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2018 Board of Education Candidate Statements on Special Education

We are pleased to share with you these 2018 Board of Education candidate statements on special education.  We thank all the candidates for taking the time to share their perspectives. 

The Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) is not a political organization, and it does not endorse candidates in any election.  This presentation is intended solely to assist voters by presenting candidate views on issues related to special education.  The views expressed herein are the candidates’ own.

The candidates were invited to provide written statements in the form of responses to two questions.  The attached responses are presented in alphabetical order by candidate name.

  1. What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?
  2. Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?

We encourage you to reach out to individual candidates with any questions regarding their responses, and we encourage you to share this presentation with community members who might have an interest in special education.  An electronic copy will be available on SEPAC’s website at .

Please visit the website to learn more about special education in SOMA and to sign up to receive regular notices of SEPAC meetings and activities.


But most importantly, we encourage all eligible voters to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 6th.



The SEPAC Executive Board


Marian Cutler


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?

A communicator by profession, my experience ensuring a strong narrative — one supporting by evidence, data and personal input — is one of my key abilities I’d bring to the BOE as it relates to all students. More specifically, for special education, this means setting a proactive, communicative course, in concert with SOMA SEPAC, so all of our residents know the amazing work we are doing for and on behalf of our children while working to contain the misinformation being shared by those unaware of how our resources for special education are being used to provide valuable and needed services.

The reality of our District, with the cacophony of needs, issues and brick & mortar challenges, can overpower some voices discussing both need and accomplishments which could translate into parents developing low expectations of having the District meet the unique needs of our children where they are to ensure our students are well-served. We need to set a course or vision for how students with special needs are embraced by our District, what is expected for these students year-over-year as they transition to new classes, and create opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments.

Additionally, we need to remove the barriers to access these services in an effort to put to rest the urban legend that legal threats are the best course of action to get the attention of school administrators. Study after study, and personal story after personal story, show that early intervention is crucial to a student’s overall success; and, as such, I would advocate for more focus put on identifying students who need intervention early on in their education.

Taken together — a strong, positive narrative; showcases of success; removing barriers; and earlier identification — will create an an atmosphere in which special education students are embraced and celebrated within our District.


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


Fundamentally, I welcome any rational and personal approach to keep more SOMA students within SOMA; but, only if it benefits the student first. It’s important our approach to reducing reliance on out-of-district placements never be framed as an expense issue, but that it’s positioned around how it benefits our students, their parents and the community-at-large. As a District, we have to continue prioritizing hiring staff, adding training, strengthening social and emotional programs, but all must be backed by data. As we work to positively impact the trajectory of our students and our District, we need to be hyper-vigilant to track our successes, correct for shortcomings and be transparent along the way.


While one element of our approach to special education is about early identification and early intervention, it must be coupled with an active role recruiting parents and students to return to SOMSD as we shore up our services and programs designed to provide needed supports and assists. Our District has a number of programs available that we need to make sure our parents know about, can readily access, and can talk with other families who’ve had success.


An additional priority is to create stability within our special education department. We need to create a climate and culture for these staff members to ensure they grow with our District and remain vested in the students they work with on a daily basis. We also need to enhance the programs and services we currently offer to ensure we are meeting the educational needs of our students from inclusion classrooms to afterschool programming.



Shannon Cuttle


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?

As a teacher and a school administrator I, of course, have both known and accommodated special needs students and come to know and work with their parents. As an advocate for all children and families I bring the perspective that every child should be in a safe and supportive environment and I want to work to see that move from a wish to a reality for all our students. Especially in SOMSD there seems to be a systematic and leadership issue in actively ensuring that these students thrive in our school district rather than just fitting them in to the existing frameworks. Too often the parents of these students find the school district to be adversarial in meeting their children’s needs and that is the exact opposite of the value system our schools and communities promote.

