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Carmen Alvarez is vice president for special education. Since her election to the post in 1990, she has been a key voice in the UFT’s efforts to improve education for children with disabilities.
Carmen received her bachelor’s degree in education for the emotionally disturbed from City College and her master’s in bilingual education with a focus on learning disabilities from Bank Street College.
Since her days as a resource room teacher at PS 165 and PS 121 in Manhattan from 1977 through 1983 — she also directed a resource room program for Bank Street College in the early 1980s — Carmen has worked to improve the education of disabled students.
In 2000, she co-founded the Essence School, serving District 19’s middle school students. Carmen was an early proponent of Superstart Plus, a program created in the early 1990s to educate preschool children with disabilities with their nondisabled peers, which evolved into inclusionary programs across all grade levels. The positive practices that came out of this citywide initiative became the centerpiece of the DOE’s Continuum of Special Education Services, which expanded options to serve students with disabilities in general education with a wider array of supports.
Carmen is a founding member of the ARISE Coalition, which brings together parents, community groups and educators to serve as watchdogs for special education. ARISE is currently working to ensure that the DOE’s latest guidelines for guaranteeing special needs children an inclusive education result in real learning and palpable achievement. She crafted the UFT’s There is No Excuse campaign, documenting thousands of cases of legally mandated IEP services going undelivered. Thanks to the campaign, these violations were corrected.
In September 2013, Carmen spearheaded the launch of the Positive Learning Collaborative, a consortium led by the DOE and the UFT that trains school staff in a systemic approach to understanding, assessing and supporting positive student behavior.
Carmen has been a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors since 1995 and has served on the AFT Special Education Committee. She works closely with the State Education Department and the New York City Department of Education to develop policies that address local, state and national special education issues. In 2015, Carmen received the distinguished NYSUT Not for Ourselves Alone Award dedicated to the memory of her mentor, former AFT President Sandra Feldman.
A New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Carmen and her husband, a retired art teacher, have been community activists. She served as a PTA president in her son’s school in the 1980s and as a school board member in Manhattan from 1983 to 1989.