09/06/2018 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

A Pulse on Learning Specialists

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Placement Associate Jamie Cohen is entering her fourth year of working with schools and candidates to fill learning differences positions. In that time, she’s seen tremendous growth and expansion of these positions as schools aim to become more in touch with the various ways students learn and take steps to ensure the success of every child.

She was recently featured in the inaugural issue of Learning Specialist Bulletin, a peer-review journal that shares best practices, strategies, research, and tools among professionals who work as learning specialists in schools. The journal is published by Blythe N. Grossberg, Psy.D., a CS&A candidate who has worked closely with Jamie over the past year.

We are pleased to share Jamie’s interview below. Be sure to check out Learning Specialist Bulletin online and subscribe as a member to receive the journal.

The State of the Market for Learning Specialists: An Interview with Jamie Cohen, Placement Counselor at Carney Sandoe

Jamie Cohen places special education teachers, learning support staff, directors of learning services, reading specialists, and directors of individualized learning in independent schools, K-12, across the country. Here’s what she had to say in early July of 2018 about the hiring climate for learning specialists nationwide:

Question: What are employers looking for when they hire learning specialists?
Jamie Cohen: This varies by school type. Overall, we see that schools are looking for someone who has a master’s in special ed or mild to moderate learning disabilities, or something in the realm of special ed. If the candidate is going to join the school community as a learning specialist, their bachelor’s doesn’t matter as much. But if they are going to be a math specialist, the school looks for a degree in math. For reading specialists, schools look for a master’s in literacy. The biggest request I get is for Orton-Gillingham training, Wilson, Singapore math, and Slingerland training.

Special ed is interesting in independent schools–it’s a little different than it is for other positions. Schools are open to people coming from public school or charter schools. A lot of schools are creating or expanding departments, and some qualifications become less important if candidates have prior work and institutional knowledge. A lot of people at the head-of-school or division-head level are looking for someone who can be more of a specialist than they can be.

Question: What are some of the new trends you see in hiring for learning specialists?
JC: Most independent schools consider the co-teaching model a bit more progressive than pulling students out of class and working with them in the learning center. It takes some of the stigma away from working with students who have learning differences, and students still feel like they are part of the general education classroom. Schools on the more “progressive” side have learning support professionals working with teachers to provide differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Question: Do you have any advice for job seekers who are new to working in independent schools?
JC: For people who are trying to get into an independent school community, it’s good to have some of those qualifications [mentioned above]. The master’s is one of the more important ones, in addition to prior good experience working with students with learning differences. We see more requests for folks with experience with language-based differences rather than behavioral issues. The more familiar you are with private school environment and can show it, the more looks you’ll get from schools.

Question: How about advice for mid-career learning specialists?
JC: If someone wants to keep their job fresh or interesting, we see people moving from the director of learning support role to join the top of admin teams. If you have experience in directorship, there’s upward mobility. You can move into a dean type of role or a division head role eventually. There’s room for growth. It depends on a lot of factors. It’s different if you are running a team of twenty versus leading a department of 2 or 3 people. You might wind up joining a school that’s the same size if you are running a small department. Schools are looking more externally for those directorships. They might be more open to looking for candidates with external experience. The transition from learning specialist to director is possible.

At Carney Sandoe, there’s lots of opportunity [to find positions at schools]. We are always looking for people who have the right background. We work with a range of people–people just out of college to find assistant teaching jobs in learning services, all the way up to the director of learning services level. It’s helpful for candidates to have an awareness of the market. We do our best to set people’s expectations. You still need to be strategic, and keep in mind that the hiring season is between late January and mid May.


If you’re looking for a learning specialist, reading specialist, special education, academic support, or other learning differences position, apply to become a CS&A candidate today.

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