Practical Passion – A Driving Force

By Leslie M. Leslie, Project Coordinator – MassPAC (FCSN)

A lot of people have good ideas, but taking an idea to reality is where the rubber meets the road. Like spring in New England, it’s a road filled with bumps and potholes. A good driver learns to avoid obstacles to complete the journey.

Meet Lexington’s Elaine Gabovitch, a parent who had an idea. With her Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC,) Elaine took that idea to the next level. With a son in high school going through transition, Elaine saw the need for a better understanding of how transition planning and services shaping students’ futures between the ages of 14 and 22. Elaine’s response was practical – provide data to the district and shape policy. Using her skills as an instructor and family faculty at UMass Medical School’s E.K. Shriver Center, Elaine developed a needs-assessment survey. She adapted questions from a variety of state and federal sources, including the National Secondary Training and Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC), the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the University of Kansas, and the Delaware Department of Education. Creating a unique 49 question survey that would educate parents while assessing their knowledge of transition was no easy task. Through the Lexington SEPAC, an email invitation ultimately reached 99 families. 38 successfully completed the entire online survey.

The survey results were presented to the SEPAC, School Committee and Superintendent in 2012. Key SEPAC members Lisa Baci and Holly Boker provided supporting information on transition mandates and best practices. Parents and School personnel created a Task Force to review the findings. After over a year of meetings, a recommendation was made to establish a Transition Coordinator position within the district. Supported by the Superintendent and School Committee, a position has been funded and a job description is being finalized with input from parents. It was a successful road trip with a positive outcome for all families.

But Elaine and her SEPAC colleagues’ journey did not end there. The passion that led their district on the road to discovery about how transition was working for students and families was too strong to remain idle. This school year, Elaine and Lexington SEPAC members Holly Boker and Marilyn Wong started a transition support group for parents of students aged 14-22. They meet monthly to discuss transition issues and share resources. In March, Elaine facilitated a focus group of parents in reviewing the original survey, suggesting improvements, and developing questions for a follow-up survey that will more closely reflect parents’ needs. The new survey will provide valuable data to help the school district shape transition services under the guidance of the new Coordinator.

Passion for positive change is leading Elaine to her next destination: a model survey tool that SEPACs throughout Massachusetts can use to assess transition services and encourage dialogue within their districts. Her goal of providing data driven information will inform parents and school personnel on how to create a better transition experience.

It has been a long journey with lots of bumps in the road. Sticking to her itinerary, being flexible in her route, and asking for directions along the way, Elaine is showing us a great way to travel. Road trip, anyone?