As an educator, my experience has been in inclusive classrooms with students of various abilities and needs. My background includes working with and specializing in students with emotional impairment, autism and oppositional defiant disorder. I firmly believe that we need to be active in addressing and providing resources that benefit the whole-child across the cognitive, physical, emotional, behavioral, social, and educational experiences. Priorities include: communications and repairing of trust, creating and improving spaces in the facilities that already exist to be accommodating inclusive and ADA compliant, one-on-one testing spaces, spaces for child study teams, innovative classroom furniture, committed spaces for occupational and physical therapy, consistency in services and supports system-wide instead of classroom by classroom or school by school, climate and culture that supports underserved student populations that include those with special needs, addressing over disciplining and labeling of kids with special needs.


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


All the stakeholders and the community need to be involved and connect best practices, policy, research and implementation to move our district forward. We need to bring the effective solutions into the classrooms and hallways of our schools to make systemic change while raising the critical questions. Breaking down and examining the way SOMSD delivers education is key to both our special education populations as well as the general access and equity policy targets. All our children are on a spectrum of accomplishment, need and acquired skills and the district needs to keep examining how we deliver the support services and the learning opportunities to every child. And that includes wrap around needs, transportation and safety. We also must build support systems and training for staff at all levels and work to align child study team members, paras and nurses and other support staff in best practices and district protocols; working with stakeholders and larger SOMSD community to ensure that parents and families are getting information on services and ways to engage; collecting and analyzing better and finer data on students as well as checking in with families in a meaningful way that gets shared with leadership and the board needs to be a goal and I will be encouraging the board as a whole to task the Director of Special Services to expand data collection systems and report to the board on a regular basis what the district is doing to repair the record it has on delivering education to our special population. Working with parents and other stakeholders to ensure not only best practices but also ensuring the most crucial needs are being met for vulnerable populations across the whole school community.



Javier Farfan


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?

I don’t have extensive experience on Special Education issues but have been learning about the topic since I decided to run for the Board. I think I understand the shortcomings of our district in its service to students with disabilities over the years and what needs to happen to address those shortcomings.


While there a lot of processes specific to Special Education (referral, evaluation, creation of an IEP) that don’t work well in our district and need to be fixed, the bigger issue is that we need to change the culture of the district so that all teachers, administrators and others see all their interactions with parents not as “a problem to be handled” but as an opportunity to give service and help children. There is some work happening to make that happen, in terms of the work that Annemarie and the Board did the summer before last on a district committee charged with improving staff evaluations, and work to provide teachers with more approaches to how they engage with individual students. But for me, thinking of a big change to the organization, we need to do a major overhaul of recruitment and hiring. We need to do more than just post open positions when they become available, and then choose any applicant for the job. We need to decide months earlier, before we even know we have openings, who are the best and brightest, who may not even be looking for a job. And we need to be ready to interview them at length and be very choosy.


My own background gives me some insight into what needs to happen. I was the beneficiary of caring adults during my K-12 journey and I would have ended up nowhere without them. I have a picture in my mind of what each adult needs to do with the students in their care and that is just as true for students with disabilities as any other students.


While at SUNY Binghamton I co-founded a non-profit, JUMP Nation, dedicated to mentoring inner city middle schools by pairing them with Binghamton students. That didn’t have anything to do with Special Education per se, but it had a lot to do with engagement and motivation and those needs are as real for students with disabilities as for others.


And in 2004-05, I worked with an old classmate to win a Mayor’s Challenge Grant in New York City and we founded a public high school for young women focused on business, that drew disadvantaged high school girls from all over the city. That is still going strong.


I have four years of experience as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall in the Stillman School of Business.


