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

Congratulations, 2016-17 Officers

On June 18, 2016, the Cambridge Parent Advisory Council on Special Education held our annual elections.

The following individuals were elected to represent the PAC for the 2016-17 School Year.

Karen Dobak, Co-Chair

Karen has served as a C-PAC co-chair for three years, having been an active leader for more than a decade. Karen has two children, and through her advocacy on their behalf has developed personal knowledge and expertise in the areas of autism, dyslexia, and chronic health conditions. Both of her children started out in public schools and were outplaced to private special education schools. Now an adult, Karen’s son has graduated from the IEP system and is currently attending college. Karen is seeking to continue her leadership as a vocal advocate for all students with disabilities in Cambridge.

Rachelle Boyce, Co-Chair
Rachelle is a proud graduate of Cambridge Public Schools, having attended the Peabody School and graduated from CRLS.  Currently, her two children attend elementary school in CPS. Her experience and knowledge includes developmental disabilities and focus challenges. Rachelle has been an active member of C-PAC this past year, and is interested in ensuring parents know their rights in the complicated IEP process. In this leadership role, she will seek out ways to support and encourage parents and families, so that they are not intimidated from having a voice in their child’s education.


Executive Committee

Fatma Ali: Fatma Ali is a relative newcomer to our community and to C-PAC, having moved here from Kuwait with her family. In the past year she’s become an active member of our group and an skillful advocate for her two children. She has personal knowledge and experience with autism, vision impairment, hearing impairment, and complex medical issues. Fatma has been a dedicated participant in and volunteer at C-PAC meetings and events this past year and will bring new insights to our community of families while also providing special help and encouragement to families in CPS who speak Arabic as their first language.

Pamela Blau:
Pamela has two children, one of whom is on an IEP. In advocating for her child, she has developed expertise in the areas of dyslexia and complex learning profiles including social-emotional dimensions of learning. Pamela has served as an officer of C-PAC for two years and has been involved with the PAC for 10 years. If elected, she will seek to continue collaborative work with the CPS administration while helping individual families get support to navigate the educational system.

Miguelina Santiago:
Miguelina has lived in Cambridge for over 34 years, and raised three adult children who all attended Cambridge Public Schools. Her youngest child is a current elementary school student in CPS. Miguelina has experience in both the 504 Process and the IEP process; and with supporting a child with academic and emotional challenges. Her goal in serving as a C-PAC Executive Officer is to deepen her knowledge by working with families, while sharing her own experiences and knowledge. Originally born in the Dominican Republic, Miguelina hopes to provide a special link to Spanish-speaking families of students with disabilities.

Julie Viens:
Julie Viens has served as an officer of C-PAC for the past two years. Julie has three children in Cambridge Public Schools, and has navigated the special education system on their behalf for seven years. Julie is experienced and knowledgeable about obtaining appropriate assessments, services, and placement related to mood disorders, sensory processing, ADHD, and anxiety. Julie will seek to use her leadership of C-PAC to offer a lifeline to other families, as it has been a lifeline for her. Her goal will be to offer practical and emotional support to other families, especially those new to the system.

Congratulations 2015-16 Officers

On Saturday, June 13, 2015 we held our annual meeting and election of SEPAC Officers.

Congratulations to the following individuals who were elected to represent the PAC for the 2015-16 school year.

Karen Dobak, Co-Chair

I am the mother of two children. My son is 22 and recently aged out of his IEP, having been diagnosed with PDD when he was 2.5 years old. At the time, Cambridge did not have self-contained classrooms for children on the autistic spectrum and did not value inclusion. While facing Cambridge’s refusal to provide 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. I became involved in the PAC, and played a role in getting Tom Hehr and the Department of Education in Washington DC to evaluate CPS’s implementation of the IDEA, which led to significant changes in how children with disabilities are educated in Cambridge.

My son was out-placed in a year-round school prior to first grade. After high school and until he turned 22 my son was on an IEP for transition planning and attended community college while working in the community. He is now attending community college independently. Seeing the progress my son has made as a result of his education and services has made me even more committed to ensuring that all children receive the education they need.

