By Leslie Leslie, Project Director, MassPAC/APPLE
Ten years ago, a small non-profit started by Suzanne Gervais, the Massachusetts Association of Parent Advisory Councils (MassPAC), was brought under the umbrella of the Federation for Children with Special Needs. Starting with a database, a mailing list and a series of workshops, the newly christened “MassPAC at the Federation” began the task of creating a statewide network to support volunteer leaders of Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs). Project Director Leslie Leslie arrived in early 2011, bringing experience as the founder of her local SEPAC, a background in law and non-profit management, and the understanding of the system as a parent.
MassPAC has grown over the years, evolving to meet the needs of its members. Benefits now include a free Basic Rights workshop as part of the Plus membership, a free registration to the Federation’s Visions of Community Conference, online support through a website, listserve, Facebook group and video informational offerings, as well as email and phone technical assistance.
MassPAC is the go-to place for information on how to start and run a SEPAC. Support from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education helps MassPAC conduct an annual Advancing Parent/Professional Leadership in Education (APPLE) Institute where parent leaders and special education administrators come together to build an action plan for increased family engagement in their districts. MassPAC participates in statewide advocacy as part of the Coalition for Special Education Funding and the Chapter 222 Coalition addressing school discipline.
Volunteer SEPAC leaders have stepped up, providing mentoring for over 400 SEPAC officers through the Regional SEPAC Leadership Page and PAC-2-PAC Facebook groups. Regional SEPAC leadership groups are creating new opportunities for networking and learning, and SEPACs are partnering to bring more workshop options to their communities. The spirit of collaboration and sharing helps these hard-working volunteers bring innovation and change to their school districts. MassPAC shares best practices and was recently involved in the development of a new national SEPAC guide, “Advocacy in Action.”
MassPAC District/SEPAC members now represent over half of the cities and towns in Massachusetts and our goal is to increase by 10 percent each year over the next five years. MassPAC traveled over 2,100 miles last year; meeting with administrators, educators, SEPACs and community organizations, and conducting workshops to help increase parent knowledge. MassPAC is working with FCSN’s new Statewide Family Engagement Center to create opportunities for families to partner with their schools to increase student outcomes.
The future is bright, but SEPACs still need your support and participation. Plan to attend a meeting of your local SEPAC this fall, connect with other parents, and drive the improvement of school systems to meet the needs of all students. It is challenging but rewarding work, and together we can make a difference.