November 2019 Issue
SPAN Parent Leadership E-News
Dear Parent Leaders,

Our newsletter is designed to empower, engage, and support individuals like you who passionately represent the needs and perspectives of all parents. Parent leaders become role models for family engagement, advocating not only on behalf of their own children, but for ALL children! 

We are incredibly grateful for your commitment and tireless efforts to make a positive change in your schools and communities. Happy Thanksgiving!

~ START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project Team
START Parent Leadership Development and Public Policy Advocacy Program
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START Parent Leadership Development Program is for parents who are ready and willing to be a voice for children and families. This program focuses on three areas:

  • Public Policy Advocacy: Discusses ways to be informed and effective in advocating for programs and policies that positively impact young children and their families
  • Serving on Groups (SOG): Helps parents understand how decision-making groups operate so that they can maximize their effectiveness and impact as they serve on County Councils for Young Children (CCYC) and other decision-making bodies (i.e. SICCs, local and state special education advocacy and advisory groups (SEPAGs), local and state bilingual education, Title I and Early Childhood advisory groups, etc.)
  • Action Planning: Teaches parents to bring together a team, group, or committee as well as to plan and implement strategies to impact programs and policies

 To register, to go

For more information, contact Debbie 
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a photo of a diverse group of people sitting around a table and talking
a picture of five slogans about children and families making a positive change and having a great future in their community
NEW TOOL for Your Leadership Toolbox
Quick Guide "How Can SEPAGs Turn
Input into Action?"
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A successful Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) transforms parent input into specific issues and solutions and communicates that to district leaders in ways that lead to positive changes in services, policies, or programs.

*All Quick Guides are available in English and Spanish. Download them ALL:

Parent Group Highlights
New Providence Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG)
a picture of six people holding a sign that says Keep Calm and Attend a SEPAG Meeting
New Providence parents spent their summer preparing for the official launch of their Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG). One of the leaders , Courtney Mallon, attended a Special Education Parent Leadership Roundtable organized by Stefanie Babits, a Parent Group Specialist on the START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities Project at SPAN, to get information. They continued a conversation via email and phone and then met with other parent leaders and the New Providence Director of Special Education in August to discuss the launching of the group this year.

The parent leaders have used the “Special Education Parent Advisory Groups in New Jersey: A Guide to Developing and Conducting an Effective Group,” a.k.a. the SEPAG Guide, to outline the formation of the group . In addition, they joined the Central NJ Special Education Parent Leaders Facebook group to get ideas and information on best practices for their group.

The New Providence SEPAG will be holding monthly meetings this year, including parent meetings and workshops. Their mission is to facilitate open, transparent collaboration between New Providence families, the school district, and the   community to promote inclusion and understanding of, respect for, and support of all children with disabilities. The leadership team includes  Courtney Mallon, Jen Wetzel, Meghan DiSabato, Amy Barbato, Kelli Sannicando, and Liz Marie de Jesus.  Any questions can be referred to the executive team via   or online via the New Providence Special Ed Parents and Friends Facebook page .
Hamilton Township School District
(Atlantic County) SEPAG:
The Special Education Supervisor’s Perspective
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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!
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Mi Casa es Puebla
Parent Support Group
The Mi Casa es Puebla Parent Support is a once-a-month daytime Spanish support group for parents of children with disabilities. This group began over 2 years ago as an answer to a need among the Hispanic community of Passaic. The group is a collaboration between its dedicated participants, the NJ Statewide Parent to Parent, and Mi Casa es Puebla.

During the first year the group met strictly as a support group. Participants would meet and support each other by sharing their stories and resources. The group participants decided that they needed to step it up and educate themselves to better support their children and their community . With the help of the Parent to Parent NJ and the START-EPSD Parent Group Specialist, the group began to include a mini-training on various disability and special education related topics in their monthly meetings.

The group participants are not only part of this group, but also part of various community groups in addition to their SEPAGs. These dedicated parents have made a true commitment that goes beyond their families . They support and empower each other…they attend other trainings…they express their concerns. Each participant has grown in their own way. They exemplify the Parent to Parent NJ motto: "Parents helping parents…it’s a simple concept that works!"

