From the “Educational Technology” Presentation by Mara Liebowitz and Jennifer Cudmore from Clinton Elementary School

Tools that some of our teachers are using in their classrooms and/or that parents may want to explore for home use are:

For Language Arts

O Kidspiration / Inspiration – Brainstorming $$
O Sentence Builder – Build grammatically correct sentences
O Story Builder- Beginning Writing $$
O Mad Libs – Grammar
O Read2Go – Audiobooks (part of
For Math
O Division for Kids
O Multiples
O Thinking Blocks – Math (bar modeling)
O STMath
O Show – Me – Interactive Whiteboard
O Quizlet – General Study Skills
O Dragon Dictation – Voice to Text
O Quick Voice – Audio Recording
O Edmodo – Educational Social Media
Web sites
O Website for vocabulary workbook grades 3-5
O (search kbeane)
O quick tables to learn facts

SOMA SEPAC Meeting Notes 10-22-13

SEPAC MEETING for South Orange Maplewood School District

Tuesday October 22, 2013 7-9pm

District Meeting Room 525 Academy Street

Maplewood NJ 07040

SEPAC President Jane Bleasdale welcomed everyone and encouraged attendees to use the first 30 minutes of the meeting (7-7:30pm) to network with other parents, share personal experiences, and learn from the experiences of others.

Clinton Elementary Special Education Teachers Jennifer Cudmore and Mara Liebowitz, the evening’s guest speakers, then provided a presentation on assistive technology.  They demonstrated how they use a number of web sites, software packages, and applications in the classroom to help students with learning differences to access the curricula, improve their skills, and build their confidence.  Their slides with the lists of technologies they recommend will be posted on the SEPAC web site.

Following the presentation, the discussion turned to the State Department of Education’s Consolidated Monitoring Report, which cited the District for noncompliance in a number of areas of State-funded services to special educations students.  The Board of Education (BOE) discussed this report and the District’s Corrective Action Plan at their August 2013 meeting.  Some SEPAC members stated that the problems cited by the State confirm parents’ concerns regarding poor communication with parents and inconsistency of policy and practice.  

Two members of the BOE were present and offered suggestions for how the group could move forward specifically to  focus on the areas where the District administration is ‘appealed’, meaning it disagrees with the states assessment, to see if these are areas where parents have similar concerns.

Where the District’s Corrective Action Plan calls for Child Study Team training, SEPAC members are very interested in learning what and when that training will be.  The Executive Committee will follow up with Dr. Barker and keep the group informed via email and its web site.

Other topics raised at the meeting included:

  • Medicaid reimbursement forms – while some parents received this notice in the mail with an FAQ, others were handed it in IEP meetings.   Many parents were confused by the lack of context – in lay language – and potential implications for their children’s services, their insurance coverage, etc.  Questions also arose regarding whether the Medicaid reimbursements to the District would be reinvested in special education services.
  • Transitions, especially from 5th to 6th grade, and ensuring that IEPs were honored from one child study team to another.
  • Delays in evaluations, cursory evaluations, and redirection of parents to seek private evaluations at their own expense instead.
  • Parents feeling pressured by Child Study Teams to pursue a 504 versus and IEP
  • Building Principals creating co-teaching pairs that appeared incompatible or dysfunctional, and when asked about this, Special Services staff stated their inability to affect changes.
  • How can parents get more information and share their experiences to help one another navigate the various stages of the system and effectively advocate for their children.

It was noted that some of these issues fall under the SEPAC 2013-14 priorities formulated after 2012-13 meetings and shared with the District on October 7, 2013.  That letter will be shared with the SEPAC email list and posted on the SEPAC web site.

Other follow up items for SEPAC Executive Committee (and hopefully more volunteers) to take on before the group meets again are: 

  • Status of District’s Corrective Action Plan to address issues in the NJDOE Consolidated Monitory Report
  • Status of the Inclusion Committee
  • Creating a vehicle for parent feedback and input between SEPAC meetings
  • Review/revision of District Guide to Special Education with the goal of making it more user friendly

The meeting closed with a reiteration of the SEPAC goals for 2013 -2014

  1. Strengthened communications between parents, schools, administration and board (including a review of district/school web sites and the Guide to Special Education handbook);
  2. Better understanding of policies and practice in the area of school personnel (i.e. the role of the Child Study Team, the caseworker, the principal and the special education teacher);
  3. A review of district goals and the development of a District goal that specifically addresses students with special needs; and
  4. Ongoing education and advocacy in the areas of state and federal policies on special education.

SEPAC Letter to District Re: 2013-14 Priorities

October 7, 2013

Dear Brian, Pat, and Members of the Board of Education,

It is our pleasure to introduce ourselves as members of the newly formed Executive Committee of the South Orange/Maplewood Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC.) As some of you know, SEPAC held a series of formation meetings in 2012-13, during which we explored best practices from other districts, invited broad community input, and established our bylaws and guiding principles.

