February 2020 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! 

~ START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project Team
Upcoming Networking Meetings
START-EPSD Project invites parent leaders, advocates, school professionals, local agency representatives, and community members to participate in the upcoming networking meetings.

These networking meetings encourage mutual learning and information sharing to expand connections as well as to enhance skills and knowledge of parents, school staff, and community partners to work together to improve outcomes for all children, and particularly for children with disabilities.

Strategies for starting and developing effective Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) and other advocacy groups will be discussed. 

Atlantic County
Date:  Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Time:  6:00 PM-7:30 PM
Location:  Solid Rock Pentecostal Church, 1140 Ocean Heights Ave.,
Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234

Camden County
Date:  Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Lindenwold High School, 801 Egg Harbor Road,
Lindenwold, NJ 08021

Gloucester County
Date:  Thursday, May 7, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Clayton HS, Media Center, 55 Pop Kramer Boulevard,
Clayton, NJ, 08312

Middlesex County
Date:  Thursday, March 5, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Old Bridge Public Library, 1 Old Bridge Plaza,
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
To register, go to   https://midrtfeb2020.eventbrite.com

Monmouth County
Date:  Monday, March 9, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Raritan High School, 419 Middle Road,
Hazlet, NJ 07730

Ocean County
Date:  Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Time:  6:00 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Central Regional High School- media center presentation room
509 Forest Hills Pkwy, Bayville, NJ 08721

For more information, contact a Parent Groups Specialist in your region or Tatsiana DaGrosa, Project Co-Director, at tdagrosa@spanadvocacy.org
NEW TOOL for Your Leadership Toolbox
Quick Guide "How Can SEPAGs Build Diverse Family Engagement?"
Even with the best of intentions, it may be difficult to get and keep a core group of parents engaged in the Special Education Parent Advisory Groups, or SEPAGs. It’s even harder to do in the diverse school districts in which there are language and cultural differences that may further impact parent involvement in the SEPAG. Follow these strategies and tips to increase your culturally responsive practices in your school district when it comes to engaging diverse families on SEPAGs.

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

Parent Group Highlights
Cherry Hill: Making It Work
By most standards, Cherry Hill is a very large school district. With 19 schools in the district, in addition to students in out-of-district placements, issues of compliance and meeting the needs of district parents can be challenging. Once Ms. Weathington, the Director of Special Education, became aware that the district needed to have a state-mandated Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) , she reached out to one of the Parent Group Specialists on the START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project of the SPAN Parent Advocacy network to help her get a district SEPAG up and running.  [ New Jersey Administrative Code 6A: 14-1.2(h) , 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 ."]

Ms. Weathington began by sending request for letters of interest to district parents of children receiving special services. Of the parents who responded, twenty were invited to the initial SEPAG meeting , one parent from each school in the district and one parent representing parents of students in out-of-district placements. In addition to the district parents, the initial meeting included the Director of Special Education, all four special education supervisors and the 504-coordinator, as well as the START-EPSD Project Parent Group Specialist. The group began by identifying the positive things about the district as well as some of the challenges for children, and families of children receiving special education services.  Over the next several meetings, the SEPAG, using the generated list, began to  identify priorities and to create a vision and a mission statement . The list also helped to inform meeting agendas , and to define the group’s goals

Creating the vision and mission statement was an important step in forming a solid foundation for the group. This foundation was formed over the course of the school year. Before a group can begin to take any action or to give any input to the Board of Education, it is important that they have established themselves as an existing, sustainable group . In Cherry Hill, this was accomplished using several tools available through the START-EPSD Project, including Serving on Groups , Leading by Convening , and Creating Collaborative Action Teams

Once the vision and mission statements were created, they were posted on the SEPAG page of the district website where any district  parent is able to access information about the group , including the names and contact information for parent representatives from each school . The SEPAG page also lists the “Three Key Takeaways” from each meeting and possible topics for upcoming meetings. The Cherry Hill School district website is one way that the SEPAG uses available technology to connect with all parents in the district to keep them abreast of group accomplishments

There is another very important way that the Cherry Hill SEPAG takes advantage of technology. One challenge that the group has faced and continues to address is establishing a consistent meeting schedule . It is important for a group, especially a new group, to meet on a regular basis in order to maintain momentum and strengthen the relationships between group members. In a SEPAG or any type of volunteer organization where all or most of the members also have full-time jobs, this can be very difficult. The Cherry Hill SEPAG has had success in this area by meeting online using platforms such as Zoom , Webex  or FreeConferenceCall (audio only). These online meeting platforms provide an economical way (each of these has a free version) for members to more easily accommodate the group by allowing parents to participate in a SEPAG meeting from home or soccer practice or wherever a busy schedule finds them.

