about Special Education Parent Advisory Councils,
and the benefits of parent involvement in all areas of education.
A talk by Ellie Goldberg, Massachusetts PTA Vice
President for Legislation and MassPTA Environmental Health Consultant at the
Massachusetts PTA Convention November 18, 2005. (The scheduled speaker
MassPAC Director, Suzanne Peyton, could not be here.)
Introduction: Welcome to all child
I am sorry you will not be meeting Suzanne Peyton
today. She is an incredible advocate for children and a strong and
inspiring voice for parent involvement. She sent me her Powerpoint slides. I
will try to do justice to her information.
Like Suzanne, I believe that there is a great
overlap between PTA's goals and principles of parent involvement and the
regulations and procedures for parent involvement in the special education
However, parents and teachers don't often see or understand their shared goals,
especially in the shadow of the No Child Left Behind Act. When we read test
results for 'sub-groups' and news reports that often blame children in special
education for dragging down a school's scores or draining school resources, the
rhetoric often divides rather than unifies parents.
I hope my remarks today, focusing on parent
involvement in both PACs and PTA, will help turn that around so we can all
focus on the job of school improvement together.
We are all here in Sturbridge today because we
believe in the benefits of parent involvement.
My own mother was the model for my involvement as
a working parent of two now grown-up daughters. My working mother was the
leader for my Brownie and Girl Scout troops.
I know most of us today are busy if not
overwhelmed with work and family.
But we are here today, as involved parents,
because PTA is the oldest child advocacy organization in the country. It is a
way to show our children that we care about them and all children, and the
world they are growing up in.
Here is a story that illustrates my personal
philosophy. It is a story that shows us the difference between Heaven and Hell.
Imagine a room where people are sitting around
tables at a huge banquet. The tables are overflowing with the most
delicious foods you can imagine. Everyone is famished, desperate and starving
because they have no elbows. They cannot feed themselves. They are thin and
miserable. Their suffering is terrible.
Now imagine a room where groups of people are
sitting around tables at a huge banquet. The tables are overflowing with the
most delicious foods you can imagine. In fact, the scene is exactly the
same. The people have no elbows. But in this room, everyone is happy and
well-nourished. What is the difference? Here the people have
learned to feed each other.
My goal today is to reframe some of the concepts
that we use to talk about schools and the educational agenda in our
I know that No Child Left Behind has caused a lot
confusion and problems. I want to focus on some of the things about the
NCLB law that are good for us.
For example, we can now get information about our
schools that we could never get before or were too intimidated to ask
about. For example, now we can find out about teacher credentials, one of
the most important factors for student success.
I recall a presentation a few years ago by former
PTA board member and legislative chair, Ruth Provost. She showed startling
statistics about the percentage of teachers in classrooms who were not
qualified in the subjects they were assigned to teach. NCLB sets
goals for highly qualified teachers and also establishes that parents have a
right to know the qualifications of their child's teachers.
From my experience as an educational advocate, I
know that unqualified teachers or paraprofessionals is a common problem in
special education staffing.
So NCLB validates that knowing a teacher's
credentials and having a highly qualified teacher pool are universally valued
among parents and taxpayers.
And as involved parents with information on school
staffing, we can become active partners with our school and community officials
in ways that were not possible before.
I know that nothing wastes scarce resources like
paying people who are not doing a good job. By working together to improve
schools, to work for better-qualified teachers, and the funding that supports
them, we all win.
Let me stop now and ask how many people here
belong to their district PAC? [Several people raise their hands.] If you
are not a PAC member, how many know the PAC members or leaders in your
community? [A few people raise their hands.]
I hope the point about supporting schools to
prioritize highly qualified teaching professionals gives you an idea of the
kind of shared concerns, interests and insights that all parents
I urge you to begin those community conversations
here, to make those valuable connections, and also to starting working with
each other in your schools when you go home.
Another way to learn about the concerns and
struggles of parents of special education students is to join SPEDWatch.org and
read SpEdWatch News, by another long time child advocate for students with
disabilities, Ellen Chambers. [Distributed newsletter.]
The next step is to turn your insights into
participation and parent involvement. Take a minute now and think about one,
two or even three things you would like to change and improve in your
I guarantee that you are not alone. Both your
school PTA and PAC are places to turn those ideas into items in those school
What is a PAC?
A Special Education Parent Advisory Council is a
district wide public entity mandated by law. It is open to all parents as
well as community members. Its role is to advise the school committee on
matters that pertain to the education, health and safety of children.
It meets regularly with school officials to plan,
develop and evaluate what is working or not working for children, and to
participate in efforts to bring the school into compliance with the law, and to
improve school decision-making.
The school system supports the PAC with space to
meet, mailings, staff and other resources. The district, in cooperation
with the PAC, provides at least one workshop a year about state and federal
special education laws. They distribute the Parent's Rights brochure and other
good resources for parents.