Last week, we reconvened to establish SEPAC’s 2013-14 agenda. During our research last year, we found that districts with the most engaged and effective SEPACs, were those in which parents, staff, and board came together as a working group, brought to bear their best thinking and resources, and kept the focus on big-picture issues to benefit all students. We are writing to share with you our goals for this school year and to invite representatives of the board of education and the district administration to join us at each meeting . We have four scheduled meetings this year: October 22, January 9, March 4, and May 5, each to be held at 7pm in the district board room.

The overall goal of a SEPAC is to strengthen the relationship between a school district and the parents of students with special needs, and to advocate for those students as well as to seek and offer suggestions in the area of special needs. We are grateful that Dr. Barker was able to come to our final meeting of the school year in the spring and share updates with us on the district policies and practice. In light of what we heard, and in response to our own discussions and experiences, we have agreed to focus on the following areas for this school year:

  • Strengthened communications between parents, schools, administration and board (including a review of district/school web sites and the Guide to Special Education handbook);
  • Better understanding of policies and practice in the area of school personnel (i.e. the role of the Child Study Team, the caseworker, the principal and the special education teacher);
  • A review of district goals and the development of a District goal that specifically addresses students with special needs; and
  • Ongoing education and advocacy in the areas of state and federal policies on special education.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives from the board, the administration, and specifically the department of special services in the near future to discuss these goals further. If possible, we would also like to establish opportunities for regular meetings and find ways to institutionalize the role of SEPAC in the District.

Thank you, and we look forward to working more closely with you all in the coming months.


Jane Bleasdale, President

Jenny Lindstrom, Vice President

Corrective Action Plan for Special Education: from the BOE Minutes

In August 2013 the SOMSD received the following correspondence from the NJ Department of Education: the document, posted with the August 26 Board of Education meeting agenga and minutes, can be found here:

Review of Funds recieved or disbursed to SOMSD  8/2013

There are also 2 other components presented at the same meeting:  the appeal to the DOE and The Corrective Action Plan.

File attachments:

Consolidated monitoring corrective action plan

Consolidated Monitoring Appeal letter

Board of Education meeting agendas and minutes can be found here

Free Workshops of Interest for Parents

Sponsored by the School District and the Elementary PTAs, workshops and speakers are offered on various topics each year.  The events are free and open to all (staff are always welcome).  For more information on programming for parents and guardians please see

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 ♦Ungifted – Intelligence Redefined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity and the Many Paths to Greatness with author Scott Barry Kaufman
7:30pm @ South Mountain Elementary School      find the flyer here

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 ♦Video Screening – How Difficult Can this Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop
7:30pm @ Marshall Elementary School, South Orange

This unique video lets viewers experience the frustration, anxiety and tension (F.A.T.) faced by children with learning disabilities. Workshop facilitator Richard Lavoie presents a series of striking simulations emulating daily experiences of learning disabled children.

Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension

The F.A.T. City workshop and video are my contributions to the important process of understanding learning disabilities. F.A.T. stands for Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension — and that’s exactly what the participants experience. This workshop and video provide teachers, parents, caregivers, and siblings with the opportunity actually to experience the emotions and stresses that children with learning disabilities face daily. By using simulations and contrived activities as models (for example, telling a story without using any words that contain the letter N), the participants temporarily experience the frustration, anxiety, and tension that is the lifestyle of students with special needs.

For the first time in years, these parents and educators are asked to sit on the other side of the teacher’s desk. They are required to recite aloud and complete timed spelling and writing activities under great pressure. I play the role of an unforgiving — and uninformed — teacher. I yell. I scold. I Continue reading

First Meeting of 2013 with Guest Speakers

 SEPAC Mtg Announcement 10.1.13

Tuesday October 22, 2013 at 7:00- 8:30pm
District Meeting Room

525 Academy St. Maplewood

Please join us for a meeting of the South Orange/Maplewood SEPAC, with guest speakers Jennifer Cudmore and Mara Liebowitz, who will present on assistive technology for students with special needs.

Ms. Cudmore has served as Assistive Technology Specialist for SOMA School District, Ms. Liebowitz is a certified Learning and Disabilities Consultant, and both are current special education inclusion co-teachers at Clinton Elementary School.

Who should attend? Families of students…

  • in all grades, in all schools and in out-of-district placements;
  • who have Individualized Education Plans;
  • who have 504 plans; and/or
  • who are at any stage of the referral and intervention process.

    Also save these dates for SOMA SEPAC Meetings in 2014: January 9, March 4, and May 5