*A special thank you to Mi Casa es Puebla for supporting this group and the entire Passaic community. Download their brochure
SURVEY: " Ensuring Collaboration Between Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) and Boards of Education (BOEs) "
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A SEPAG gives families the opportunity to provide direct input to their school district about policies, programs, and practices that impact students with disabilities. At the same time, a strong partnership between SEPAGs and BOEs is important for developing and maintaining meaningful family engagement in schools. Together SEPAGs and BOEs can make a positive difference in improving special education programs and services for students with disabilities and their families.

Please provide feedback on the survey's best practice statements for ensuring effective collaboration between SEPAGs and BOEs. If this is not a best practice in your school district, please provide comments and possible solutions.

New Jersey Administrative Code mandates that:  
"Each board of education shall ensure that a special education parent advisory group is in place in the district to provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities"   6A:14-1.2(h).

Parent and district leaders can learn how to develop and manage an effective SEPAG in the downloadable NJ's  SEPAG Guide in English  and  SEPAG Guide in Spanish.
Statewide Parent Leadership Conference
Parents learn how to speak up, take action, and create change in their communities!

Join us on Saturday, December 7, 2019, from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM
at the Professional Center, Department of Children and Families' Office of Training and Professional Development located at 30 Van Dyke Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

The conference will provide an opportunity for both existing and emerging parent leaders. The conference will feature forums on early childhood policy issues; leadership development workshops; resources on County Councils for Young Children (CCYCs); and opportunities for networking.

Parents will be able to increase their knowledge, skills, and confidence in their roles as members and influencers of CCYCs.*

* Families completing the training will receive a certificate recognizing their participation .

To register, to go

For more information, contact Debbie
Parents as Champions for Healthy Schools
The Parents as Champions’ team administers a Facebook page to engage with parents in an informal, accessible setting. Through this page we share informative articles about adolescent health and inform our followers of the events our team participates in. We are currently trying to increase our followers within the group in order to engage in meaningful discourse with a more diverse group of parents. 

Recently, we have begun an initiative to highlight our new “Champions” on the page to show the amazing work parents are doing within their homes, schools, and communities to make a difference in children’s social and emotional health.

Our team would appreciate if you could encourage the adolescent parents you know to join our page because we would love to hear their valuable insight. Attached is a link to our page for you to share:
Save The Date for our Second "Inclusion: What Parents Can Do!" Webinar
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Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Time: 12 Noon

Missed the first webinar, watch the webinar recording here .

Registration information is coming soon!

For additional information, please contact Brenda Figueroa, Inclusion Programs Coordinator, at
Let's Read Together! Story-time Boot Camp
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Parents gathered over the weekend of November 7, 8, and 9 to learn ways to make story time more fun and engaging. While the teachers were in Atlantic City sharpening their skills at NJEA’s Teacher Convention, parents and their children had the opportunity to attend one of three regional Story-Time “Boot Camps.” While the children were engaged in crafts and other book related activities, parents were given instruction on shared reading and how reading together with children can and should be a fun, social event and not the chore it can turn into.
Parents practiced “PEER” and “CROWD” — two acronyms that provide prompts to ask questions and otherwise engage children during shared reading time. Example of prompting were given during a reading of the book “Click, Clack, Moo.” During the reading, strategies were also discussed to address some of the challenges that parents sometime face, such as not being able to find time for shared reading, being too tired after a long day, and children’s inability to sit still for a story. Children were able to do crafts like making paper bag cow puppets to bring the story to life. 
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At the end of the workshop, adults and children had the opportunity to come together so that parents could practice shared reading time with the children.  

Before leaving for the day, children were able to choose a book from the pop-up book fair set up by the START-EPSD Project.

If families in your district are interested in working with your school staff to promote family engagement in early reading, contact Debbie Esposito, Literacy Program Coordinator, at

You can also find more information on shared reading by accessing the webinar, Let’s Read Together! Tips to make story time fun and frequent" on the SPAN website.
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SPAN Parent Advocacy Network - Our Vision  is that all families will have the resources and support they need to ensure that their children become fully participating and contributing members of our communities and society.  Our Mission i s to empower and support families and inform and involve professionals interested in the healthy development and education of children and youth. Our foremost commitment is to children and families with the greatest need due to disability or special health/mental health needs; poverty; discrimination based on race, sex, language, immigrant or homeless status; involvement in the foster care, child welfare, or juvenile justice systems; geographic location; or other special circumstances.  Our Motto is, "Empowered Parents: Educated, Engaged, Effective!"
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network | 35 Halsey Street, Newark, NJ | 1-800-654-SPAN