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


I have learned enough about out-of-district placements to know that we should be prudent in how much we think we are going to accomplish, and we shouldn’t think of bring students back in district as a way to save money. It will likely cost us as much, or more, to serve students with serious needs in district as the tuition we now pay for them. At best, we will save on transportation. And I know, but am not sure all others do, that many of the disabilities that lead to out-of-district placements are so severe, so complex, so unique, that we may ever be able to serve those students well in district and it may cost us more to do so than the current tuition. We need to deal with each student’s circumstances individually, and to build a lot more trust in our department’s capacity and reliability, before we go about the process of trying to convince parents to agree to bringing their children back in-district. What we need to do, as a first step is to get more assurance that our district’s Child Study Teams are effectively monitoring the service children do receive in the out-of-district settings. We shouldn’t rely on parents to know before we find out.



Narda Greene & Michael Laskowski


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?


The platform of Narda Chisholm-Greene and Michael Laskowski is built on the idea of “Advocates for All.” As parents of five and four children respectively, three of Narda’s children have been educated in the district and two are currently at the high school. Michael has four children currently in the district. Narda and Michael, along with many SEPAC members have wended their way through the process of applying for (an IEP/504); Narda for several of her children and Michael for one of his children. The distinct lack of a strategic, unified process for registering IEP’s and 504’s has left many families frustrated and their children without the support they need. In many case it was only through the support of some highly experienced teachers that helped guide them. The fact is, unless a parent can navigate through a process that isn’t codified, the timelines uncertain, and the communication lacking, the child/student may not get the help they deserve. This must end.


We are excited to have Dr. Murano, Interim Director of Special Education, who seems to be finally addressing issues that have been unresolved for years, giving the Special Education Department the level of professionalism and commitment it needs. Priorities would include but are not limited to the following:

  • Create one system for the registering of IEP’s and 504’s.
  • Develop a clear process for review, assessment and communication between the parents and the Special Education department.
  • Institutionalize the role that paraprofessionals play within the classroom and the value of having them present at IEP meetings and Back to School evenings.
  • Hire a Superintendent that understands the needs of all students within our district, but who also has extensive experience with special educational programs, and the support and vision to carry that into the future.


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


After speaking with parents of children that have been placed out of district, many children would rather be at their local school, with friends from their neighborhood. In order to bring more students back into district we need to ensure that our facilities are able to provide the services needed to support those students.


It is through a defined vision of clarity that would allow us to focus on expanding “in house” services. We would need to find additional funding to fully prepare our schools, hire and train staff, and find and retain the experienced teachers in order to best serve our most at risk students. After doing some research, we were able to find a similar district in size, and scale, that has done a better job of finding State aid to buttress their respective programs. We need to do the same, and may want to find a lobbyist that would engage the State for that additional aid, including public and private grants.


These ideas are in concert with our vision of making Maplewood/South Orange the premier educational district in New Jersey.




Annemarie Maini


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?

For the last eleven years, I have run the South Orange Country Day School, a Montessori preschool in South Orange, and transformed it from a teacher-directed, one-size-fits-all approach to the child-centered approach we use today.  I believe that children benefit from engaging with and learning with their peers and that is why I think the mandated Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is an essential guiding principle.  To implement this well, we need to create a learning environment where the adults ask what can I do with the lesson, the space, or the pacing to support all the learners in the classroom.  This learning environment would see every child as an individual, emphasize the importance of positive relationships and engagement between teachers and all their children, and ensure that from the first day of school, we are seeking to understand each child’s unique strengths and challenges.

I believe that to address children’s needs, the adults need to have the tools to try a variety of techniques and then to track the success of these tools across students. Being child centered does not mean that everything is willy nilly; instead it is a thoughtful approach to making sure that each child gets what they need.  Our students and teachers need to be adequately supported in this least restrictive environment and we need to assess the adequacy of our para-professional services, determine sufficiency of our resource room allocation across our schools, and evaluate the efficacy of our co-teaching model across elementary and secondary schools.

