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Special School District of St. Louis County
 
Know Your PAC
Parent Advisory Council can help ease back to school transitions

A new school year can be an exciting time full of new possibilities, new experiences and new goals. But a new school year can also be a time of new challenges.

Several changes can take place at the beginning of the school year - new teachers, new schools, new classmates - and those changes can sometimes be difficult for all children to navigate and manage. The road can be especially challenging for children with special needs.

The Special School District Parent Advisory Council (PAC) is one of numerous supports available to parents and students to help them adjust. The SSD PAC is comprised of families advising and collaborating to improve the education, confidence and social outcomes of each student served by SSD.

Members of the SSD PAC are parents or guardians of students receiving services from SSD. One voting member and up to two alternate members represent each of SSD's 22 partner school districts and from each of the five SSD special education schools.

Reaching out to other parents and collaborating with SSD staff are the primary roles of the PAC representatives. When adjusting to a new school or new school year, this role can make a tremendously positive difference for everyone involved. Here, two parents share their stories:

We were 835 miles from the home, community, friends, family and school we knew. Although we were very careful in making our decision to move to Webster Groves - and that decision was determined in large part by the school district that would share our responsibility for educating our son - we knew we'd have a lot to learn. Educating and appropriately supporting our son's academic and social progress had proven challenging in the context of a community we knew well. Now he was entering a new school, in a new district, in a new state, where we didn't know a soul. We were anxious. That is, until we set foot inside Avery Elementary on our son's first day of second grade.

We were immediately met by his teacher Mrs. Debbie Jordan. She recognized him from the picture and background information I'd mailed to the principal a couple weeks earlier. With open arms and a broad smile, she welcomed our son and us. After hugging all of us, she extended her hand and passed me a large folder. She explained that when she learned that she'd be receiving a new student who had some complex developmental and medical history, she reached out to a parent of another Avery student. Debbie knew that Lisa Liss, a parent of two delightful Avery All-Star students, was well informed about services and supports available to kids with disabilities and their families. She also knew that Lisa was leading the school's Parent Advisory Council (PAC).

Before my family ever had to ask for help navigating the educational and disability systems in St. Louis County, my son's general education teacher and a parent leader were plotting out a plan to welcome and support us. On that first morning at Avery, Debbie handed me a folder full of information about Special School District and how our home school district (Webster Groves) collaborates with SSD. The folder included information about the Parent Advisory Council and about school- and community-based social and academic supports.

I was impressed by Debbie's initiative and by her humility in consulting a parent leader. And I was impressed by the wealth of information Debbie made immediately available to me through Lisa and the PAC. I have since been serving on Webster Groves' Parent Advisory Council myself. And after a year here, I took on the added responsibility of serving as Webster Groves' liaison to the SSD Parent Advisory Council as well.

Together with parents from all over St. Louis County whose kids receive services and supports through SSD, I have the opportunity now to keep learning from other families and educators. Through the Webster Groves PAC and the SSD PAC, I'm able to help shape the systems that my and so many others' kids depend on for an effective education that prepares them with the confidence and competence to live well now and into their adulthoods.

Thank you, Debbie Jordan and Lisa Liss for thinking about what it would take for a family you'd never met to be welcomed and successful!

~ Rachel S.H. Valenti, SSD PAC Representative from Webster Groves School District

I was an apprehensive mom as I approached my son Cole's first preschool classroom at Lindbergh Early Childhood Education Center. As I entered the "Cardinal Room" behind Cole in his red Kid Kart, we were both immediately greeted by the smiling faces of his new teachers - Miss Carol, Miss Crystal and Miss Mary. Also there to welcome us were Cole's new physical therapist, Miss Cindy, his speech teacher, Miss Paula, and occupational therapy assistant, Miss Rita. Little did Cole and I know at that time the impact that these wonderful ladies of Special School District would have on our lives.

Cole's team of teachers had graciously offered to meet Cole and me prior to the first day of school to help Cole become acquainted with his new classroom. As neither Cole nor I are ones to handle transitions well, we readily accepted this opportunity. Cole's vision teacher from First Steps accompanied us to help acquaint Cole with his new surroundings, as well as to provide his new team with some suggestions on how to best position items for Cole to see.

From that first meeting onward, Cole's SSD team maintained an "open-door" approach of communication with our family. The team always took time to listen to our concerns and suggestions, as well as to provide ideas of things to try at home to help his educational process.

After much patience and practice, Cole can almost sing his entire ABCs and count to 10. He also is becoming stronger and learning to walk in his walker, and enjoys feeding himself snacks. All of these accomplishments are in large part due to the support, encouragement and tenacity of Cole's SSD team.

I once was extremely apprehensive about leaving my globally delayed son in the care of others, but soon came to trust, respect and appreciate the Special School District team at Lindbergh Early Childhood Education Center. We look forward to our second year in the "Turtle Room" of the new facility - and are excited about what we will learn next!

~ Stacy Zobrist, SSD PAC Representative from Lindbergh School District

Learn more about the PAC, including meeting times and a complete roster of members.

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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