Willingboro School District is in the heart of the Delaware Valley, in Burlington county. Although the group has existed for several years, the Willingboro Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) grew its strength and reached new heights this year under new parent leadership, partnership with the new director of Special Services and assistance from Michele Tyler, Parent Group Specialist on the START-EPSD Project at SPAN.
The number one goal of the Willingboro SEPAG was to connect with more parents and work with the school district to address systemic challenges. Although members of the SEPAG are usually parents of children with special needs, the Willingboro SEPAG members decided to broaden their outreach and include ALL interested and committed Willingboro residents to make a greater impact. The group wanted to ensure that input was obtained from anyone concerned about children with special needs. This decision was a game changer for the SEPAG!
The 2019-2020 school year was the most successful year for the Willingboro SEPAG. The newly formed partnership with PTA members as well as the support of Mr. Burgess and Ms. Moore, the principal and vice principal at Hawthorne Elementary school, have strengthened and increased parent involvement in the group. Led by parent leaders, Ms. Brown, Ms. Hose, Ms. Maxwell-Henley and Ms. Montague, the Willingboro SEPAG decided to address three main issues related to special education in Willingboro Township. The SEPAG and the director of Special Services, Dr. Alegria, worked together to address two of these issues before COVID-19 caused the extended school closure. Specifically, the school district provided district-wide trainings for staff and parents, including training on trauma-informed care and mental health. Furthermore, the SEPAG began to create an improved process for two-way communication between the school district and families, especially with families who have children with special needs.
Incorporating materials from Serving on Groups training series and Leading by Convening: A Blueprint for Authentic Engagement, the Willingboro SEPAG also created a vision statement, a SEPAG email address, the SEPAG for Willingboro Facebook page, and a parent survey.
The vision of the Willingboro SEPAG is
“To empower and support families to raise ALL children to reach their full potential”
Finally, knowing how important the voice of families of children with special needs is when making policy decisions, one of the parent leaders, Ms. Maxwell-Henley, ran for the Willingboro Board of Education and won! She said in a statement that she wanted to “change the narrative about labeling our students. It’s not always a bad thing: If our students cannot read or write then provide them the resources and tools needed to thrive. Don’t continue pushing them onto the next grade level without helping them master the skill sets they need to be successful. It does the students a disservice.”
In the nearest future, the Willingboro SEPAG plans to create a SEPAG brochure and SEPAG website.
Willingboro Township residents interested in joining the SEPAG should email WBOESEPAG@gmail.com