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SpEd PAC Seeks New Members, Improved Relationship With District

Sep 08, 2015 06:48PM ● By Bill Gilman
Ask those involved on either side of the rift between Special Education parents and the School District and they will tell you the primary problem right now involves trust.
Specifically, there is an unhealthy level of mutual distrust between the two groups of people entrusted with caring for the most vulnerable students in the school district.
That lack of trust has taken an emotional toll on Bianka Kolb, chairperson of Tewksbury's Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SpEd PAC). Publicly, Kolb has remained mostly silent regarding the rift. She takes the role of the SpEd PAC seriously and feels should be a bridge between parents and the district.
"The PAC doesn't take sides. I try to see both sides," said Kolb, who has a background in the law. "I don't see that there are people out there (in the school district) who are out to intentionally harm families or students."
That position has created interesting dynamics with parents and administrators alike. Kolb is close friends with some of the more outspoken special education parents. That friendship has allowed her to be brutally honest at times, letting her friends know if she feels their actions are counter productive.
However, there are indications that Kolb's relationship with those same parents has caused some in the administration and on the School Committee not to trust her. This complicates matters, when Kolb attempts to work with them on the Special Education Executive Committee.
"I get the sense the district feels there is some ulterior motive to what the PAC does. And that's not true at all," said Kolb.
The trust issue took center stage over the summer with a Public Records Request by Tewksbury Attorney Cheryl Garrity. Among the documents requested by Garrity were any emails or texts from Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor and School Committee members related to the resignation of School Committee member Lisa Puccia, the choice of her replacement, the accidental release of SpEd students' private information and the so-called "Ratings Column" of SpEd parents.
Some of the e-mails released appeared to contain disparaging remarks about some of the SpEd parents and questioning whether or not the PAC was cooperating with the administration or going behind its back. The emails caused Kolb to doubt the sincerity of some school district officials when they said they were anxious to work on solutions with the PAC moving forward.
"I've always had a question, are they just placating me? What do they really think of me?" said Kolb. "I'm starting to come to the conclusion they are just placating us when they say they want to collaborate with us."
Kolb is, admittedly, frustrated. But she hasn't given up home about working cooperatively with the district and parents to improve Special Education in Tewksbury. The mother of two special education children, Kolb says she has seen how special ed in Tewksbury can positively impact children's lives and has also seen where it has fallen short.
"I think my (8-year-old) son is a poster child for special education success," she said. But I think by (10-year-old) daughter is a poster child for how the district has failed."
Moving forward, Kolb sees a significant increase in participation in the PAC by special education parents as a top priority. More input from more voices will help make a real difference, she said.
"Parental participation has always been a challenge for us," said Kolb. "I would love to see more parents at our meetings.
Kolb also put out a challenge to members of the administration and school committee, to put aside their fears and distrust and work openly and enthusiastically with the SpEd PAC to put the problems of the past year in the rear-view mirror and build a strong relationship for the benefit of special education students in the future.
She says she was personally hurt by comments made by School Committee Chairperson Krissy Polimeno at a recent committee meeting. Addressing disgruntled SpEd parents, Polimeno said they should commit to being "part of the solution."
"I would love for the district to tell me, as a parent, what does that mean? How can I be a part of the solution?" asked Kolb. "I think I have been part of the solution over the past two years. If the administration and committee believe (what Polimeno said) then they need to be a part of the solution too."
Trust is something easy to damage and difficult to rebuild.
For more information on the Special Education PAC, their meetings and how you can get involved, click here to check out the Friend of the TSEPAC Facebook page.

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