By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen
AUTISM ACADEMY – Four-years-ago, Laura Newcomb, and Shannon Mitchell worked side-by-side opening the Autism Academy, an autism school in Gilbert, AZ, with only about 20 students.
Now, the specialty autism school enrolls nearly 300 students between three campuses located in Gilbert, Tempe, and Peoria.
The school’s leadership team is familiar with the needs and culture of the autism community.
They are quick to redefine the best practices to help students excel, parents cope, and families function.
During the past four years, Newcomb and Mitchell have exercised two defining principles.
They always aim to put kids first and they hire positive leaders to carry out Newcomb’s vision.
Two years ago, Derrick Jamerson joined the team as the principal of the Autism Academy in Gilbert.
“When it comes to the administration you have to find the right fit,” Jamerson said. “Even though you have a team, you must be content being an island as well.”
He says he is careful to filter information to his teachers and staff to help eliminate a stressful work environment.
He explained that leaders have the potential to create hope or misery.
“I believe in building as opposed to tearing down,” he said.
According to Jamerson, the Autism Academy has the advantage of working with positive teachers who are passionate about working with children with autism.
After all, their ambition throughout college was to work with special needs students.
The Gilbert location has nine lead teachers and over 30 para-professionals.
The school provides speech therapists, behavioral specialist, occupational therapist, and a variety of other services.
Jamerson learned the sensitive needs of special needs children while observing his mother’s work as a speech pathologist in Muncie, Indiana.
In 1996, he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education at Ball State University.
Jamerson continued forging forward earning a Master’s Degree in educational leadership in 2002, and his Administration Certification in 2003 from Indiana Wesleyan.
His wife, Joyce, and four children, Quentin, 23, Jailah, 22, Christian, 17, and Briana, 13, are the cornerstone of his life.
His passion for family is clearly seen in his compassion displayed toward students and parents at the Autism Academy.
The Gilbert campus currently enrolls 102 students with autism.
Many classes are occupied to capacity.
In part, Jamerson says he evaluates the success of the school based on parent responses.
“I can’t imagine taking my child to any other school,” an anonymous parent said.
“Will my child have the same teacher next year,” echoed another excited parent.
The staff works together maintaining a high standard of professional excellence.
“Even during breaks, our kids actually want to come to school,” Jamerson said. “Clearly something is going right.”
Newcomb and Mitchell continue to work with the leadership team to tweak the school programs.
“When you work with children there will always be tweaks,” Jamerson said. “Things are constantly changing.”
Every year, the Autism Academy advances with new and innovative components that make each campus cutting edge amongst other programs out there.
Children with autism and their parents both agree that the Autism Academy offers a safe, advanced, bully-free, and sensitive learning environment. If you’re looking to send your child to a school that will foster their education and caters to their individual learning needs, then enroll your child in a school that focuses on teaching children with autism.