The PAC, like the PTA, has officers and bylaws
governing its operating procedures. The PAC, like the PTA, is a communication
channel between school administrators and parents. It is the eyes and
ears of the administration and provides feedback from the constituents, the
parents and students, as a collective voice focused on improving the
In many schools the PAC enhances disability
awareness and tolerance for all differences. Some PACs create resource
libraries for their communities. And, PACs often link up with neighboring
groups, sharing training opportunities, newsletters and other resources.
We all know that the quality of a school's special
education program impacts all children in all classrooms. It impacts school
budgets and school programming. By reaching out to each other, to other
parents, we learn from and can help each other help our schools to make better
Next, a word about the importance of
Last year, thanks to the MassPTA, I attended a
meeting of the American School Health Association. There I heard about the
importance of 'connectedness' in a child's school achievement. I know that
nothing estranges a child or alienates a family more than feeling unsuccessful
and alone with problems at school.
So again, I urge you to consider the importance of
involvement, of building relationships and making connections, as a way to
strengthen schools and communities on behalf of children.
Those connections inform us, help us see where
needs are unmet, and how to target our resources.
Like starting a PTA unit, to start a PAC, all you
need is a few interested parents and a plan. One of my objectives today
is to help you think of yourself as a resource to each other and to your
school. Too often we think of our concerns as 'complaints' and we
hesitate to speak up about something we feel is negative or to make
Both PTA and your school PAC helps you to
understand that your concerns and observations are legitimate and widely shared
interests. Both organizations empower you with information and make you a
confident and powerful voice.
For example, many PACs survey their members.
They ask, What do we need to know? What do parents want done? Being a
voice in the process takes the burden off the individual and gives them the
feeling of belonging to an organization designed to improve the way things are
This information is valuable input for budget
writers and policy makers. This is also good information for your town,
district and national representatives and their staff. These are the people
whose job is to serve you. They don't know your needs unless you inform them.
The League of Women Voters is another national
organization with statewide units. They are also committed to the principles of
good government and have advocates who have a special interest in education and
policy. They can also be community allies and partners. See the League of Women
Voters website, http://www.lwvma.org, and
you'll find goals and position statements that also overlap many of our
policies and positions.
I've recently become involved in the Natural
Resource Committee for the Massachusetts League of Women Voters because its
good government and environmental health agenda is so aligned with all the
legislative advocacy I am involved in for PTA.
You too can partner with your local League members
and grassroots coordinators. Do you need support contacting your
legislators or meeting with them when they are in their district offices?
Your league member can be a resource to you.
Again, no one of us can do this alone. Working
together, we can find the courage, the confidence, and the support we need to
make a difference.
On this flyer, I encourage you to send me your
name and contact information so I can alert you to resources and opportunities
on PTA's legislative and advocacy agenda. [Pass out flyer.}
There are many other policy groups lobbying to
improve our communities. I encourage you to act as a liaison for PTA. Ask
Barbara Bailey or me for the name of some of these groups. For example,
if you are interested in making it safer for children to walk to school, you
may be interested in finding out more about Safe Routes to Schools.
Bring its resources to your community. Help
PTA to spread its influence throughout the state.
So, in conclusion, I remind you, we can all
maximize our potential and the potential of all our children. We need to remember
to nurture each other, using the resources of our local Special Education PACs,
our PTA and other groups dedicated, like we are, to parent involvement and
civic participation.Our shared
objective is to make things better for our families, our schools and our
[I asked for some illustrations of how PACs are
working in schools. Several people gave examples--positive and not positive.]
Thanks for your examples. I urge you not to
feel overwhelmed by how big the job of advocacy is or by how long it takes to
Remember the story about the little boy walking
with his father on the beach, picking up stranded starfish, one after the
other, and tossing them back into the water. The father said to the boy, "Why
do you bother? There are millions of starfish. You'll never save them all." And the boy looked thoughtfully at the
starfish he was holding and then looked up at his father and said, "It matters
to this one."
We all know that it is true and that is why we are
here today. I look forward to working with you.
Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed., Massachusetts PTA Vice
President for Legislation and MassPTA Environmental Health Consultant,
presented in Suzanne Peyton's absence. Ellie is the founder of Healthy
Kids: the Key to Basics, a consulting service dedicated to promoting a better
understanding of the health and educational needs of students with asthma and
other chronic health conditions. www.healthy-kids.info
Healthy Kids resources and programs are designed
to help educators, health professionals, community officials, organizations,
policy makers and parents work together to improve policies and practices so
that schools are safe for children's healthy development.
Ellie represents the Massachusetts PTA as a member
of MassPartners, a collaboration of the major administrator, teacher, and
parent educational associations in Massachusetts and on the governing council,
legislative and administrative committees of the Alliance for a Healthy
Tomorrow, a statewide coalition of over 140 public health, education, labor,
environmental and community groups working for environmental health and
The scheduled speaker was Susanne Peyton, the
founder and president of MASSPAC, the Massachusetts Association of Special
Education Parent Advisory Councils. www.masspac.org
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)