SEPAC Meeting Minutes: May 10, 2022

SEPAC Business Meeting – May 10, 2022

Call to Order

Introductions: Alison Elmer, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jess Dombrosky, Sean Garballey (State Rep. For Arlington and Medford), Michele Phelan, Krasimira Petkov, Brenda Mahoney, Cheryl, Rabbi Talya Weisbard Shalem, Marais Young, Lauren Bellon, Lauren Lineback, Tracy Perneta, and Carole

Approve Minutes: Meeting minutes from February 2022 were approved

Officers/Committee Reports:

– We spoke to the School Committee two weeks ago and did a review of the findings of our first annual SEPAC survey. I think we were well-received. The slides are up online if you want to take a look at them.

Planning Workshops for the Coming Year:

APS Staff Reports:

– The superintendent strategic planning committee has been meeting each week, at least three times already.

– The district is going to be holding meetings around choosing a new Literacy curriculum, so if you want to participate in the process, stay tuned.

Discussion with Representative Sean Garballey:

– He represents the 23rd Middlesex district, which is Arlington and Medford. He was on the Arlington School Committee prior to being a State Representative. He was also a student at APS and was on an IEP, because he was born prematurely. His focus in the house has always been on Special Education, and students with disabilities.

-He is the main sponsor of Turning 22 (autism support services) and transportation services. He is also the main sponsor of the Conclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program, which is around students with autism, Down Syndrome or IDD as they attend college. This helps students who qualify attend college just like their peers. UMass Boston is the center of inclusion of these 15 inclusive programs around the country (state?). (Alison added: Arlington is going to be a MAICEI partner with Middlesex next year (we have previously sent students through LABBB)

– He is working on expanding the program to all the MA State public colleges. The program allows students who might not pass the MCAS still be able to have the opportunity to attend college with their peers.

– When he was on the School Committee he would attend these SEPAC meetings regularly, and he would still be happy to attend and listen to any feedback or complaints parents may have.

-Massachusetts is known as a free petition state, which means anyone can come forward and propose legislation or changes to State Law.

-Sean wanted to also share his cell number to anyone who wanted to contact him: (781)859-7781

-Inae shared slides showing the data from APS showing Chronic Absenteeism for the district, along with separating them into three categories: (High needs, All Students, and Economically Disadvantaged)

-JAMA found increases in diagnosed anxiety and depression between 2016 and 2020 (pre-COVID). Currently our laws lead to punitive responses for students who are dealing with mental health challenges. We would like to see the State Laws support more of a social-emotional/mental health/ system of support response to school refusal.

-Under current law, we have the Mental Health Parity law, and currently school Educational Psychologists aren’t covered under Parity Law, but they are working on introducing a bill that will allow Educational Psychologists to be covered and to practice under Mental Health Parity Law.

-Inae brought up continuing to push Bill H.537 in support of SEPAC representation on every state School Committee, and Sean agreed that it was worth continuing to try to push this bill through to be law.

-Sean mentioned a bill he’s promoting that would allow any teacher, current or retired, to serve on the DESE board. Currently they are forbidden from serving, and this doesn’t make much sense.

-Lauren Bellon said that school refusal is also being handled in wildly different ways across the elementaries in Arlington. She mentioned that so many behavioral supports and analyses are around fixing the kid and fixing the family, but not much attention is being paid to the environment that the kid is refusing to attend, and its role in the school refusal.

-Barbara Mahoney said that DESE put this out on their desktop regarding school refusal: Mental Health Resource on School Avoidance:

School avoidance has been identified as a growing concern amidst the overall youth mental health crisis. The Department, in collaboration with Thriving Minds – a partnership between BRYT (Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition), the Massachusetts School Mental Health Consortium, and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy – is offering a training session on school avoidance to explore how to use available resources and case studies to identify what a school avoidance intervention might include. This session will be held at 3:00-4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17. Interested school mental health staff (school counselors, school psychologists, and adjustment counselors/school social workers) are asked to register online.

-Families are struggling to access mental health services. One of the biggest reasons is that there is a staffing shortage due to the salary for DDS and DMH staff being so low. The pandemic led to a lot of young DDS and DMH staff leaving their positions, so there is a long wait-list for these programs.

-Sean has worked on having insurance-mandated services, such as mandated hearing aids for students between birth and 21, and Lyme disease treatment/management. He mentioned that health insurance lobbyists have put in a lot of effort to kill bills like these, so it has taken a long time for bills like this to move forward.

-Sean said he was happy to work with parents on legislation with respect to getting Dyslexic learners the screenings, supports, and insurance coverage for services. He mentioned that the implementation of the laws are as important as the laws themselves.

-Rabbi Talya Weisbard Shalem mentioned how different districts in the state have different cultures around Special Ed and give differing amounts of services to students. Sean mentioned using the Special Ed circuit breaker fund to support students who need to go out-of-district to receive the services they need.

-Sean said they recently passed his bill around meal debt shaming into law, which would prevent schools from making an example of students who couldn’t pay for lunch.

-He mentioned that his concern is that Arlington might lose money if he encouraged the State to recalculate the aid which districts receive.

