On Wednesday, June 5, 2013 Cambridge SEPAC held our annual meeting and officer election, from 6:30-7 p.m. at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 159 Broadway.

Congratulations to our 2013-14 SE-PAC Officers.

Melissa Preston Bulyko, Candidate for Co-Chair

Our family lives in East Cambridge. We have a six year old son and ten year-old daughter, both of whom now attend the Haggerty School, with inclusion supports. Our daughter has benefitted greatly from the co-teaching model at the Haggerty. Both of our children have highfunctioning forms of autism, as well as anxiety and ADHD. They are both also considered “twice exceptional,” meaning that they are cognitively advanced, but have special needs in other areas. This presents some unique challenges which have made themselves more apparent than ever this year.

As with many higher-functioning children, our kids often behave very differently at school than at home. This is a typical profile for such children. We continue to hear a lot of, “We’re sorry, we’re just not seeing it at school” and run into problems in identifying and meeting their needs in an inclusive way at school. As with many students with special needs, their struggles are not always consistently and clearly apparent. Even though their needs are not always met, it has been wonderful to see the dedication in some schools, and the excellence of certain individuals and programs in our education system. In my year as PAC officer, I have enjoyed working collaboratively with such dedicated people in our district.

True inclusion means supporting the needs of every special needs child, at whatever level of need, at whatever point they are able to access the curriculum. I am passionate about inclusion being done well, with commitment and honesty. Last year, I completed coursework for my certification in special education rights advocacy. I have learned so much: what inclusion should look like (and when it is not working for your child), how to educate and support our children’s teachers and specialists, and how to strengthen and protect the parent’s role on the Team and as a support and resource for their child, no matter the type or degree of need.

I continue to see the importance of providing parents with timely and correct information, to empower them in order to help them make good decisions for their children.

The CPAC should be not only a place of emotional and social refuge for all parents of children with special needs, but also a place for education. Much was accomplished this year in terms of educating and supporting our community through workshops and outreach. If re-elected, I want to continue these efforts in the coming year. I look forward to working another year with my colleague Zina Gomez-Liss, and we are excited about the prospect of working with Karen Dobak and Pia Marrella Cisternino.

Karen Dobak, Candidate for Co-Chair

I am a single mother of 2 on IEPs. My son is 20 and was diagnosed with PDD when he was 2.5 years old. This was at a time that Cambridge did not have self contained classrooms for children on the autistic spectrum, and before Cambridge embraced inclusion. While facing Cambridge’s refusal to provide any significant services, and his doctors’ insistence that intensive early services were essential to his long term prospects, I was forced to become an expert in education law. It was at this time that I first became involved in the PAC, and played an instrumental role in getting Tom Hehr and the Department of Education in Washington DC to evaluate our school district’s implementation of the IDEA, which led to significant changes in how children with special needs are educated in Cambridge. My son attended Haggerty in Kindergarden, and was outplaced with a year round placement prior to first grade. He now has an IEP for transition planning and is in a program at MassBay Community College and working in the community. My daughter is 9, and was first diagnosed with Epilepsy and Mixed Expressive Receptive Language disorder when she was in kindergarden at the King Open School. While at the King Open I was on the School Council, and helped to raise awareness of the needs of children with disabilities in the school. My daughter has since been diagnosed with PDD-nos, and was outplaced in the end of second grade.

The PAC has now forged a cooperative relationship with the school administration, and if elected, I look forward to working with the PAC to keep the focus on all children with disabilities to ensure they all meet their dreams and potential in adulthood.

Zina Gomez-Liss, Candidate for Co-Chair

I am the mother of a 4th grader, 2nd grader and child in the 3-year-old program at Tobin Montessori. My younger son was diagnosed with ASD PDD-NOS when he was 2-yrs-old. He currently accesses PT, OT, speech, and behavioral services. We first came to Tobin in 2007 as a Special Start family when my 3-yr-old was placed in a sub-separate class. He eventually graduated from Special Start; however, we were forced to leave Tobin (being told it would not work for my son because it was Montessori) and attend another Cambridge Public School for kindergarten. This was a difficult time as my son did not take the transition very well and he regressed. My husband and I advocated strenuously to have him return to Tobin where his older brother still attended. Now he is doing very well in a Montessori Lower Elementary class.

My oldest child was on an IEP for physical delay and emotional issues. After 2 years my son’s private school strongly suggested that we leave and try to enroll him in a public school. We were fortunate enough to get him into Tobin as a 1st grader, and eventually things improved so he could get off his IEP. As a 4th grader he went back on an IEP for severe anxiety and other issues that kept him from being able to access the curriculum.

I am very excited about the prospect of working with the other candidates on this slate in advocating for special needs families while interfacing with district administration, School Committee, and school communities. I am hopeful that with new OSE leadership we can continue to nurture a culture of inclusion throughout the district.

Pia Marrella Cisternino, Candidate for Vice Chair

My name is Pia Marrella Cisternino, and I am pleased tobe able to serve as CPAC Vice Chair for the coming academic year, 2013-14.

I live in West Cambridge with my husband and three children. In our family, we have a range of learning styles and needs, including twice exceptionality (ie. a child who has both special education needs and advanced learning needs).

Professionally, I am a speech-language pathologist who has worked with young children in public and private schools. Much of my work has focused on the language needs of children on the Autism Spectrum.

This past academic year, I have organized a support group for parents of children who are twice exceptional. As a CPAC officer, one of my goals will be advocating for the needs of twice exceptional children. If elected, I look forward to serving with Melissa, Zina, and Karen, to continue the important work of the CPAC next year.

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