The district’s planned data warehouse  will be the first time where teachers will be able to track student performance across multiple interventions and determine what works best for a particular student.  With this type of data tool and focus on student success, the district’s lack of an evidenced-based reading intervention toolset might have been identified well before this past spring.  The district has also streamlined some of the their processes (like EZ IEP, using Powerschool to share accommodations, etc.)  These tools will help the district meet its regulatory obligation as well as create a better working partnership with families by ensuring that there are clear points of responsibility across the entire system at every touchpoint with a child and family.

As we set the district goals for the past year, I advocated for a focus on ensuring that our district was complying with all Special Education Code.  As chair of the Equity and Excellence Committee it has been a challenge to obtain data on how the district is serving our Special Needs Community in order to identify the root causes of our process that is preventing our ability to address all children’s needs.  Distilling the relationship between I&RS and Special Services was critical to understanding the building leader’s role in taking responsibility for the learning of every child.  The administration has made progress this year and I am optimistic that they will continue to improve our processes and program opportunities for the benefit of our families and teachers.  I also look forward to improving our monitoring of infrastructure (and the new QSAC reporting requirements) so that we can spot problems and identify areas of improvement before it significantly impacts families.

Finally I believe that the successful launch of the Montrose Early Learning Center and the Preschool Grant announced in September will allow the district to identify needs earlier and better serve our students of all abilities as they advance through our schools


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


As I mentioned above, providing services in our district supports the Least Restrictive Environment mandate and I believe, with my whole being, this must be achieved for as many children as possible.  However, there are some children who have severe and/or unique disabilities or combinations of disabilities that the district would be hard-pressed to serve effectively.  These children require highly specialized programs which are often only offered at certain schools in a geographic area and we would be doing a disservice to these children if we attempted to provide those services in-house.  The district might be able to save on transportation for some of these cases, but the risk of not being able to attract certified, experienced experts to work with these children is too high – it would directly impact their learning experience.  As a community we can not allow uninformed chatter about bringing back all out-of-district placements or about how we will save boatloads of money on those we do bring back.  These families are already facing the hardship of not having their children served in their own community.

Additionally, if the district has not demonstrated the ability to meet a child’s needs and provide the child an opportunity to achieve academically and socially,  then the family must advocate for the best placement for their child.  However, often families have been let down by the district with inconsistent services and non-specific IEPs, and the poor implementation and monitoring of IEPs.  This leads many families to find alternative, out-of-district placements and often through litigation.  If the district is to have success in returning children to the district, and prevent children from leaving in the first place, then the district must demonstrate its ability to meet these students’ needs and this will, overtime, rebuild confidence and trust among our families.


For the past year the administration has dedicated significant resources to addressing the needs of our special needs students. At the elementary level the district has added an evidence based reading interventionist to help ensure that across all our schools students have access to the reading intervention program that best meets their own individual needs.  The administration also reviewed the IEPs of our high school students and found that the district needed to add over 20 special education teachers to ensure that students were getting the support that they needed.  The district also hired a full time Board Certified Behavior Specialist to serve our students who need behavioral support and this specialist can also support classroom teachers with strategies, interventions, and supports to serve children in their classroom.  These programmatic changes will continue to support all students and in particular to create a learning environment where each child is provided the supports to be successful, which in turn will support children and families to stay in district.


The administration is currently investigating additional programs that will support children in the classroom first, and to develop a trust with families that all adults in the district are working to support all children to be successful learners and participants in their schools.  Going forward I will continue to support the administration’s effort to improve and enhance our programming by analyzing the data we are now able to collect on student progress, by listening to teachers, students, and families about what is working and what is missing, and by ensuring that we hire, mentor, and retain educational leaders fluent in best practices.


Bruno Navarro


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?


In speaking with parents from around the district, in various grades and at different schools throughout the South Orange-Maplewood School District, I have three main priorities when it comes to special education, as well as a comprehensive look educational policies: Transparency. Accountability. Dignity.