SEPAC Board Nominations

– Inae nominated herself for Chair

– Sarah nominated herself for Co-Chair

– Jess nominated herself for Secretary

– Lauren Bellon nominated herself for Webmaster

Public Participation/ New Business/ Open Discussion:




SEPAC Meeting Minutes: April 12, 2022

SEPAC April 12, 2022 Meeting Minutes

Call to Order

Introductions – Alison Elmer, Deborah Perry, Joyce Schlenger, Roderick MacNeal, Lynne Bennett, Liz Homan, Kristin Burke, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jessica Dombrosky, Chris Carlson, Ally Magalhaes, Elisa M, Georgina Prager, Jacquelyn Aureli, Krasimira Petkov, Louisa Popkin, Rachel Ostrow, Sarah Forster, Stephanie Trinkle, Thad Dingman, Tracy Van Dorpe, Tonya Bourassa, and Catherine Bieksha attended

Meeting Minutes – Meeting Minutes were not reviewed at this month’s meeting.

Officer/Committee Reports

– Officer/Committee Reports weren’t discussed this month, since we moved straight to the Literacy Initiatives presentation.

APS Staff Reports

APS Presentation on Literacy Initiatives

Comments and Questions –

– After the general assessments are completed, and it’s determined that additional pull-out support is needed, a permission slip goes home to the parent, to allow that student to be pulled out. Progress reports go home multiple times during the year (November, January, April, June) and as students exit the reading intervention.

– If a student isn’t making gains, they sit down as a Whole Child Team to look at all aspects of the student’s learning, including social/emotional, to determine what might need to change with the intervention so effective progress can be made.

– Stephanie asked what happens after a student exits the intervention program. The answer is that classroom teachers continue to monitor progress through Dibels assessments, and conduct benchmark assessments 3 times per year to make sure that students are continuing to make progress toward grade-level benchmarks.

Public Participation / New Business / Open Discussion

– See above section for comments and questions.



SEPAC Meeting Minutes: March 8, 2022

SEPAC March 8, 2022 Meeting Minutes

Call to Order

Introductions – Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Deb Savage, Amy Gabriele, Cara Hecker, Cheryl, Katell Guellec, Krasi Petkov, Lisa Welch, Liz Exton, Lori, Marais Young, Robin, Rohit Dhanjal, Sarah Evans, Sarah Forster, Sara Hamitay, Takako, Yossi Weihs, Alison Elmer, Maria Merkulova, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Chris Carlson, Tracy Perneta, Ben Ferber, Carolina Herrera, and Matthew Janger attended

Meeting Minutes – Meeting Minutes from February 2022 were approved.

Officer/Committee Reports

– We didn’t have many people show up to our Parent/Caregiver listening session. We had about 3 who attended, but we still had a good discussion. Representative Garballey did show up, even though he didn’t have a student in APS.

– Our survey has ended, and we are currently aggregating the results. We are having another meeting this Friday to work on a presentation.

– We hope to have a number of recommendations/issues to address on a state-wide level to bring up at our May meeting, when Representative Garballey is in attendance.

– Our April Meeting will have Dr. MacNeal and the Director of ELA, plus reading coaches and reading specialists, and they will be presenting on the General Education (Elementary) ELA curriculum and supports. It was mentioned that the District is moving on from the Lucy Calkins reading curriculum, due to its lack of explicit and direct reading instruction. The District is currently going through a process to explore replacement curricula.

-Next month we are having a morning Zoom Business Meeting, and an Evening Zoom Parent Social Hour.

APS Staff Reports

– Dr. Janger is here to talk about the Heterogeneous Grouping Initiative at the High School

Dr. Janger Presentation on Heterogeneous Classes at AHS

– Last year we were all remote at the HS, and we came back in person at the end of the year. In response to this change, they switched to 80 minute periods and heterogeneous classes. In a heterogeneous classroom, students are all in the same classroom, but some pursue the honors level curriculum and others pursue the advanced level curriculum.

– Last year they noticed the increase in students taking the honors level curriculum as a result of exposure to the material/study group in the heterogeneous classes. We are reaching a point, after discussing the matter in the heterogeneous classes working group and with intra-department discussions, some departments are willing to have heterogeneous groupings (ELA, Freshman English), while other departments are waiting to adopt the heterogeneous model until more data is known.

– We are aware that separate classes are inherently not equal, and there are disparities in certain student populations (BIPOC, Special Education) in taking honors level curriculum vs. advanced level.

– We find that more students achieve the honors level when participating in heterogeneous classes than they do with typical groupings of separate honors classes and advanced classes.

-The current proposal has a few different pieces:

            – Currently in 8th grade, teachers are making recommendations on whether they should do honors or A-level coursework. Currently there are 18 different sections of Freshman English, which would have 21 students in each section.

            -There would be teams of 3 teachers who teach these classes over 6 periods. Four of those sections would have a co-taught model, where a special educator could support students on IEPs.

            -Our expectation is that we will see higher levels of honors level participation, and higher grades/more student engagement overall.

            -The last major measure is if we see that the program is successful, we may carry the heterogeneous model over to other departments in the future.

– We have a proposal in the works that tries to answer the questions proposed by the community. Currently there are many questions about how heterogeneity is structured, such as whether honors level curriculum is taught to all. Once the proposal is shared, we will have two focus groups from the community to give feedback on the proposal. The goal is to finalize the proposal and then present it to the School Committee in April.

