Georgetown SEPAC - Special Education Parent Advisory Council
Meeting Minutes, December 7, 2010
Welcome to the PAC: An informal Meet & Greet between parents and special education school personnel. Key Speaker: Mr. David Dempsey, Director of Special Education.
School Personnel Attendees: David Dempsey, Eileen Lee, Kim Leonard, Jan Downing, Amy Gusso, Jamie Hansen, Audrey Proctor, Beth Greenhagen, Donna Tanner, Carol Jacobs. Several parents were also present.
Agenda topics included staff and parent introductions, the school district’s philosophy for special education, new program development, DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) Program Review – results and recommendations, parent questions and ideas for future PAC activity.
Pam Lundquist opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and introduced herself as the new SEPAC Chairperson. “I’m excited about the opportunities our organization has to reach out to special education parents, to get to know them and their children, and to serve as supportive network. Parents are the most powerful advocates our children with special needs have, and we can be more effective working together, with each other, with the schools, than alone.” Mrs. Lundquist offered to assume the chairperson position when the previous chairperson, Lisa Woodford, found her career successfully growing in a way that prevented her from devoting as much time as she wanted to the Georgetown SEPAC.
“I have been involved with the Georgetown SEPAC for several years, and especially enjoy getting to know other member parents. The children in particular benefit when parents reach out to each other, sharing their experience and hope. We plan to produce a collaborative SEPAC/Special Education newsletter to give parents tools and strategies to effectively support their children. Also, this is a great time to get involved in SEPAC because special education programs are now being improved and developed by our schools. Some programs are new, some have been in existence for a while, but all can benefit from parental input, ideas and feedback through the Georgetown SEPAC. With greater open dialog between the SEPAC, the school district and all parents, special education program quality is sure to grow. Stronger connections and relationships among all concerned can result in powerful improvements.” Mrs. Lundquist said.
Mr. David Dempsey, Georgetown’s Director of Special Education, agrees. “This is an exciting time for Special Education in Georgetown, because we have been developing several new programs, improving others, and bringing greater consistency to our best practices and comprehensive approaches district-wide. Our programs strive to incorporate cutting-edge components used by well-respected schools in special education, such as Melmark and Landmark. We hope that our new in-house programs will bring a higher level of specialized design instruction to all of our Georgetown students who need it, and share effective teaching practices and accommodations throughout our regular education system to help all students.
Our Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Program includes pre-K-12th, with Lifeskills at the High School, and the Compass Program at the Middle School. Program components include highly structured, individualized programming, intensive communication and language training, social skills training. Instructional strategies are based on direct data and positive reinforcement, as part of our Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) approach, a renowned and effective system of autism treatment. This summer 14 of our staff members were trained at Melmark, one of the leading schools in Autism. Beth Greenhagen, our (board-certified) Behavioral Analyst, helps to write our program curriculum. Other communities are taking notice of this program and we have had inquiries about choicing in students.
Our Language Based Program (LBP), which is also a comprehensive Pre-K through 12th grade program, is a new initiative this year. This program addresses the needs of students with moderate to severe language learning disabilities. Thirteen of our staff members were trained for the program at The Landmark School this summer. Our LBP is primarily an inclusion program built around Special Designed Instruction (SDI). We are adopting best practices for this program which have already been very successful in other districts. A self-esteem and self-advocacy component is also an integral part of the program. Curriculum is designed to parallel the regular education curriculum but is modified to meet the individual needs of the students. A big push is encouraging the use of language-based strategies that will help all students in regular education classes.
A new Social-Emotional Program has been implemented at both the middle school and the high school, to serve those special education students exhibiting high anxiety, depression, social adjustment difficulties, or other social-emotional problems that impede their learning. It attempts to create a safe environment so that students can experience success both academically and social-emotionally, with the goal of becoming integrated, responsible members of the school community. Our new school psychologist, Dr. Troy Carr, has been instrumental in developing this program, and he does work directly with students as part of it.
Each school district and charter school in the Commonwealth is scheduled to receive a Coordinated Program Review every six years and a mid-cycle special education follow-up visit three years after the Coordinated Program Review. Georgetown’s 2010 DESE Program Review yielded interesting results that will greatly help us with our new program development. Out of 59 criterion, we were cited on 15, all of which were “partially implemented.” Both staff members and parents were interviewed for the review, and files and practices were looked at going back for six years.
DESE Program Review reports are available for every public school district, including Georgetown, on www.doe.mass.edu/pqa/review/cpr/reports/ .
One of our biggest issues cited was that in some cases we were using “cookie-cutter” student assessments. This occurred at times because the outside consultants we used were not able to access student history in such way as to be able to select the most appropriate assessments for our students. It was partly in response to this that our schools have brought in Dr. Troy Carr as our district Psychologist, as he is very experienced at selecting, conducting and interpreting student assessment instruments.
Another issue we were cited on was a deficiency in presenting student history. Up until recently, every school was recording student data in their own way, some more completely than others. We are now working hard to develop a district-wide process, using teacher data teams to collaborate on new methods of student data collection.
We are also looking to bring together a district-wide pre-referral process, which all of our schools will have in common. Much of this is already in place, utilizing Student Assessment Teams (SATs) that come together when a student is observed as seriously struggling with something. The team will consist of all relevant staff members, including the student’s regular education teachers, guidance counselors and any relevant specialists. Parents are notified, or perhaps parents may call for a team to come together. The SAT evaluates the student’s difficulties with data and observations, and then works to come up with strategies, accommodations, and interventions to help. The SAT will make use of our District Accommodation Plan (DAP), which helps administrators identify appropriate accommodations or classroom strategies to solve the problem. Ultimately, whether or not the child ends up with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), we will have strengthened our understanding and assessment of the child’s educational needs. Not every child with a difficulty or disability qualifies or would benefit from an IEP. And not every difficulty is caused by a disability.
We want every child to succeed. All of our programs and interventions are aimed at finding ways to teach skills and strategies that will help our students be successful,
independent learners in school. Our goal is to teach students strategies that will help them to learn, to understand what academic tools and skills work best for them, and to advocate for themselves. All of the students, regular and special education students are our children, and we are here to help and support them all,” noted Mr. Dempsey.
A schedule of Georgetown PAC meetings over the coming year was distributed; it includes one meeting each month, featuring an Advocate Roundtable, a meeting focused in-depth on special education programs and procedures of interest within our schools, An IEP for my child, a Parents Rights Workshop and IDEA 2004, and a workshop held by our school psychologist, Dr. Troy Carr, to explain his role, various assessments, how data drives educational focus, and our new social-emotional programs for special education.
Future 2011 dates include the 2nd Tuesday nights of each month: January 11th, Feb 8th, March 8th, April 12th, May 10th, June 14th.
The SEPAC’s next meeting is scheduled for January 11, 2011, and, depending on attendance, will include spagetti dinner made by Georgetown students. A more in-depth look at programs and services of specific interest to attendees, such as district accommodation plans, parent advisory committees for specific programs, and pre-referral procedures will be featured. “We hope to include all parents looking to become powerful advocates for their children at SEPAC meetings in the future. Please come next month and see how much you can learn about how to help your children thrive and succeed in our schools. More specific information about future events will be coming out, but you can always find it at www.georgetownsepac.blogspot.com., said Mrs. Lundquist.