1. Share any background or expertise, professional or personal, that you believe speaks to your experience and commitment to serving the students who receive special education in our district.
Without getting into too much personal detail, I can say that we have already seen from a very early age the importance of early interventions, “meeting kids where they are”, and identifying tailored instruction to help set the stage for later success.
I’d like to help ensure our district can provide those opportunities for all Madison children that have a need.
2. How, as a BOE member, do you intend to keep students with disabilities as a part of the conversation in all aspects of decisions being made? How will you solicit input from parents on policy that directly impacts students with disabilities and their families?
First, as a fundamental principle I think we need to foster an inclusive environment for ALL kids from ALL backgrounds, including special needs, but also race, religion, sex/gender, economic, etc. This means as a Board we can’t limit our thinking to just one type of model student or a lowest common denominator approach.
In terms of input from parents, I see this as essential and would like to foster stronger collaboration and partnership in this area. I see SEPAG as a great advocacy group and conduit for this, and have elaborated further in Q#7.
3. If a parent approached you with a special education concern, and stated that they felt that this was a systemic problem, what would you do? What are some ideas you have to prevent issues from becoming systemic?
I’d start with taking the concern seriously, hearing out the facts, and ensuring initially that the proper channels within the school were given the opportunity to resolve the issue. For potentially systemic problems I’d want to understand who within the schools has already been contacted, when, what the outcome was, and what other students or families have had similar concerns.
In terms of preventing systemic issues, to me this is where a combination of good procedures, data, and Board governance play a strong role. Procedures like the Communication Protocols ensure parents or students know how to raise their concerns. Where possible I’d look to metrics and trends to give better context to individual anecdotes (e.g., # of HIB reports). Finally, where a negative trend or systemic problem has been identified, the Board should oversee that corrective actions are being put in place.
4. Educating a student with a disability costs more money than educating a general education student. This cost impacts the school budget. How would you approach budgeting decisions regarding special education?
From a budget pov I would look at how to most cost effectively deliver the required services, and where practical, to invest in building those capabilities in house.
In my Supply days a regular decision point we would make was whether to make a product in house, or to buy it from an external manufacturer. The preference was typically to make in house, as we could better control the quality and costs. At times though, for very new or specialized products, we might outsource it. In either case the aim was to deliver the right product at the most effective price. I see this similarly.
5. What do you think is the greatest challenge in Madison's school district regarding special education?
I’d expect challenges related to staffing, facilities, and budgets.
Staff – maintaining sufficient staffing, with the right skills, and continuing to develop them ongoing as we learn more about effective instructional methods and best practice.
Facilities – from basic ADA compliance to having sufficient space and climate control, I'm sure our aging buildings make this more challenging.
Budgets – On top of all this, resources are finite and delivering these services in a cost-effective way can be challenging.
6. If elected, what do you see as your learning curve specifically for special education?
I’d say I’m starting with a moderate understanding based on our family experience to date, and I’m a quick study! I have already been reading up on some of our district’s historical gaps, recent curriculum changes, and latest instructional best practice.
I can’t claim to be an expert personally, but by working with those that are and listening to their pov, I’m confident I can make the best informed decisions for our kids.
7. It is critical that the Board of Education maintains open lines of communication with community groups such as the SEPAG in order to best represent the concerns of special education parents/guardians to the school administrators, and to represent the needs of special education students to the citizens, taxpayers and parents of the community. In addition to BOE meetings, how might you look to formalize communication protocols to ensure a direct line of communication between the BOE with the SEPAG?
Such a great question and it touches on one of my first motivations for deciding to run. My number one goal if elected to the Board is to serve as a collaborative and thoughtful voice to the community. That means actively engaging with the various community groups that care so deeply about our kids and schools, including SEPAG for Special Education, as well as MEF, MAF, PTO’s, and more.
A group of just 7 people cannot alone be expert in all topics or be aware of all things working well (or not) within the district. So it behooves the Board to actively engage with and hear out those other experts’ ideas and concerns.
In terms of formalizing communications, I would first look to identify a SEPAG liaison as point person to engage with the Board and Administration ongoing. From there, the administration or Board committees could more easily request input on key topics; preview upcoming changes to curriculum, policies, or staff; and overall build a stronger dialog and rapport. Possibly a quarterly review could be put in place as well to share progress and priorities.
I’m sure there will be some complexities around confidentiality and legal requirements but feel it is worth working through those to establish better communication and collaboration with our community groups.