Special education pioneer Jane Ann Blumenfeld passes away at 95

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Jane Ann Blumenfeld had a mantra, "keep your eye on the kid," and that’s what her life’s work consisted of—making sure educators reach the needs of every child in the classroom. Her philosophy on education has influenced generations of teachers and now they are saying goodbye to a mentor as Blumenfeld recently passed away at the age of 95.

Blumenfeld was born in Detroit, Mich in January 1922. She is survived by her daughter, Willow Harth, grandson, Ben Diller and five great grandchildren, and many friends in New Mexico and Madison, Wis. where she lived in her final days.

Her husband, Arthur, and two sons, Daniel and Cameron, predeceased her. Together, with her husband, Blumenfeld made innumerable contributions to the community in the arts, nature, education and city finance, which garnered the couple the moniker "Mr. and Mrs. Albuquerque."

Her start in New Mexico

With her husband and young daughter Willow in tow, Blumenfeld moved to New Mexico from New York in 1948. She launched significant transformations for the state’s special education that continue today. From teaching in the Navajo Nation in Newcomb to moving to Albuquerque in 1952, she contributed at every level.

In the 1950s, Blumenfeld pressed the APS superintendent of schools to start a special education program. He denied the need by asserting, "we don’t have any children like that."

Blumenfeld responded, “If we are a community, we have to care for the entire community. We are responsible to these children and their families to help them be all that they can be."

And with that belief, she started the first special education class in Albuquerque Public Schools in 1955. She also taught university courses in special education at UNM, arranged the hiring of the first UNM faculty member to prepare teachers how to teach students with severe disabilities, she helped launch the first school services to support students with severe disabilities and worked tirelessly for all students with disabilities to be served in schools.

In 1971, Blumenfeld co-authored “Help Them Grow,” a pictorial handbook for parents of students with disabilities. In 1974, she earned a Ph.D. in Special Education, culminating in her dissertation, “The Role of the Language Sample and Short-Term Interventions in the Differential Diagnosis of Mental Retardation.

From 1970 to 1987 she served as Coordinator of Special Education for the APS North Area and helped lead the development of modern special education services throughout the system. Many of the present special education leaders in New Mexico count Blumenfeld as an important mentor and visionary.

“For Jane, every child and adult regardless of ethnicity, language, culture or intellectual ability, deserved a fulfilled and happy life.” said Ruth Luckasson, chair of the Department of Special Education at UNM. “Her own life was a testament to these ideals.”

In 2005, Blumenfeld received the UNM College of Education's highest honor, the Excellence in Education Award, recognizing her lifetime of achievements that has enhanced the lives of children with disabilities and their parents.

To honor Blumenfeld’s life and work, individuals are encouraged to contribute to a charity of their choice or to the Jane Blumenfeld Endowment for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Special Education Diagnosis and Assessment.

The College of Education will honor Blumenfeld locally this spring during an annual lecture named in her honor. 

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