PTA launches six parent advocacy groups | Special Ed coalition draws strong support

This fall, the Mercer Island PTA is taking an unprecedented step in leadership. Targeting half a dozen issues deemed worthy of attention, the PTA has established six Parent Coalition groups to work with the school district in a number of areas: education funding; math; world languages; student bullying; food allergies and special education/learning differences.

The idea behind the initiative, which PTA Advocacy Vice President Stowe Sprague presented to the School Board last Thursday, is that improvements with education “begin with becoming informed, understanding effective advocacy and pro-active participation.”

“What I’ve learned is that parents’ eyes glaze over when the word legislation is brought up. But on the sideline of soccer games, they’re talking about all sorts of issues. So I selected six different hot topics to build active coalitions around,” Sprague said.

Each coalition is headed by a legislative representative and has a group facilitator. Each is tailored “to develop its own unique map for action, be it a grassroots support group, closer parent collaboration with schools, working with state legislators or awareness and feedback campaigns.” The groups also have individual Web sites, where they will report works in progress, projects and accomplishments.

One of the coalitions draws particular attention. The coalition for Special Education and Learning Differences (SEALD) not only serves as an advocacy committee, but as a support group for the hundreds of Island parents with children in the program. In creating this group, members of the PTA hope to establish a permanent network for a growing niche within the district’s parent community.

Director of Student Services Pat Turner, who has already spoken with PTA members about SEALD, could not be more supportive of the idea.

“I think it’s fabulous. For the school district and parents to work together in a collaborative manner is a very positive thing,” Turner said. “Parents taking leadership on this is exciting.”

It is the first such program, she added, to be organized by parents, for parents.

“When I first came here 15 years ago, there was a Special Ed Parent Advisory Committee, but that only lasted for a few years,” Turner said, pointing out that the committee was organized by the district, not parents themselves.

And parents is what SEALD is all about.

Mike Luckevich is the father of a child with autism. He has seen all sides of the district’s Autism Spectrum Program, and he has played numerous roles as a parent. One of his most recent roles — as of this week — is co-facilitator of SEALD. It is a responsibility he is ready to take on and a cause he has pursued for years.

“This is near and dear to my heart,” Luckevich said. “As I know from personal experience, parents will advocate for their individual children. But [until now], there has been no real way we can speak as a group or have the administration speak to us as a group.”

In addition to being an advocacy group, SEALD will serve as a place where parents can go with questions, share stories and seek support. Luckevich hopes it will open a new path of communication between parents, teachers and district communicators, which will, in turn, lead to action.

“I see the administration looking for constructive, professional dialogue with a group that will represent parents and their concerns,” he said.

SEALD welcomes the parents of children with an array of learning disabilities, from autism to dyslexia. In fact, any Island parent interested in the group may join.

“Right now, it’s all about strength in numbers,” Sprague said. “It is so important for parents to get together and get informed because that is the way they can make a positive difference.”

Turner echoed this point.

“It’s exciting to realize there is a group of parents asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” she said. “I’m just really encouraged by the idea.”

The first SEALD meeting will take place at 3:30 p.m. this Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Mercer Island Library. The meeting is open to all Island parents.

For more information on any of the six PTA coalitions or to get involved, contact Stowe Sprague:

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