The Special Education Supervisor’s Perspective
The Hamilton Township School District (Atlantic County) SEPAG has been in existence for many years. As the new Supervisor of Special Education, Marylynn Stecher became a facilitator of this group in December 2012. With the assistance of the Supervisor of Instruction for Special Education and the Supervisor of Special Projects, they take turns securing SEPAG meeting locations, providing refreshments for the meetings, and facilitating this group. Over the past seven years, many positive ideas have come from our SEPAG .
Mrs. Stecher admitted that it was scary to become a facilitator of the SEPAG. “As administrators, we definitely open ourselves up to criticisms and complaints. However, it has been an amazingly awesome experience, ” she added. Obviously, the best part of this process has been the connections the special education department has made with the parents and the connections parents have made with each other . One of the other perks has been connecting with Tatsiana DaGrosa, a Parent Group Specialist on the START Project (now START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools Project), who has been an exceptional resource to the SEPAG, attended the group meetings and events in our district, and always comes with a wonderful attitude and a wealth of information.
Five years ago, the Hamilton School District SEPAG hosted the very first Special Education Parent Leadership Roundtable in Atlantic County , which Tatsiana facilitated. Since then, parents from our SEPAG and the Supervisor of Special Projects have regularly attended quarterly roundtables and provided valuable input toward the development of the “Special Education Parent Advisory Groups in New Jersey: A Guide to Developing and Conducting an Effective Group” as well as, most recently, the creation of Supplemental Quick Reference Guides (see “Your Leadership Toolbox” section of this e-news for these Quick Guides). Two years ago, Tatsiana nominated one of our parents for the Parent Leadership Award for his outstanding leadership role and valued contribution to family engagement in the community.
It was evident at the start that there was a need to build trust between home and school and to improve communication . Over the past several years, the special education department has improved communication by using multiple methods of communication. Now they have a Special Education Page on the district website that includes information about the SEPAG ( meeting schedule for the 2019-2020 school year, SEPAG mission statement , and norms for meetings ), links to Special Education Parent Newsletters, and other information pertinent to families. The special education department also has a Facebook and Twitter presence (@HTSDSpecialEd). The Hamilton Township PTA will frequently repost the SEPAG information, which is helpful as they have a wide following.
In 2018, the special education department started a parent newsletter, “Partnering with Parents,” which provides valuable information and resources. This newsletter is shared via social media and the district’s parent portal.
The favorite method of communication remains speaking with families in person, which is why the SEPAG meetings are so crucial . Each year the SEPAG initial meeting takes place in October. At this first meeting, the SEPAG members pick dates and times for future meetings as well as discuss topics that they would like to focus on or address during the course of the school year.
Last school year the SEPAG ran one of the meetings via Facebook Live . It was our intent to have an in-person meeting in which we could connect with additional people via Facebook Live. However, only one parent came in person and all others participated online. We had much more participation than in a live meeting; however, we missed that personal connection . We are considering how to use this tool effectively as we move forward.
We are also considering how the SEPAG can be more involved in the annual Community Resource Fair . This has become a huge event in our district and provides much needed information and assistance to families. In previous years the SEPAG has hosted a table at the event. This year, a few SEPAG members have expressed an interest in working with parents of students with special needs to create profiles of their children to provide teachers and other caregivers.
Our SEPAG is constantly evolving and improving . As the SEPAG mission states, it is our goal to empower parents to become effective advocates for their children. In order to do this, we need to listen to our parents to understand their needs and concerns and we need to provide support by educating parents and making positive changes based on their feedback . Although our SEPAG group is usually small and often transient, we can and have made a big impact for our students and families!