First and foremost, the district can do better with regard to informing parents about their options, the assessment process and the policies surrounding special education. There appears to be a disparity in how the district communicates with students and parents about the purpose of the district’s special education programs and resources: In our information age, this should not be the case. Secondly, accountability needs to be improved when it comes to educators setting, communicating and meeting individual students’ goals. Without a comprehensive plan for accountability, the risks of students falling through the cracks remains all too great. Parents should not have to file lawsuits in order to get their children the help they need and deserve. Finally, and just as importantly, the dignity of our students need to be recognized and incorporated on a day-to-day basis when it comes to all educational programs. Children are more than data points on a spreadsheet, and I would like to see better whole-child assessments in special education classes and better integration in standard classrooms where appropriate. Of course, it’s more time-consuming, but all students deserve to have their talents and challenges evaluated in the most comprehensive manner possible.


Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


SOMSD has an incredibly important responsibility — and a clear obligation — to meet the needs of all its students, that includes timely attention to changing needs of the children in its purview, whether the individual is subject to an IEP or a 504 Plan. As the education of children is the district’s primary directive, there should be no question that prompt, comprehensive and expert attention to its students maintains the highest priority on a day-to-day and long-term basis. I would like to see a senior administration official, perhaps an assistant superintendent, take personal responsibility for the deployment of resources for those students in need. Accountability also means looking forward, evaluating what improvements have been effective, and incorporating those efforts where appropriate.


Christopher Trzaska


What would you like SEPAC members to know about your experience and priorities regarding special education?


For the 10+ years my kids have been attending school in SOMSD I have not had direct interaction with the Special Services Department, and thus hands-on experience with the myriad long-standing issues facing parents and children in this arena has been reduced to Board meetings and updates, and the general sense of disbelief I experience when talking with friends and neighbors about the latest goings-on.  What I have learned in recent weeks from Special Education parents has been revelatory at levels I never expected– stories of roadblocks and frustration, delays and inconsistencies, and struggles to meet at times even the most basic of educational needs that many parents quite often take for granted.  BOE ears need to remain open to these stories.  Mine will be so.  I remain willing to direct a culture of standardization and consistency from our incoming superintendent down throughout the department, complemented by the aggressive use of data collection and analysis to determine the effectiveness of individual and group programs, service levels provided by paras, measurable IEP goals and standardized eligibility determinations, and on.  Standard Operating Procedures are a must.  Upcoming policy reviews are a critical BOE task for 2019, and it is with policy where the Board has the most discretion, to be exercised in this case critically and liberally, and with input from SEPAC (starting with the 504 policy).  Budgetary constraints have been the bane of Special Ed in this district for ages, back even before the staff was cut and paras were outsourced to fix shortfalls, and should be something squarely on the BOE’s list of funding considerations for specific detailed review during the annual budget process (something I’ve considerable experience doing at the corporate level).  The current percentages of funds allocated for OOD placements cannot remain the new normal, discussed in a bit more detail below.



Special Education Administration has begun taking several steps to improve services in district schools with the goal of reducing reliance on out-of-district placements to serve our most at-risk students. What are your thoughts on these steps, and what should the Administrations priorities be?


The Administration needs to maintain two complementary priorities with regard to OOD placements: cost containment and the serving of as many OOD children as possible in-district, and the BOE needs to hold the superintendent accountable for achieving progress on both fronts.  The current baseline is simply not at all sustainable, with over 10% of the overall SOMSD (not just Special Ed) budget being allocated to OOD placements, along with well more than half of the district’s overall transportation spend.  That said, for once Special Ed is not experiencing the cuts of programs and staff of years past given welcome news on staff being added instead of the other way around.  The strengthening of programs and support services are also critical keys to facilitating the return of students to the district, along with requisite training and professional development.  All in, I strongly believe that future efforts to redline the SOMSD budget should reveal the resultant savings, a considerable portion of which should be pushed back into Special Ed for additional staff, training and program enhancements.


