Newsline Volume 32, Number 4

Stepping Down and Stepping Up

By Leslie M. Leslie, Coordinator,MassPAC

Elections are right around the corner for most special education parent advisory councils (SEPACs) in Massachusetts, but you won't see any yard signs, television ads, or public debates. For a lot of SEPACs, there are few candidates vying for the job.

Serving as a volunteer President or Chair of a SEPAC is a demanding job, or as they say in the Peace Corps, "the toughest job you'll ever love." People move into these positions with high goals - usually to create a support organization for fellow parents who face the same uphill climb through the special education maze. Parents of children with special needs possess a unique determination, are always willing to lend a hand, suggest a resource, or just listen with an understanding ear.

It takes a special person to run for office. A job description for a SEPAC leader might include: good organizational skills, ability to communicate effectively, verbally and in writing, strong knowledge of the special education process, strong interpersonal skills, and a good sense of humor.

That last trait is essential when trying to maintain an organization with diverse needs and backgrounds, limited support, and great expectations from the parents. Massachusetts has many well run SEPACs with strong effective leaders. Yet even these groups face challenges when leaders decide to step down. New candidates may feel intimidated or compelled to produce the same results. SEPAC leaders need to provide for an orderly transition and be available for advice and questions, but stand aside to encourage the SEPAC as the organization grows and moves in new directions.

If your district is looking for a new SEPAC leader, I encourage you to step up to the plate. You do not have to go it alone. Surround yourself with others who can help with logistics, such as running a listserv, maintaining the website, or planning for a speaker. Use your passion to gather parents and keep them moving forward. Fulfill your duty to advise the School Committee on matters of special education in your district and make positive changes for the families who will follow in your footsteps. Continue to strengthen the organization by bringing in new people with new ideas. Change is good.

Even if you choose not to "run for office," there are many ways a parent can support their local SEPAC. Attend those meetings and bring a friend or two! Volunteer for small tasks that fit your interests and skills. An organization is only as good as its members. Be a part of something important. Start by voting at your next SEPAC election.

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To learn more about MassPAC, call Leslie at 617-399-8307, e-mail leslie@fcsn.org, or visit www.fcsn.org/masspac
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