New APS facility for special needs students gets rave reviews - Albuquerque Journal

New APS facility for special needs students gets rave reviews

After four years of planning and construction, Albuquerque Public Schools has opened a state-of-the-art, $22 million facility for special needs students.

Aztec Special Education Complex at 2611 Eubank NE houses 20 highly specialized classrooms and 77 offices for diagnosticians and support staff.

The bright, spacious 65,000-square-foot building will serve some of the state’s highest-need students from prekindergarten through age 22.

“We have a vision of working with students in innovative ways that are based on their gifts,” Principal Lisa Heimer said last week during a ribbon-cutting celebration.

Families and employees are already giving the new building rave reviews.

Teacher Samantha Hannah said she is thrilled to have so many resources for students.

Her classroom is filled with adjustable desks, chairs on wheels and low tables. Students can also work on tablets or the Promethean interactive whiteboard.

Outside are two accessible playgrounds. The cafeteria helps kids learn life skills like cooking, serving and cleaning. Teachers receive training in a model classroom.

“There is something for everyone,” said Hannah, who teaches in the middle and high school grades.

Sebastian Peña, 15, said the new building is “the best.”

During a tour on Thursday evening, he stopped to play with Slinkies and color a picture.

Angelica Santos, Peña’s aunt, said she was impressed.

“This is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said of the building. “He (Sebastian) is really interacting.”

Heimer said the facility is the culmination of years of research. She and other staff visited schools around the country to explore best practices.

Currently, Aztec enrolls about 135 kids who have special needs like autism or medical issues.

The goal is always to move the children back to their home schools when they are ready, Heimer said.

Superintendent Raquel Reedy called Aztec Special Education Complex “a wonderful, wonderful continuation of the fantastic special education history that we have here in APS.”

Reedy worked as a special education teacher at Atrisco Elementary early in her career and has seen the field come a long way.

Forty years ago, the school began integrating special education students into mainstream classrooms.

“I witnessed the first big evolution of special education,” she said. “Let’s move forward a few years and look at this (building). This is truly the state of the art.”

She thanked voters for funding the Aztec Special Education Complex through bond money.

In February 2016, APS received strong support for its $575 million bond and mill levy election.

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