Special Services Department / Forum on Special Education – July 30, 2018

Special Services Department Forum on Special Education Special Invitation

Next Session – Tuesday September 4th, 2018.  7:00pm  CHS Auditorium


Handouts from Dr. Morana to be posted once they are made available.  These notes are not comprehensive, but rather consist mostly of supplemental information to what was in Dr. Morana’s handouts, some of which became discussion points as a result of parent questions. If you were unable to attend the presentation on Monday, 7/30, we urge you to attend the presentation on Tuesday, 9/4 7-8:30 in the CHS auditorium.

  • Introductions of Special Education Staff
    • Renee Joyce and Karen Thomany are currently sharing the role of Supervisor of Special Education; haven’t yet determined who will cover which grade levels
  • Discussion of the paradigm shift that needs to take place in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness
    • Special education staff will regularly be meeting with content area supervisors to keep special education concerns at the forefront of all departments
    • Discussed codes that we must comply with
    • Easy IEP will be used to track more information, such as the name of the
    • program students will be placed in
      • Previously there were 3 pages of available options
      • Will be narrowed down for consistency of programmatic options across the district
  • Much discussion of referral data from 2017-2018 – key points:
    • High number of students referred by parents vs. schools
    • High percentage of students evaluated by CST found to be ineligible for special education
      • Dr. Morana met with a number of educators and administrators from across the district for 40 hours in total to redesign the Intervention and Referral Service (I&RS) process
      • New System will be implemented across the district in September
        • 504 Plans and Action Plans that come out of I&RS will have specific protocols to be measured at a set time interval (typically 6-8 weeks)
        • There will be a follow up process to determine if support is working and it should continue, if it’s not working and other strategies should be tried, or refer to CST
        • Monitoring 504 Plans – each building will have a 504 coordinator, as well as monitoring by:
          • Pre-k to 2nd grade: Renee Joyce
          • 3rd to 5th grade: Karen Thomany
          • Middle school – Laura Morana
          • High School – Guidance department
  • Expanded PreK and 18-21 program
    • By year 2023 will have 400 children enrolled in free full day Pre-K (at Montrose and throughout the community)
    • Transition Coordinator job description will be changing and he’ll be developing a program for students ages 18-21 (to begin transition programming at age 14)
  • IEPs/ Programmatic Issues
    • Focusing on consistent modification and accommodation options
      • Testing accommodations and modifications must be implemented throughout the school year, not just during state testing
    • Working with the IEP software company so that goals must contain certain criteria (i.e. to be measurable, etc.) in order to be fully entered into the system
    • Setting Criteria for specific programs within special education, working to create a document with this information
    • Creating an assessment inventory to be accessible throughout the district
    • Will be utilizing multiple models of related service provider delivery (i.e. pull out/ push in)
    • Setting criteria for appropriate use of paras
  • ISTEP and ESS
    • ISTEP will have added academic support, so when students are pulled out for support, they will be able to make up the educational content. Not expanding number of students this year
    • ESS currently able to serve 27-30 students, able to keep students at Columbia who previously were bouncing from program to program and/ or unable to go to school.
      • Staff number will remain the same – maintaining links between guidance, social workers and will keep the students connected to building based support, so that they are more easily able to step down from the supports within the ESS program
  • email related to special education can be sent to, a new monitored email address (proposed to be effective as of 8/1/18)


Meeting Announcement 5-22-18


The last joint meeting of the SPed PTO and SEPAC is:

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

7:30-9 pm,

at the BOE building,

525 Academy, Maplewood

Please attend and share how the academic year went for you and your child or children and what you do to take care of yourself. This is going to be a parent driven meeting to gather and give support for the hectic last month of school, stressful end of the year IEP meetings and the long summer ahead!

SEPAC will also give an update on their ongoing advocacy efforts. Learn about how the two special education parent organizations are planning to join forces moving forward.


