FCSN “Visions of Community”

Parents at VOC Conference

Cambridge SE-PAC was well represented at the Visions of Community Conference held by the Federation for Children with Special Needs on March 10. Thanks to scholarships from Cambridge Public Schools and the Federation, a diverse group of CPS families were able to attend this annual conference in downtown Boston.

The conference included three 90-minute breakout sessions focused on early childhood, special education, learning disabilities, and challenging behavior. In addition to workshops in spoken English, closed captioning, ASL and language translation were available and a subgroup of workshops were presented in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, and Haitian Creole. The conference also included two stirring Keynote Addresses.

Tom Sannicandro, Director of UMass Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion, spoke about the tendency of schools and other community institutions to expect less for individuals with disabilities when it comes to fully participating in education, career, and community life.

Think DifferentlyOne focus of the ICI’s work is advocating for businesses and organizations to include individuals with disabilities in their recruitment and hiring. Not only is this the right thing to do, he argued–it will also lead to better outcomes. 

For example, he described an ICI Board Meeting where a Director who has Down Syndrome emphasized the importance of using plain language, “so that everyone will understand what we are talking about in our advocacy.”  In this way, embracing diverse abilities and neurology yields a more inclusive and well-considered end result.

Citing the “high hurdle of lowered expectations,” he noted that too often conversations about the futures of students with disabilities do not include a discussion of college. Today, in addition to community college and 4-year universities, increasing numbers of higher education institutions are developing Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Programs (ICEs) and other means for providing a college experience to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These certificate programs offer valuable training for entering the workforce while enabling students to experience college life.

According to Sannicandro, “Too often, conversations about children with disabilities do not include discussion of college–but our children are no different than any other children. We need to hold our communities, our schools, school administrators to a higher standard.”

To his audience of special educators, administrators, and special education families, Sannicandro expressed empathy for how difficult is can be to advocate for a child with a disability.

He stated, “Education  is a civil right. It is our responsibility to make sure that all of our students are prepared for adult life. Yet, sometimes parents ask, did I go too far? Did I ask for too much? I understand my community is strapped for cash — should I stop pushing?”

Disability Rights are Civil Rights

He paused, allowing the audience to answer with a resounding, “No!”

Then he continued, “The reason the answer is no is not just because of the child in front of you. It’s because we are fighting for every child in our community.”

The second keynote presenter offered a living testimony to the power of full inclusion. Melissa Joy Reilly, a powerful self-advocate and Special Olympian, is a graduate of Acton-Boxborough High School and the Transition Program of Middlesex Community College. A staffer for Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Melissa began by describing her varied interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Then, she said:


I am pretty much a regular girl who just happens to have Down Syndrome. But you know what? I am also a lucky girl. I grew up in a great family, in a great town with great schools. Way back when I started school, inclusion was just beginning. My parents tell me some great people like Lou Brown, Martha Florist, Sue buckley and our own Ann Howard gave them good advice about supporting me in school. They and many others had a vision that inclusion was going to make life better for everybody.

They opened the eyes of many teachers and special educators. How lucky was that?

For me, inclusion was normal. So, all the way from Kindergarten through high school, I was part of the regular education classes – except for math. I love school. Even that big bus. (I think you know what I mean). Now because of inclusion, all people with disabilities are getting a better education and are getting better jobs.

Many years later, I was told that inclusion was not exactly normal. It was not exactly an easy ride. There were many bumps, but my parents had help. They would be forever grateful for Rich Robinson’s advice. And to Tom Sannicandro, for getting us through a legal mess.

By the way, I do know that having an extra chromosome also comes with some extra challenges. But, I have learned out to deal. But, for the most part, I am just a girl who is more alike than different.

And that is why, after high school, just like my classmates, I wanted to go to college too. Live away from home. And then, maybe get a dream job. Well, living away did not happen. Because I went to Middlesex Community College. I graduated from their transition program with a certificate in office support. And guess what? I did get a dream job.

I am working here in Boston at the State House. I am an office aide for Senator Eldridge. I just love my job. And I just love going to work. My co-workers are all super nice and I have the best boss ever.

Along with pursuing her career, Riley volunteers with a food pantry and serves on the Board of Special Olympics. Riley is an accomplished Special Olympian herself, and won silver medals in skiing at the International games in Nagano and in Pyong-chang. She is also a motivational speaker who draws on her experience to demonstrate how the limitations society imposes on students with disabilities does not reflect their true potential.

Referencing her participation in the MA Down Syndrome Congress “Your Next Star” campaign, Melissa ended her presentation with a promise that inclusion can work. She said, “Dreaming and hoping for a bigger and more interesting life can become a reality. Today, each one of us in our own way has the opportunity to reach for the stars.”