My daughter is 11 and has been diagnosed with multiple complex learning needs, including medical, neurological and speech language needs, as well as learning disabilities and was out-placed at the end of second grade.

This past year, as a Co-Chair of the PAC, I have enjoyed assisting other parents who are experiencing similar struggles that I have experienced. This year I will continue to work with the PAC to keep the focus on all children with disabilities to ensure they all meet their dreams and potential in adulthood.

Julie Viens, Co-Chair

I have three children, ages 18, 12 and 9, and have navigated the special education system on behalf of my children for 6 years. In this time, I’ve learned how to obtain appropriate assessments, services, and placement related to issues around mood disorders, sensory processing, ADHD, and anxiety.

My family has experience with special education in the general education environment, with home schooling, and with out-of-district placements. C-PAC has been a lifeline for me, and I first assumed the position of C-PAC officer in order to give back and offer practical and emotional support to other families, especially those new to the system.

Professionally, I am Site Director and Research Coordinator at a local childcare center. In this role, I also enjoy and value my work with the Early Childhood Alignment Grant Leadership Team, a CPS initiative.

Pamela BlauSecretary

My family lives in North Cambridge and we have two children. Our daughter is a 6th grader at the Amigos School. Our son is an 8th grader who was at the Haggerty School for elementary school and then at Vassal Lane  Upper School. He is now outplaced to a school that can better serve his complex learning profile.

I have been Vice Chair of C-PAC for the past year and have been involved with the PAC for 9 years. Our family  has benefitted greatly from the advice and support I have received from fellow members.

Over the past two years the leadership of C-PAC has worked closely with the leadership of OSS to make changes  in special education and general education in Cambridge in order to better serve children with special needs. Much has  been accomplished but there is a long way to go.

I am committed to continuing this collaborative work as well as to helping individual parents get support and navigate the system in order to get their children the best  education. Professionally, I am a therapist with a private practice in Cambridge.


Congratulations 2014-15 SE-PAC Officers

On Wednesday, May 28, 2014 from 6:30-8:30PM, Cambridge SE-PAC held our annual meeting and election of officers at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 159 Broadway. Congratulations to the following individuals, who were elected to represent the PAC during the 2014-15 school year.

Pia Marrella Cisternino (Co-Chair) lives with her husband and three children in West Cambridge. Professionally, she is a speech language pathologist. In 2012, Pia founded the Twice Exceptional Parents’ Support Group, and she continues to facilitate monthly meetings of the group. Pia served as a C-PAC Officer for school year 2013-14, alongside  Karen Dobak, Melissa Preston Bulyko, and Zina Gomez-Liss.

Karen Dobak (Co-Chair) has been an active member of C-PAC since her 21-year-old son was diagnosed with PDD when he was 2.5 years old. Her daughter, who is 10 and has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS, epilepsy and dyslexia, has received special education services since she was in Kindergarten at the King Open School. Karen’s daughter is currently in an 11-month program out of district, and her son receives services through CPS and a program at Mass Bay Community College.

Julie Viens (Co-Chair)  has three children, ages 17, 11 and 8, and has experience helping her children navigate the education system while struggling with learning, sensory integration, and emotional/behavioral challenges. Julie’s family has experience with special education in the general education environment, with home schooling, and with out-of-district placements. Julie describes C-PAC as a “lifeline” and assumes the position of officer with the intent of offering practical and emotional support to other families. Professionally, Julie is working on preliminary licensure credentials to work as a teacher with preK-2, elementary, and students with moderate disabilities; and works as a substitute teacher for CPS.

Pamela Blau (Vice Chair) has two children: a daughter at the Amigos School and a son at Vassal Lane Upper School who has an IEP for dyslexia and ADHD.  Professionally, Pamela is a therapist in private practice in Cambridge.  She has  been involved with CPAC for 8 years, and says that she has learned much from other parents about how to navigate the special education system and support her son. Her goal as a new C-PAC officer is to pass on some of what she has learned to others.

Congratulations 2013-14 Officers

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.