– Grouping practices is one of the most studied practices in education. One of the populations that benefits the most are students on IEPs. The students are participating with their neurotypical peers, and they’re getting the kind of support that they need, and they often achieve at higher levels when participating in these groupings. The results show that these groupings also aren’t detrimental, and are even beneficial for honors level students.

TASA Presentation on Advocacy Efforts in Support of Students with Language Based Learning Disabilities

– They are a private parent group of 300+ members with students with disabilities, and they have two private online forums where parents can share advocacy advice and resources.

– SEPAC is public and not limited to parents, while they are private, with parents-only membership.

– They looked at what they perceive to be system-wide issues related to reading and reading support in Arlington Public Schools. Many parents are grateful to educators who work very hard for their children, but they are working in a system that they believe is stacked against them.

– The current concern is that if students aren’t proficient readers by the spring of third grade, they will be left behind in fourth grade, when students typically go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. Reading becomes one of the main ways that content is taught to fourth graders, and up to half of the printed fourth grade curriculum is potentially incomprehensible to students who read below grade level. Currently, their specific concerns are that there has been an under-identification of students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia in APS* (12.2%-17.7%) vs. the State Average (23.7%-24.7%), evidence-based curriculum (both in GenEd and Special Ed settings) isn’t currently used, and there aren’t enough staff to implement the current supports

– They perceive that there currently isn’t enough teacher training and certification in evidence-based reading instruction for Special Educators. There currently is overlap between GenEd and SPED supports within academic support pullout services. They asked that more of these supports be part of the General Education setting, such as within the heterogeneous groupings that Principal Janger mentioned.

– There are currently significant gaps between GenEd and SPED students, and parents surveyed believed that there are low expectations for SPED student performance within APS.

– Parents are pleased that APS are improving early identification of students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities. They aren’t sure how these efforts of earlier intervention and improved professional development to staff on reading-related issues compares to State Law requirements on reading intervention, and they aren’t sure what can and has been done to support older students with Language-Based Learning Disabilities.

*(Based on analysis of available data and data collection from their membership)

Public Participation / New Business / Open Discussion


– Our next meeting is on Tuesday, April 12th, at 9:00am. On that same evening, we will be hosting a Parent Social Hour at the same Zoom link, at 7:30pm.

– April’s meeting will focus on the District describing their reading programs, and what changes are starting to happen and will happen to the reading curriculum and supports at the elementary level.


SEPAC Meeting Minutes – February 8, 2022

Call to Order

Introductions – Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Alison Elmer, Chris Carlson, Louisa Popkin, Kristin Burke, Audrey LaVallee, Kate Hadden, Tracy Perneta, Calpurnyia Roberts, Michele Phelan, Cheryl Miller, Claire Johnson, Sheherazade Essack, Kusum Thummalapalli, and Stephanie Trinkle attended.

Meeting Minutes – Meeting Minutes from January 2022 were approved.

Officer Committee Reports – 

– We just held the Crafting Minds workshop with Sarah Gannon, and it was well-attended, even by people from outside the district. The slides from this presentation are up on the District Special Education page, our website, and the link to them is also up on the Facebook page.

– Tonight we are holding a parent-only listening session, in conjunction with our survey that we sent out. We had 122 responses already to our survey, and are already seeing a number of common threads that might be able to be addressed at the State level, such as how school refusal is dealt with (a punitive vs. a mental health response). We are having representative Sean Garballey at a future meeting to present the results that can be addressed at the state level.

– The results of our survey will be published after they are aggregated.

– Our April meeting is going to have a focus on staff who work on the General Education reading curriculum, such as Dr. MacNeal, the APS ELA director, Reading Staff, and Reading Coaches, so get those questions ready.

APS Staff Reports –

– The Superintendent will present her budget proposal to the School Committee, and if the School Committee approves the budget then it will be presented for approval to the Finance Committee. Once it is approved by the Finance Committee, it becomes part of the Town Manager’s budget, which is voted on at the Town Meeting in May.

– We are looking forward to some of our upcoming presentations, such as the presentation on the Elementary ELA curriculum, and the upcoming School Committee presentation on social-emotional needs of students during the pandemic by Director of Social Emotional Learning Sarah Burd.

– Dr. Janger, the principal of AHS, and the heterogeneous learning working group, is looking at other areas, such as Science and ELA, where the heterogeneous classroom model can be applied. There is evidence that there is more equity for traditionally marginalized students who participate in heterogeneous classes, and that participation has led to these students taking higher-level courses in later years. Dr. Janger will be presenting on heterogeneous instruction at our March meeting.

Public Participation/New Business –

– We hope to get Rep. Sean Garballey to attend our May meeting.

– At our May meeting we will also be holding nominations for the SEPAC board, so if you want to be considered for one of our positions, feel free to nominate yourself.

– Maybe next year, since we are out of space for this year, we can have Jeffrey Benson do a presentation on Growth Mindset

– Stephanie Trinkle mentioned that she spoke with Laura Rodriguez (a district SEL coach), and found that the Second Step curriculum hasn’t been included in the curriculum for all grades. She mentioned that her second-grader is just starting the curriculum in February, rather than having it introduced at the beginning of the year. She also talked to her about how some of the tools that have been recommended for her child aren’t always accessible, such as using mindfulness when they have a disability such as ADHD or anxiety.

