On Tuesday night I attended “Coffee with the Principal” at Riverdale School. This great new forum was the brain child of our new Principal and head cheerleader, Daniel Cullen. During the meeting we had open discussions about school safety and a shared vision for student learning. Our school nurse, Karen Rapone, was also on hand to talk about healthy choices for our children. It was a very informal and comfortable evening of sharing ideas and concerns. I am certain I have not attended anything quite like it and applaud Mr. Cullen for all of the efforts he has made to reach out to parents and the rest of our community.
Afterwards he invited me to stay for the SEPAC meeting, though my own child does not have any particular needs, having seen Mr. Cullen’s approach to general education, I was more than a little curious to hear his ideas for our school’s special education program. Also in attendance was Ms. Vicki Pede, our new Superintendent of Schools, and a roomful of parents.
Let’s start off by saying that Mr. Cullen and Ms. Pede know a thing or two about special education. Not only have they both taught children with special needs but they both currently teach Special Education to graduate students at Centenary College. It is clear that they intend to use their experience to enhance the program at Riverdale School and at the center of their approach, of course, is inclusion. Tuesday’s meeting was the first step towards establishing Riverdale’s own Special Education Parents Advisory Council (SEPAC). It seems that Pompton Lakes has had their own SEPAC for many years and it has helped improve the services offered tremendously. Riverdale parents have always been welcome to attend meetings but the Pompton Lakes SEPAC has had little influence over matters at Riverdale School. With the establishment of the Riverdale SEPAC, Mr. Cullen, who is also the Acting Supervisor of Special Services, hopes to give parents of children with special education needs a unified voice and an active role.
This was the first meeting and the agenda reflected that; setting norms, defining purpose, identifying needs, and establishing next steps. Though the topics were broad, at times they became very specific and discussion was passionate. The parents who attended were deeply invested, albeit a bit skeptical from past experiences. A common theme through the meeting was the need for networking, sharing ideas and helping each other. I was deeply moved by the concerns the parents expressed for parents of children “on the cusp”; those children who are struggling with the general education environment but are not yet classified. Parents of such children often do not know what options are available to them or who to turn to for advice.
If you are one of these parents, or if you know someone who is, we would like to tell you that the Riverdale SEPAC is a great place to start. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, October 27th and will be held again at Riverdale School. Check our school’s Weekly Newsletter, Website and Facebook Page for confirmation and details. In the meantime, Mr. Cullen would like you to know that his door is always open. There are many great resources available on the web for general information, such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities, but nothing could equal the personal attention and vast experience available to you from Mr. Cullen, Ms. Pede and the parents of the Riverdale SEPAC.