FREE Parent Support Groups

Cambridge SE-PAC has partnered with Bay Cove Human Services to offer FREE Parent Network Support Groups

Opportunities to:

  • Talk to a group of parents who share your concerns in a safe confidential environment
  • Access their resource library of over 800 books
  • Receive one-on-one support, consultation, information and support at school meetings.
  • Attend trainings based on parents needs
  • Join their online Parent Support Network
  • Light refreshment will be served

2018-19 Daytime Group:
1st & 3rd Friday of the Month, 10AM-11:30AM
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr School
102 Putnam Ave. Cambridge MA 02139
Register here  for the morning group

2018-19 Evening Group:
2nd & 4th Tuesday of the Month, 6PM-7:30PM
Fletcher Maynard Academy
225 Windsor St. Cambridge MA 02139
Register here for the evening group

Questions? Please contact:

Zuleka Queen-Postell
(617) 593-4402

Sensory Friendly Movie Series

Early Man

Saturday, March 17
8:30 AM – 11:30 AM EST

Reserve your FREE Ticket Here>>

SE-PAC’s sensory-friendly movies are specially designed to accommodate students with disabilities who might have difficulty attending a public movie screening.

The lights will be turned up, and the sound will be turned down to accommodate children with anxiety or sensory issues.

Families can relax while students are free to enjoy the movie in whatever way works for them. Our goal is to create a supportive atmosphere where all will feel welcome and have fun as a family!

Become a Special Education Parent Surrogate


Parents and Guardians are crucial to the special education process, but not all students with disabilities have a parent or guardian who is able to participate. Special Education Parent Surrogates fill the parent/guardian role on the IEP team and amplify the student’s voice in the special education process.

If you are experienced as a parent advocate, or would like to make a difference in the life of students with disabilities, consider applying to become a special education surrogate. Training and supervision are provided by the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN).

Learn more from FCSN>>

Understanding Challenging Behaviors

Come learn techniques to help you understand your child’s challenging behaviors and what you can do to improve them.

Thursday, January 25, 2018
6:00 – 9:00 PM
One Broadway Street – Cambridge

Presented by CPS’s own Craig Estee

Craig M. Estee, M.Ed, BCBA, LABA holds a master’s degree in Severe Special Education/Low Incidence Disability from Boston College Graduate School of Education and is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).

Craig holds a professional license as an Applied Behavior Analyst (LABA) in MA. His 20-plus years working with children and adults with disabilities includes time as a transition-aged special educator, a supported living manager, a job coach, a recreational counselor, a Multi-Handicapped teacher, and as Autism Specialist for BPS.

Craig served Boston Public Schools for 15 years as a teacher of students (all levels) with ASD and intensive special needs. Craig has also worked for TILL, Inc., LABBB Collaborative, and Perkins School for the Blind. Craig currently serves as Behavior Specialist for ASD for Cambridge Public Schools in the city of Cambridge, MA.

Slow Processing Speed Workshop

Please join Dr. Ellen Braaten of the Massachusetts General Hospital Clay Center for Young, Healthy Minds for a discussion of slow processing speed:

Tuesday, November 16th at 6PM

Cambridge Citywide Senior Center
806 Massachusetts Avenue (across from City Hall)

Dr. Braaten is the author of Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up and an expert on educational interventions for students with slow processing speed, a common component of many students’ learning profiles. Learn how to help your child overcome slow processing speed so they can perform better in school, keep pace with friends and family, and maintain healthy self-esteem.

Childcare and a light meal will be provided

Please RSVP>>

Roundtable With OSS – 10/19/17

On October 19, 2017, the SE PAC hosted a round table with the Office of Student Services (OSS).  Three representatives of Office of Student Services, led by Jean Spera, met with parents and caregivers. Topics covered included: recent MCAS results, the quality and size of physical spaces where special education programs are housed, the programs for children with language based learning disabilities and for children on the autism spectrum, supports for inclusion. Jean Spera reiterated the power of parent and caregiver advocacy and referenced the successful advocacy of the SE PAC in the district wide planning process.

Three representatives of Office of Student Services, led by Jean Spera, met with parents and caregivers. Updates from OSS:

  • The SE PAC will be contacted soon about participation in the hiring of a permanent Deputy Superintendent for OSS
  • In the meantime, OSS intends to continue the work started by Dr. Greer and maintain stability for students, families and teachers
  • CAST (Universal Design) is being piloted in Morse school

Issues raised by attendees and OSS responses:

Children on IEPs are scoring far lower than any other sub group on MCAS.

JS responded that the school committee is discussing setting targets for all students and sub groups. Also, this is the first time CPS has a mandate from the superintendent on inclusive education and support from above. It’s a starting point to motivate action planning at the district level.

Children on IEPs are learning in sub-par physical spaces (example of special education students working in hallways)

JS agrees that space is a significant problem in the district and recommends that families advocate with building principals for appropriate spaces for special education programs.

Language based learning disabilities

Multiple parents asked about the language based learning disabilities program (why so few children are enrolled, why the space provided is inadequate, why there is no middle school program, why we don’t have better screening to identify children in need of services). One parent asked for a task force on language based learning difficulties in Cambridge.

JS responded that a program review will be done in the future and that parent advocacy is important. She indicated that a strong program was in place and that it may need to be nurtured. She also said that some parents do not want their children in the program and try to get their children out of the system instead. Screening would provide valuable information. Last year CPS trained 20 staff in Tier 1 Orton-Gillingham. This year there is a cohort doing the Tier 2 practicum.