– Alison mentioned that the Second Step curriculum is being phased in gradually, so not all teachers have implemented it yet. Inae mentioned that a few years back Sarah Burd talked about rolling out the Second Step curriculum, starting in Kindergarten, so it was planned to be a gradual roll-out.

Announcements –

– We are holding the Parent/Caregiver Listening Session tonight at 7:30 at the same link as this meeting.

– Our March presentation is Dr. Janger on Heterogeneous Groupings, April is Reading Curriculum/Specialists, May is Rep Garballey, and June is elections.

– We usually hold social hours at night when we have morning meetings.


SEPAC Meeting Minutes – January 11, 2022

Call to Order

Introductions: Alison Elmer, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jess Dombrosky, Lynne Bennett, Eop Brecht, Vitalija Ellis, and Stephanie Trinkle attended.

Approve minutes:

– Meeting minutes from December 2021 were approved.

Officers/committee reports:

– Inae and Sarah met with other SEPAC members in other towns, over messenger, to figure out ways that we can grow. We are considering holding a parent/caregiver only listening session to have people share their thoughts and concerns with us.

– The following month we’re thinking of hosting state representative Sean Garballey to hear our report of the parent/caregiver Special Education concerns that can be advocated for at the State level..

– Sarah, Inae, and Jess are putting together a survey for parents that Superintendent Homan can send out with her monthly email.

– Our website has continued to be updated with all our announcements and meetings.

Planning Workshops for the coming year:

– On Wednesday January 19th, Sara Gannon will be holding a workshop on the science of reading called “Demystifying Dyslexia”. The workshop is being hosted on Crafting Minds’ professional Zoom link

– For future meetings, we might want to host Deb Perry, the Director of ELA, and maybe a reading coach and reading specialist, so they can come in and talk about some of the curriculum and interventions. Also, maybe a building principal to round out the discussion. We are looking to do this

APS Staff reports:

– Not much to report since we last met, since we had the winter vacation and then came back to the COVID-related disruptions to the schedule. The additional measures that the district has put in place are helping us to ride this latest wave. The email that went out on Friday discussed revisions to the quarantine and isolation protocols, noting that an additional rapid antigen test is required to be negative after Day 5 before a student can return to school. If you have a test on Day 6 that is positive, you will have to wait another 5 days. If you wait until you’re fairly sure symptoms have resolved, you’ll have a better chance at testing negative and returning on subsequent days.

– Alison asked about budget items we would like to see. Inae mentioned that she’d like to see more planning time between General Education staff and parents. Sarah added that she’d like to see more planning time around transitions (pk to elementary, elementary to Gibbs, Gibbs to Ottoson, Ottoson to HS) for students in Special Education. Jess and Inae mentioned that they’d like to see a bit more specificity when receiving emails from Easy IEP

– Stephanie suggested having more planning and collaboration time between paraprofessionals and Special Educators so that instruction can be better differentiated and delivered.

Alison said that the bulk of funding comes from Chapter 70 funding, and that the portion of that funding that’s allocated to Special Ed is not favorable, because it uses the old foundation calculation that has not been updated to reflect rising costs. The town allocation is favorable to Special Education and recognizes the variability/fluctuation to sped spending that can be driven by out of district tuitions. The percent increase for funding for general education is 3% per year, where the percent increase for Special Education is around 7%. That increase is set to phase out, and some would like to see this happen sooner rather than later. Our spending for out-of-district placements has gone down, but we have seen that spending has increased for in-district expenses as a corollary. Alison said they are recommending that these extra funds are allocated to support Special Education workload/caseload demands.

– Alison said that departments and schools voiced what their priorities were, and now they have the job of whittling everything down. The number of special education social workers at Gibbs (1) and Ottoson (2) will need to be increased due to workload. If the number of learning communities are increased, you’ll need to increase staffing, such as an additional Special Educator at Ottoson.

– If we are to move toward heterogeneous instruction, we may need to add more special ed staff at the high school.

– Next year, under the MAICEI (MA Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative) grant, students in the 18+ program can audit classes at Middlesex (Community College?), but not take them for credit. These students can get travel training, and have an “ed coach” go along to support them. There would be some tuition and transportation costs.

– Alison proposed using the American Recovery Plan funds to add Inclusion Specialists to consult with teams and give recommendations.

– A full time Team Chair at Hardy is proposed and a 0.5 time Team Chair at Menotomy Preschool so Joyce can devote her time to the other parts of her Sped Coordinator/Principal job.

– If we get the position/funding in the budget, OTs have proposed developing a 6 week program for K-1st grade, related to Response to Intervention (RTI), with pre-assessment, a 6 to 8 week program, and then a post-assessment to identify children who still need intervention.

– Inae suggested that while we’re trying to add more staff to have better equilibrium, we could look to hire folks with disabilities in our schools, because representation matters. Alison agreed that with diversity, equity and inclusion, we often think about ethnic, racial, or linguistic and gender identity or sexuality among educators, but that disability isn’t often discussed.