SEPAC statement to BOE 5-14-18

SEPAC will be making the following statement at tomorrow night’s Board of Education meeting. It’s an email that was sent to the administration on 5/2/18 and we have not heard a response. If anyone would like to come out in support of this request, please contact us @  Thanks!!

Dr. Ficarra, Dr. Reisenauer and Dr. Morana,

Families are very concerned about the current state and future plans for the Special Services department. The recent announcement of Dr Reisenauer’s retirement and Dr Murray’s resignation has further spurred pronouncements questioning the leadership of the district and the department.

SEPAC is requesting a public forum where you can share your vision for the department as well as hear feedback directly from parents. Families need to hear how the district plans to manage all of these departmental changes while continuing to service the needs of our children.

Thank you,
Erin Siders
Reesa Salomon
Ann Leeb

SEPAC Sped PTO Meeting Announcement 4/24

Please join us Tuesday April 24, from 7:30-9pm as we welcome a representative from  He will be leading our group in an IEP Binder Building party.  We will be discussing the important parts of every IEP binder including:

  • IEP binder checklist
  • School contact sheet
  • Parent-school communication log
  • IEP goal tracker

If you are planning to attend, please RSVP below.

We hope to see you all there!  Thanks!


What Happens After High School?

Please join the South Orange / Maplewood Special Education Parent Community and SOMSD Department of Special Services Thursday April 26th – 6:30pm-9:00pm in the CHS Library for a workshop on transitioning to college and alternative post-secondary programs.  Please see the attached workshop outline for more information.

Workshop Outline

SEPAC Letter to BOE Regarding 2018-2019 SOMSD Budget

March 23, 2018

Dear Members of the Board,

We are writing to express our support for the proposed 2018-2019 SOMASD budget and to ask that you approve it on Monday evening. 

We are encouraged that the current Administration seems to realize that the solution to historical programming and budgetary problems in special education is investment in teachers, support programming and data analysis rather than budget cuts or maintaining the status quo. 

For many years, past Administrations and Boards had sought to “fix” the district’s special education financial issues by proposing cuts to core in-district services.   The list is long, from eliminating full-day special ed pre-k, to contracting out paraprofessionals, to proposing deep cuts to co-teaching staff and to hiring expensive consultants to identify even more cuts.  Further, past Administrations and Boards had been far too complacent in supporting and promoting ineffective leadership in special education despite outcries from parents and other stakeholders.

All of this has led us to where we are now – with still-high levels of dis-satisfaction and mistrust among many parents and staff, with out-of-district tuition costs skyrocketing and crowding out other spending priorities, and with a revolving door in supervisory staff.

We hope that the current budget proposal signals an end to the era of under-investment in in-district special education programming.  But even after adopting this budget, there will be much more to do.  In our recent meetings with the Administration, we have made several recommendations which we would like to see implemented to build on the progress committed to in the budget:

Professional Development

– Mandatory special services professional development for ALL district staff geared toward enhancing differentiated instruction and co-teaching methods and empowering special education teachers in general education settings

– Adding a special services “coach”, who would be an expert on special education teaching methodologies who would act as a resource in supporting staff with ongoing professional development



– Review of caseworker and supervisor workloads and staff levels which recognizes the increased special ed enrollment and teaching staff as well as the prospect of bringing back/retaining some of our most challenged students in-district

– Adding supports related to the STEM realignment to ensure that students currently struggling in level 2 math and all students who will be “leveling up” this Fall have the resources they need to succeed

– Adding one or more full-time dual-certified substitute teachers who can be the first on call for teacher absences, in order to avoid the all-to-frequent situation of IEP violations due to the shortage of qualified substitute staff.



