SEPAC Board Members Aim to Raise Parent Engagement

The Special Education Parents Advisory Council (SEPAC) is reaching new levels in efforts to support and advocate for parents and caregivers of children who receive special education services in the Bedford schools.

SEPAC Board members reported on some of their recent activities to the School Committee at a meeting earlier this month. SEPAC is targeting improved parent engagement from several angles.

Erica Callahan, Erica Colbath, and Coreen Garrett explained that SEPAC hosts informal events and gatherings, sponsors training programs to educate parents and the community, and arranges quality speakers and other events. They were joined in their presentation by Marianne Vines, the schools’ Director of Special Education.

Members of the SEPAC Board said they also work closely with school administrators and leadership to help improve special education services, including monthly meetings with Vines and conversations three times a year with Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad.

Board members were especially pleased with their selection to participate in an online symposium called the APPLE Institute – Advancing Parent-Professional Leadership in Education.

Colbath said SEPAC feels a lot of people “just don’t know about” the schools’ special education repertoire, and thus has launched a monthly director’s newsletter. She said Vines recently distributed the second issue and it was “very well received.”

The group is designing and distributing a survey for special-education parents and caregivers and considering the need for surveys of other constituencies – part of the Bedford SEPAC’s APPLE Institute team action plan.

“We want to identify areas of strengths, needs, and weaknesses leading to increased engagement with programs,” Callahan said.

The SEPAC leaders also described a free training program, offered by the Federation for Children with Special Needs, designed “to help special education administrators, and school community members build collaborative leadership teams to increase parent engagement.”

“We did a strengths, needs, opportunities, and threats analysis,” she said, and parent engagement was one of the biggest challenges.

There are also plans to create a Bedford special education flyer in multiple languages, again to increase family engagement. A SEPAC parent and caregiver night out at Red Heat is being planned for Nov. 9.

School Committee member Sheila Mehta-Green, who was active with Bedford SEPAC for about 10 years, applauded the group’s level of involvement, especially the newsletter that “helps to create awareness of special education within our community.”

“Continued creativity to engage parents is really important,” she added

Member Ann Guay urged the volunteers to stay upbeat regardless of the number of participants; just making the information available is important. She also suggested a presentation on college opportunities for special-needs students.

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