Public participation / New business / Open discussion:

– We should get the Crafting Minds flyer out to all the schools, APS social media, and perhaps to TASA. It’s a lot of information that people are really looking for at this point.

– Alison suggested that Dr. Eric Von Hahn from the Tufts Floating Children’s Hospital is a Neuropsychologist who might be able to do a Neuropsych workshop.

– Inae said that it isn’t clear if we are still held to Open Meeting laws. Alison suggested we continue to follow Open Meeting laws until we get more clarification.


– Next Wednesday, January 19th, at 7:30pm we are hosting Sara Gannon of Crafting Minds, who is presenting on reading science in “Demystifying Dyslexia.”


SEPAC Meeting Minutes – December 14, 2021

Call to Order

Introductions – Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jessica Dombrosky, Sara Burd, Tracy Perneta, Brie Stanley, Katrina Bernstein-Lewicke, Dan Callahan, Lynne Bennett, Claire Johnson, Cheryl Miller, Kristin Burke, Joyce Schlenger, Alison Elmer, Michele Phelan, Mme Fabienne Pierre-Maxwell, Ashley Lorentz, Laura Howson, Lauren B, Dee Dee Crema, and Vanya Kojuharova attended.

Approve Minutes – Meeting Minutes from October and November were approved.

Officer/Committee Reports

– Inae has sent out an email to Dr. O’Leary about holding a presentation on Understanding Your Neuropsych Evaluation Report this week, and hasn’t heard back yet.

– Sarah heard back from Sarah Gannon from Crafting Minds (Dr. Orkin’s consulting group), and she will be doing a presentation on January 19th, from 7 to 8:30pm, on the Science of Reading. Thank you very much to the district, who added the presentation on to their consulting budget.

– Sarah attended a presentation on restraint and seclusion, and wants to link to the district’s policy on these items:

– DESE is currently in the process of making their Special Education indicator targets for MCAS/ Graduation Rates, Drop-Out rates. There are different links for each indicator, and she is posting links to surveys that parents can take to give their input.

– In January 6th from 5 to 6pm, Russell Johnson from the Federation for Children with Special Needs is doing a question and answer session on special education in Massachusetts

Workshop Planning

Nothing new to report

APS Staff Reports

– If you tune in on Thursday night to the School Committee, you’ll hear the first round of budget priorities for the year. Right now we are compiling all our requests, which always exceeds what is funded, and in January these things will be narrowed down. We will be discussing the priorities chosen for Special Education at our January meeting.

– Progress reports will be coming out in December, so be on the lookout.

Presentation by Sara Burd, Director of Social Emotional Learning

– She is a parent of a 2nd grader in the district. To begin, she wanted to share with us something used often in Arlington, which is called the Mood Meter. It’s similar to the Zones of Regulation. (The x axis is Pleasantness, and the y axis is Energy, and each axis goes from 5 to 5. There are four quadrants, where upper left is red, upper right is yellow, bottom left is blue, and bottom right is green. The goal is to recognize where you are personally at any given time. That way you can choose an activity to match it or guide you to where you want to be.) We all got a chance to plot our mood and energy. This tool comes from a social emotional program for the secondary level called Ruler, and it helps students check in and evaluate their mood. It also puts a vocabulary to how they’re feeling, so that they can start evaluating their emotional state in a constructive, non-judgmental manner.

– She pointed out that there is a time or place for all of these quadrants, and they are valid. These emotions are a sign that these are things you are passionate about, and it is important to advocate for yourself or those around you. The time and place that you express these emotions is also important, and she discussed how students discuss to move to a different quadrant if you aren’t at the place you want to be in a given situation.

– Mme Pierre Maxwell said that the students at Gibbs have had an orientation to the Mood Meter, and that they are going to have another refresher with it in January.

-Inae asked how this is utilized with high schoolers, where students often resist getting in touch with their emotions, for various reasons. They have been discussing with high schoolers how to reflect scientifically about how they’re feeling. It’s discussed how students who are more in touch with their emotional state are more powerful, more in control.

– The district has been conducting mental health screenings over the past year and a half. There was a very high number of students who reported that levels of anxiety and strong emotions were inhibiting their school performance. Anyone who had an elevated score was referred to Trails to Wellness advisory/supports.

– Cheryl Miller asked how this works with kids with alexithymia (not being able to know what they are feeling)? Questioning about feelings can make these kids feel alienated and like there’s something wrong with them. The same goes for kids with somatic complaints (“I feel like I’m going to throw up”). Sara says that part of their work is educating students in what feelings look like, with a program called “Second Step”. They have body scan images, with a heat map, to show where one might feel what happens in the human body during different emotional states.

– Stephanie asked if the Second Step curriculum is used in the gen education classroom at all elementary schools. Sara said that all elementary schools were in the process of implementing two lessons from the curriculum, on emotions and empathy.