Every district has its challenges when it comes to finding ways for parents and schools to work together. This is certainly true for a district as large and diverse as Cherry Hill Public Schools. The Cherry Hill SEPAG is proving, however, that when both sides are motivated , and truly understand and appreciate the importance, and benefits of parent/school partnerships , then they will find a way to make it work…for everyone.

If you have any questions about the Cherry Hill SEPAG, you may email them at cherryhillsepag@gmail.com , or find them on the Cherry Hill Public Schools website by clicking here .
From a SEPAG Leader to a BOE Member:
Two Parent Leaders Share Their Stories
A parent leader is committed to creating a more supportive community and school environment for all children. When a parent decides to take on a leadership role in their Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG), they are providing direct input to their school district about policies, programs, practices, and services that have an impact on students with disabilities and their families. Through their leadership, an effective SEPAG leader can increase the proactive involvement of families by inviting input that can be used to shape local special education policy.

In the last few years, we have seen parents make the leap from a SEPAG leader to a Board of Education (BOE) member. Many of these SEPAG leaders decide that they want to take their leadership skills to a level that will have a broader impact on the children in their school district. This past November, two parents from Monmouth County ran for the BOE and won their election. 
Patricia Olsen , a Keyport parent and Co-Leader of the Keyport SEPAG , knew she wanted to expand her role in the district:
“Having a typical child and a special needs child, I had two very different experiences within our school district. Our typical son did not attend our high school, while our special needs son temporarily did and faced many challenges once he reached high school. My husband was a graduate from our district and the stigma unfortunately is still the same. I knew I wanted to be a part of the change and one way to do that was to become a part of the BOE.”

Heather Elm , a Hazlet parent and Co-Leader of the Hazlet SEPAG , has been active in the school district since 2010 and felt running for the BOE this year was the right time for her: “ I decided to pursue membership on our Board of Education because it felt like a natural progression to continue volunteering on a broader scope, not just advocating on behalf of the Special Education community, but advocating on behalf of the entire educational community, to help ensure that both our students and our teachers will continue to have access to the necessary resources and support in our schools, and in our classrooms, to foster the comprehensive and continuous development of our students, our teachers, and our entire school community.”

Patricia and Heather are hopeful that their experience working collaboratively with the school district in their SEPAG roles has prepared them to become effective BOE members . Both Patricia and Heather will continue to be active members of their SEPAGs as new parents have stepped into the leadership team. In early January 2020, Patricia and Heather were sworn in as official BOE members, and we wish them all the best!
SURVEY: "How Can SEPAGs Use Technology to Strengthen Family Engagement?"
The increased use of technology by families in their everyday lives creates a new opportunity for Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) to use a variety of digital tools to outreach to, gather input from, and engage with more families of children receiving special education and related services. Effective use of technology can strengthen family engagement in special education as well as SEPAG’s impact.

Please respond to the five-question survey to share digital tools and resources your SEPAG uses. Provide a link to your SEPAG’s tools if available.

Link to the SEPAGs & Technology Survey in English and Survey in Spanish

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.
SPAN's Learning Portal
Can't Make it to an in-person training session?

No problem! Browse our Video & Webinar Archive for information on special and general education, health advocacy, parent leadership, public policy, and much more.
Positive School Climate Lunchtime Webinar
Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Time: 12 Noon - 1 PM

Join us for a lunchtime webinar where we will:

  • Discuss how school climate can impact Inclusive opportunities in your school
  • Learn how a positive school climate can create positive outcomes for ALL students
  • Share resources and information about our upcoming hands-on interactive 2-part Inclusion workshop series.

To register by phone or for more information, contact Brenda L. Figueroa, Inclusion Project Coordinator, by phone (862) 295-2484 or email bfigueroa@spanadvocacy.org

Missed the first webinar, watch the webinar recording here .
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