How can parents and the SE-PAC strengthen to support OSS?

The barrier used to be at the level of OSS but appears to be at the building level now. JS commented that the SE-PAC’s advocacy on the district plan was helpful.


Some parents indicate that the general education side of the co-teaching teams are not prepared to educate students with disabilities and need additional Professional Development. Some general education teachers want to do better but do not feel they have the resources to meet the needs of all of their students.

JS mentioned that buy in from the school level administration is key for this. In response, one parent stated that the district should insist that everyone get on board with inclusion or be asked to leave.


Math curricula can be chosen at the teacher level. This is problematic because our children are likely to move from school to school. We should be advocating for citywide curriculum.

OSS wants to be involved in curriculum selection and was included in the selection of the math curriculum. OSS was not aware that the math curriculum was optional.

Lack of progress

If a child is not successful and is getting everything CPS offers, we cannot accept a lack of progress.

OSS replied that the goal is grade level standards but we have to meet students where they are. There are minimal barriers to resources, and teams have the option to make recommendations. The team chairs need to be aware of all the options they have.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) sub separate program

Behavior management is trumping learning in the ASD programs. Many children are not accessing the curriculum.

OSS responded that there was a program review and that changes are underway. ACE curriculum and Teach Town will be implemented starting in November.

Out of district placements

A lot of money is being spent. Why can’t we improve our programs to meet the needs of these children? As we think about inclusion, how are we thinking about out of district placements?

JS said that the district has explored creating in district programs for some of these children, for example medically fragile children. CPS does not have enough children to fill a cohort in many cases. Also, space is a problem.


The suggestion was made that the SE PAC needs a platform with our points, and we need to sign off on them and train, workshop, organize.

New Website

Cambridge SE-PAC launched a new website during the 2017-18 School year. While some historical information and meeting minutes were moved from our previous website, much of it was not moved to the new format. Events and announcements before September 2017 are not comprehensive and do not include many valuable projects and programs organized by SE-PAC members.

We hope the new format makes up for these omissions.

Annual Meeting & Election of 2017-18 Officers

Date: June 7, 2017
Location: Cambridge Rindge & Latin School

Present: Fatma Ali, Pamela Blau, Sarah Collazo, Karen Dobak, Tara Dunee, Rachel Gordon-Walkman, Vera Hoffman, Dian Holder, Kathleen Kelley, Khadija Laaziz, Julie Messina, Sara Nelson, Zuleka Queen-Postell, Mercedes Soto, Rosalie Rippey, Cambria Russell

Participants introduced themselves. The group discussed composing an agenda. The leadership explained that tonight’s meeting was originally supposed to be last week but was rescheduled at the request of the OSS leadership team. The Coordinator confirmed the new date with Dr. Greer and was told the leadership team would attend. But the day of the meeting, Dr. Greer indicated she is not coming and that the Coordinators would be coming. However, they did not come.

Agenda items were identified: Discussion of the transitions occurring in OSS, Strategic Planning Process, Cambridge SE-PAC elections.

Review of concerns about the search process for Assistant Superintendent for Student Services:

  • Not advertised nationally
  • Poor communication with the SE-PAC and with interview committee
  • Lack of transparency regarding the search process

Issues discussed related to the current transition period & strategic planning process

  • Accountability for inclusion of students with disabilities among Principals
  • Lack of inclusion of SE-PAC in the strategic planning process
  • Participants on the planning team don’t have an overview perspective on the history and current status of Special Education in the district as a whole that SE-PAC would have brought
  • Need for specificity in what the district is going to do to specifically in our area
  • Specific concerns around services for students with dyslexia, including early screening, need to provide Orton-Gillingham 1:1
  • We as parents need to have a voice to not allow discrimination and bias against our kids to happen
  • What’s good for kids with special needs is good for all kids
  • Why isn’t Universal Design part of the strategic plan?
  • Disproportionate suspension rate of African American boys with disabilities
  • CPAC leadership will meet with School Committee Special Education Committee to build advocacy for students with disabilities

Priorities for advocacy:

  • Proper search process for the new Asst. Superintendent for Student Services
  • Strategic Plan: Special Education is not specifically mentioned or named in the Strategic Plan. Needs to emphasize effectiveness of the education that students receiving as well as more specifics around inclusive instructional practices
  • Supporting specific initiatives that are good for our kids: Universal Design, PBIS, Leveling Up in 9th Grade
  • Message: we want to make the system stronger – not just for our children, but to improve learning for all children

The election ballots were counted, and with 25 online ballots and 2 paper ballots cast, the slate of Karen Dobak & Cambria Russell (Co-Chairs), Jovanna Arce, Rachelle Boyce, Dian Holder, Khadija Laaziz, (Executive Officers) were elected as SE-PAC Officers for the 2017-18 School Year.

Zuleka Queen-Postell thanked the outgoing and continuing officers for their service and presented them with certificates of appreciation.

8:00PM Meeting Adjourned