– Sarah asked if students, such as a fourth grader with autism, would be matched to lessons at their social-emotional level, if they aren’t at the fourth grade general ed level. Sara said that they are working on hand-picking more units from the curriculum, and looking at what specifically the student needs, to help the students who have specific social emotional deficits catch up. (This is for students in general education, and students with IEPs will have additional supports and instruction)

– Second Step website:

– District’s SEL website:

– Bullying Prevention Resources:

– If you have more questions, please contact Sara Burd at

– Stephanie asked where the support is for students who are engaging in bullying behavior with Special Education students. Sara said that each building has their own supports, such as buddy benches, or students looking out for classmates who are out there on their own. There are problem-solver roles, where they look around for anyone who might be having trouble and offer support. Sara also mentioned some buildings utilize PBIS, which describes clear expectations for behavior during unstructured times, such as recess, lunch, arrival, dismissal, and hallways.

Public Participation / New business/ Open discussion


– We will have a social hour tonight at 7:30pm, using the same Zoom link

– Next meeting is January 11th from 7:30 to 8:30pm, at the SEPAC Zoom link.

– On Wednesday, January 19th we are hosting Sarah Gannon from Crafting Minds, from 7 to 8:30pm at the same Zoom link.


SEPAC Meeting Minutes – November 9th, 2021

Call to Order

Introductions – Alison Elmer, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jessica Dombrosky, Deborah Savage, Emily and Ben Butler, Stacy Hutton, Liz Exton, Rena Mello, Chris Carlson, Jacob Woolf, Tracy Perneta, Michelle Moruzzi, Brenda Mahoney, and Margaret Credle Thomas attended.

Approve Minutes – Meeting Minutes from September 2021 were approved. Meeting minutes for October 2021 were tabled until next month for further review. Jess will send out the October minutes to those who were in attendance for further review.

Officer/Committee Reports –

– We recently learned that Massachusetts put out new guidance with regard to SEPACs, specifically that they may no longer be subject to open meeting laws. This would mean that we could continue to elect to hold meetings online after the pandemic, making these meetings a bit more accessible for those who could not travel to make meetings at the Jefferson Cutter House.

– We have contacted several people

– Two weeks ago we held our Basic Rights workshop on Transition Planning

– Last week the High School Special Education Team and MRC hosted a presentation on what services and vendors are available to students prior to graduating.

Update on Website, Listserv, Communications –

– The SEPAC Website on WordPress has been updated, and the SEPAC Website link on the APS Homepage now redirects to the updated SEPAC site.

Workshop Planning –

– Next month we will be hosting Sara Burd, the Director of Social and Emotional Learning at APS. If you have any specific questions or topics for her for next month, please send them to

– The Understanding Your Neuropsych Evaluation Report workshop has been postponed until the spring.

APS Staff Reports –

– We are getting into budget season, and each school will be presenting their school improvement plans to the School Committee

Presentation/Discussion with Margaret Credle Thomas, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at APS:

– Worked in the district for nine years, previously as the METCO director. She started her new role as director of DEI in August.

– She did her first DEI segment at ACMI/MCI ( , and will be holding more in the future.

– She just started doing listening sessions with families and staff, and has another one coming up tomorrow. The listening session in January will discuss the panorama studies, and the DEI audit she would like to conduct.

– Her big mission for right now is assessment and listening to figure out the common themes happening in the district. Using the garden analogy, she’s been assessing what is working/growing well and what might need to be uprooted/changed.

– She wears many hats, and one of them is a Special Education parent of a 20 year old son who is currently taking Transitional classes.

– A couple of years ago, they held anti-racism courses during the November professional development day. One of the courses was on changing curriculum/instruction to reflect anti-racist teaching.

– Inae asked about reports that other districts reported that they were having a problem with students using language in middle grades, such as the “r-word.” She asked what strategies and teachings were being considered in APS, and pushing in support and using curriculum such as “the power of our words” or topic specific library books were mentioned.

– Sarah asked about diversification among staff, and Margaret mentioned that their biggest hurdle was retention when it came to staff.

– Margaret mentioned that she is working with Alison on developing Tier I and II push-in supports. Alison mentioned that the district had previously identified that a disproportionate number of African American students were in substantially separate settings, so they are applying grant money to tackle the structural institutions that are creating these outcomes, and add supports to the Tier I and Tier II so that students are supported before being referred to special education.

Public Participation / New Business / Open Discussion –

– On Saturday, November 13th, Bill Hayner and Jeff Thielman will be hosting a School Committee chat for Special Education parents. The link for the zoom chat is on the APS website calendar

– Sarah was contacted by a parent of an older child who was interested in holding an after school class for 4th and 5th grade students who were interested in non-competitive LEGO building and social skills club. This would be an after school offering through Arlington Community Education.

– Sara Burd, the Director of Social-Emotional Learning, will be at our December 14th morning SEPAC Meeting.

– On December 14th we will have a morning SEPAC meeting and then we will be holding an evening social discussion.

– Stacy asked if Alison could speak in the future about outcomes for students on IEPs (measures like MCAS, common assessments, college graduation rates)

– Michelle asked about compensatory services and whether anyone else had the experience where services were offered at the end of the year, and if other parents had late services offered. She mentioned that delaying services for dyslexia would lead to a wider gap between a dyslexic student and their peers, the older they got. Alison said that the staffing shortages and the SLP at Brackett leaving three weeks into the school year led to a gap in services. Compensatory services were discussed to make students whole, both after the pandemic gap in services, and when staff leaving leads to service gaps.

