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APPLE Institute: Leadership Training for PACs
By Barbara Popper
APPLE (Advancing Parent-Professional Leadership in Education)

Massachusetts special education law mandates every school district to have a Special Education Parent Advisory Committee or PAC. One of the goals of the Advancing Parent/Professional Leadership in Education (APPLE) project has been to help PAC members develop leadership skills and strategies to increase the effectiveness of their organizations. These strategies include:

  • Capitalizing on Parents’ Strengths to Build PAC Organizational Capacity - Find out the strengths, skills, and interests of each PAC member, and recruit new members with particular skills. People enjoy having their talents recognized and are more likely to participate and contribute if you say, “I hear you are a fabulous database manager. We’d love some help setting up a mailing list for our PAC. Can you assist?”

  • Reach Out and Engage Parents, Including Parents from Diverse Backgrounds - You send flyers, post meeting dates on Web sites, and make phone calls to invite people to meetings. However, your outreach is not reaching out to all families. While it’s important to know who’s at your meetings, it’s just as important to know who’s not in attendance. Do the single parents need childcare? Do families have language barriers and need translation? Are families from diverse backgrounds hesitant to attend an event where they may not know anyone else? Are families new to this country and unfamiliar with their rights to participate in their child’s education? Reciprocal outreach is a good strategy to use to recruit diverse families. Are there restaurants, coffee shops, faith-based organizations, parks or other places in your school district where families from different backgrounds meet? Visit and extend a personal invitation to make them feel welcome. Ask them what their concerns are and include them on the PAC agenda.

  • Support Parents with Information, Advocacy and Resources - While the PACs’ purpose is to advise the school district about its special education program, most parents attend PAC meetings to get information and connect with a supportive group of parents who understand the challenges of having children with special needs. Meetings are a time for PAC business, but should also include time for presentations from outside speakers, or draw on the expertise of the group. Volunteers play a large role in keeping PACs active. They need ideas, strategies, and support to make their efforts pay off for all families in their district.

Need more strategies? Read the APPLE Institute Brief at http://fcsn.org/appleleaders/apple_brief09.pdf.

The APPLE project will be recruiting school district Special Education PACs for a May 2010 Institute. For more information, contact Marilyn Gutierrez or Barbara Popper at 617-236-7210.