– Mandatory ongoing training provided by SOMSD

– Utilizing all opportunities within SOMSD’s contractual rights to improve the quality of paraprofessionals  through taking action pursuant to performance and feedback monitoring


Other Recommendations / Requests

– Full implementation of the 504 Policy

– While not necessarily impacting the budget, we have recommended Special Services Transition Night events for families of students entering kindergarten / 6th grade / 9th grade and 3rd grade at Jefferson

– We have requested inventories and locations of multi-sensory technology (i.e. smart boards or more current technology) in special ed classrooms as well as of installed sound field (FM) systems.  We have been assured by the Administration that these requests have been submitted to the Technology Department, however we have not as yet received any data.  

We appreciate your and the Administration’s work on the 2018-2019 budget, and, again, we support its adoption.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with the district to improve the educational experience for special needs students, and we would be happy to further discuss our recommendations or answer any questions you may have.


SOMA Special Education Parent Advisory Committee

Erin Siders, President

Reesa Salomon, Vice President

Mike Thompson, Policy Officer

Bernadette Hackler, Communications Officer

Nedra Cabbagestalk, Secretary

Jenny Lindstrom, Board Liaison

Mike Donoghue, Budget Committee

SPED PTO Meeting 3/27-7:30pm

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 10.40.34 AMSpecial Education PTO Meeting

Tuesday March 27 7:30pm-9pm

ATTENTION, parents of children in Out of District placements and anyone else with an interest in the subject.

Is SPED PTO’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 27th, 7:30-9 pm, at the BOE building, 525 Academy, Maplewood, on your calendar?  IT SHOULD BE!  The featured topic is:

  • SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Out of District Experience

The targeted audience is YOU!  Hear from SPED PTO executive board members and the SEPAC/SPED PTO out of district liaison about their personal parental experiences.  Share your own with others who can relate and have similar questions and concerns.

Transportation will be among the topics covered, with Paul Roth, SOMSD Business Administrator, addressing the subject.  Outstanding opportunity to network with local parents. (New people are showing up at every SPED PTO/SEPAC meeting!)


We all know people who would benefit from this discussion so please forward this information and invite them to attend or just bring them along.  Meeting will include an update by SEPAC on their recent advocacy efforts on behalf of the Special Education community.

SPED PTO Meeting 11/13 – 7:30pm

Got questions?     Get answers!
SPED PTO meeting
Monday, November 13
7:30-9 pm
BOE building, 525 Academy, Maplewood
Topic: Overview of SOMSD Special Education Administration
featuring :

Dr. Lauren Reisenauer, Executive Director of Special Services and Youth Development,
Elizabeth Baker, President of the Board of Education, and
Maureen Jones, BOE trustee and liaison to the Special Education community

Plus SEPAC briefing and time to seek support, share resources and connect with other members of the special education community. All welcome. Please join us.

Have a question, comment or concern and cannot attend Monday night, please submit your questions HERE

Special Ed PTO Meeting 11/13, 7:30pm


Dear readers:

In recent weeks on SOMA Special Education community, we have read troubling posts, heard superb suggestions, witnessed genuine heartfelt support and seen, time and time again, the willingness to share personal, often painful, experiences for the benefit of all. We know the connections this group makes are very valuable.

So we urge you all to help our organizations, SPED PTO and SEPAC, in a direct way. Please bring the passion expressed in your postings and use it for a purpose, the betterment of special education in SOMSD, by attending Monday night’s SPED PTO meeting. (11/13 at 7:30 in BOE building). It will be Q+A with the administration and BOE and our opportunity to voice our concerns and seek solutions.

There is strength in numbers, 200 voices are stronger than 20, so please find a way to be in the room. Also, as we know, not everyone is aware of SPED PTO or SEPAC so please encourage all you know to attend. We recognize some people may be reluctant to ask questions directly so we will have a stack of index cards at the entrance and will incorporate these as we moderate the panel of Dr. Lauren Reisenauer, Elizabeth Baker and Maureen Jones.

Your support means a lot and makes a difference. See you on Monday!

Ann Leeb (on behalf of the SPED PTO Executive Board)
Erin Siders, SEPAC President