– Deb Savage spoke about how parents wish they could be notified when staff leave, and there are service gaps. Alison encouraged parents to follow up with building principals and their SpEd Coordinator if they were concerned about compensatory services for their children.

Announcements –


SEPAC Meeting Minutes – October 12th, 2021

Call to Order

Introductions – Alison Elmer, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Bill Hayner, Agapi Stratakias, Joyce Schlenger, Louisa Popkin, Kristin Burke, Rena Mello, Lynne Bennett, Chris Carlson, Joanna Poole, Brie Stanley, Katrina Bernstein-Lewicke, Tracy Perneta, Melissa Hinck, Stephanie Trinkle, Krasimira Petkov, Lori Berman attended

Approve Minutes –

Meeting Minutes from June 2021 were approved.

Officer/Committee Reports –

– Basic Rights on October 27th at 7pm, the topic is Transition Planning. Attorney Clare Vann will be presenting. The workshop is put on by the Federation for Children with Special Needs on their Zoom platform. The link to register is:

Registration Link:

Update on Website, Listserv, Communications:

– We used to have a listserv, but don’t have that option.

– Sarah put the email in the chat for those to opt in to our email list

Workshop Planning-

We are looking to hold the Understanding Your Neuropsychological Report workshop again. Inae still needs to reach out to those in the community who previously ran it.

Alison mentioned that someone from Crafting Minds is willing to do a workshop on dyslexia at some point.

We are looking into having principals or our new Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion present at future meetings. Alison suggested that maybe we should also invite our reading specialists.

Other Workshop Ideas: Preparing for College for High Schoolers

APS Staff Reports –

Alison presented on the new SLC – D over at Peirce Elementary

– Collaborating with Dr. Melissa Orkin from the Tufts Center for Reading and Language Research/Crafting Minds, in 2017

-Established Goal to Differentiate Specialized Instruction for Students with IEPs for Reading

-SLC-D serves students with specific learning disabilities in reading and/or writing, and/or language learning difficulties. Most students have average or above average cognitive skills with language-based learning disabilities. Many may have difficulty with memory deficits or auditory discrimination.

Methodology is:

– Multi-sensory – Using visual, auditory and kinesthetic pathways in the brain simultaneously

– Explicit – Teachers directly teach, explain and demonstrate each concept

– Sequential and Cumulative – Skills are sequenced in small steps, following the order of language

Current Staffing:

-Special Education Teacher (1.0), Speech Language Pathologist (0.5), Paraprofessional (1.0), Related Service Providers, Gen Education teacher (1.0), and a Consultant (Dr. Orkin).


– Classroom is for 3rd and 4th graders over at Peirce Elementary

– Growth intended for grade 5 next school year

– Regulations limit maximum grouping/staffing to 12:1:1

Katrina asked how it was determined if students qualify for dyslexia/language-based learning services like Wilson, and if students needed to get outside diagnoses in order to receive services. Alison said that reading specialists use screening tools to determine where the language-learning deficits are and whether students require certain instructional tools like explicit phonemic awareness curriculum, or Wilson.

Krasimira asked how we know if our student has been considered for this program. Alison said that the students who have been evaluated for IEP services with the assessment battery were considered for the program. Those who most closely matched the profile and required a more restrictive learning environment to make effective progress were considered first for the SLC-D. Not every student with dyslexia requires a more restrictive setting to make effective progress. (Sarah said that legally, schools should not be eager to put students in a substantially separate program unless they require it to make effective progress in the curriculum.)

Stephanie asked how it is determined what method would work best for each student when working with them. Alison said that they are using the assessment battery to pinpoint what types of intervention are required with each student. Tests such as phonemic awareness, phonemic (auditory) processing, working memory, retrieval, site-word efficiency, pseudo word decoding, oral language awareness, listening comprehension

Bill Hayner said that Dr. Homan has indicated areas of need to be addressed at the next School Committee meeting. He says to contact your School Committee members with any concerns or ideas for workshops to improve the professional development of our special educators/reading specialists.

New Business – Inae said we are open and receptive to any ideas on speakers we might invite.

Announcements – Next meeting is in the evening, November 9th at 7:30pm, on Zoom


SEPAC Meeting – September 21st, 2021

Call to Order

Introductions: Alison Elmer, Kirsten Burke, Chris Carlson, Joyce Schlenger, Bill Hayner, Lynne Bennett, Rena Mello, Amanda Donahue, Elizabeth Homan, Erin DeMaura, Mme Pierre-Maxwell, Louisa Popkin and Joyce Dvorak attended.

Approve Minutes – To be reviewed next month at our online meetings

Officer Committee Reports

– Basic Rights Workshop in October

– Transition Planning, presented by Federation for Children with Special Needs, a state organization that holds workshops.

– Understanding your Neuropsych Report, maybe in November

APS Staff Reports – New Elementary and Middle School coordinators, Louisa and Rena

ESSERIII Report – Dollars to help accelerate recovery from pandemic, return to school planning

Options A, B, and C:

Option A – Improved communications and outreach to families and the community

a. Improve accessible services and information to all families

b. Improve/streamline communications

c. Improve translation and interpretation capabilities for families whose first language isn’t English

d. Make sure that all families feel welcomed and supported by APS

Option B – Support to Ensure Student Access to Consistent and Equitable Information

a. Professional development for culturally responsive instruction

b. Intervention supports to serve all students

c. Professional learning/training in anti-bias and anti-racist teaching

d. Improve the Multi Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

Option C – Extended learning time and Coordinated out-of-school services

a. Analyze effectiveness of existing out-of-school learning opportunities

b. District-wide standard approach to out-of-school interventions and services

c. Continuing the expansion of ESY summer services from 2020 and 2021

All initiatives will be monitored/updated to gauge effectiveness. If initiatives aren’t effective, they will be adjusted accordingly.

New Business – Social Hour tonight at 7pm, New Parent Chat, Informal Meeting


SEPAC Meeting – June 8, 2021

Call to Order

Introductions: Alison Elmer, Anjani Datla, Cathy B, Cheryl Miller, Chris Carlson, Eileen Coleman, Elisa M, Joyce Schlenger, Katell Guellec, Katherine Reisz-Hanson, Katrina Bernstein-Lewicke, Kristin Burke, Len Kardon, Liz Exton, Melanie Cipar, Mira Whiting, Noel Dyer, Rebekah, Sophie Prevost, Stephanie Greiner, Stephanie Trinkle, Tracy Perneta, Janna Moreau, Dror, Clair Johnson, Rachel Ostrow, Sarah Forster, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, and Jessica Dombrosky attended

Approve Minutes:

– Meeting Minutes from May were approved

Officers/Committee Reports:

– We have been talking about possible workshops for next year. The first event we have is a Meet and Greet in September. We are thinking of doing our Basic Rights Workshop from FCSN in October.

– In November we are looking into how to read your IEP report, and after that have a workshop on Beyond Basic Rights from the law firm Sarah met at the FCSN conference on Dispute Resolution

Planning Workshops for the Coming Year:

APS Staff Reports:

– Alison shared the results of the Tiered Focus monitoring. They were on-site in January, and the final report was issued on May 20th 2021. The Office of Public School Monitoring were monitoring the District’s compliance with special education and civil rights. Monitoring happens every 3 years. Parents and school staff were interviewed, along with the SEPAC chairs.

– They are looking at licensure, professional development, facilities and classroom observations, oversight, time and learning, and equal access. Targeted standards must be met in Special Education. We were identified as Tier 2 (out of 4 possible Tiers, where a higher number requires more oversight by the DESE). Tiers 1 and 2 develop Continuous Improvement and Monitoring Plan (CIMP). All of our criteria were implemented in Special Education. With civil rights, 15 of 17 criteria were implemented, with two partially implemented. One civil rights item was related to student handbooks, while the other was related to restraint procedures documentation)

Introducing Dr. Homan, our new Superintendent

– Starts on July 1st. She is originally from the Midwest. Formerly an English teacher, and taught 9th and 10th grade ELA. She took a job with Boston Public Schools and Boston became home. She is a big believer in public schools and that every child is talented and capable of achieving their best, and what they need is different for each child. She has been sitting in on town meetings, finance committee meetings, and school committee meetings since February, and has been meeting with Dr. Bodie and visiting each school in the district.

– Alison mentioned that Dr. Homan has done work in Waltham on multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), and asked her to speak about it. It is a system that is meant to be flexible. If a district wants to have an effective MTSS, they need to define what Tier 1 has access to (reading, math, social-emotional support and criteria). A strong MTSS has Tier 2 supports for students who need it (usually accelerators, so students who are behind can catch back up. Small Group Support). Tier 3 is more intensive, usually one on one or small group support with a counselor. Special Education isn’t necessary to get tiered support.

-Sophie asked Dr. Homan to speak about her work regarding Equity. She mentioned that in Waltham, educators were trained to examine and reflect on whether their interactions with students were in any way denying equal access to Tiered instructions among students of color.

-Inae asked about universal design of instruction and assessment. Dr. Homan believes it’s important for teachers to model and facilitate different modes of instruction, and that students should have multiple ways to demonstrate their comprehension of the material.

– Katrina asked about reading instruction, particularly among dyslexic learners. Dr. Homan says that Waltham used Fundations, and that students benefit from things like repetition and hand motions in order to learn phonemic awareness. Alison mentioned that they are adding Fundations instruction to the third grade curriculum, and more phonemic awareness curriculum to Kindergarten.

-Katell asked about how Dr. Homan leads with empathy. Dr. Homan said there is a distinct difference between being a mom and being an educator, and that there’s a different kind of listening you need to do. When a school needs to accomplish something, having a committee with teachers and parents can help each other understand the other’s story and perspective. The better you can understand what is going on at school or at home, the better you can bridge the divide and flexibly support the learner.

-Sarah asked how General Educators and Special Educators can have the time to work together and collaborate so that each feels responsible for supporting and implementing a student’s IEP. Dr. Homan says having common planning time is important. Also, targeted co-teaching can be very successful if implemented properly. Having a special educator at the table helps all understand the needs of the student.

SEPAC Board Elections:

– Inae and Sarah were reelected as Co-Chairs, and Jess was reelected as Secretary

Public Participation/New Business/Open Discussion: