SEPAC, the Newton Special Education Parents Advisory Council, Questionnaire

Ward 1 School Committee

Parents have many concerns that reading services in the Newton Public Schools for students with dyslexia are not state of the art. What will you do to improve programs for dyslexia?

 Kathy Marchi: As a member of the school committee, it would be within my role to ensure that our SPED Department has the resources and expertise to provide the most effective programs to meet our students’ needs. We have come a long way but we still have work to do in this area. It is crucial that we increase our teachers’ understanding of dyslexia and increase their skills in supporting students who have dyslexia. I would work to support efforts to improve our programs for dyslexia as well as other special needs.

Please comment on whether you would support hiring a special education ombudsman for NPS. This position would offer families a way to resolve conflicts in a non-confrontational manner, and would create an equitable situation to families who cannot afford to hire advocates or attorneys. Please also comment on whether you support a member of the SEPAC having a seat at the table during School Committee meetings, similar to the Student Representatives.

 Kathy Marchi: I believe in the importance of the SEPAC as a valuable forum for family engagement and support, and as a source of collaboration with the school system. As a parent of a child who benefited from additional supports and assistance, I personally understand the passion parents have regarding their child(ren)’s education. The relationship between NPS and our families should be one of partnership and collaboration. Whenever possible, special education services should be addressed at the school building level and with the Assistant Supt. for Student Services, rising only to the school committee when an ongoing issue is unresolved. I am pleased that our special education services, programs, and facilities have recently been reviewed and I look forward to working with the department on the findings. Student representatives are state-mandated and are ex- officio, with no voting rights.

Many candidates speak about transparency and clear communication. Please comment on whether you would consider any of the following: Holding monthly office hours where the community can bring you their concerns, allocating funds for a School Committee blog so that families know what is being worked on, what topics are coming up, how and when input would be accepted, and meeting with special education parents to hear feedback on what programs are working well and what still needs improvement.

 Kathy Marchi: The School Committee values the input of the SEPAC and assigns a representative to the SEPAC in order for communication to be expedited, interactive, personal and accurate. I believe this is an important opportunity for a school committee member and that the relationship between the two committees is very important. As a school committee member I would welcome outreach from families regarding their concerns. I would be available and responsive to calls and emails as well as face-to-face conversations. As the MA DESE guidance on SEPACs recommends, I would like to see the SEPAC work with the school system by providing data gathered from Newton families to better understand their needs. SEPAC can be a valuable resource to the School Committee by spotting trends or ongoing issues.

The City of Newton is planning to increase the housing stock and is including several projects of high density units. The existing school buildings, including new schools, are designed to meet the current student growth trends, but do not address a large influx of students that will accompany the future high density buildings. Both high schools are at their largest student population ever, class sizes are increasing, and no new staff was added due to the budget shortage. There is no additional capacity at the middle schools. Do you have a plan on how to expand school capacity, and where will the funding come from? How will these huge expenses impact special education funding?

 Kathy Marchi: As a leading school district in MA, Newton will continue to face the challenge of a growing student population. It is our legal, moral and ethical responsibility to provide every student in our district with an education that graduates them college- and career-ready. I will work with the Mayor, City Council and School Committee to determine how to enhance city revenues, to maintain the financial allocation needed to achieve school excellence, and to find efficiencies and savings within our school budget. While our committee doesn’t vote for an override, I will support one if it becomes clear that these various efforts are insufficient to prevent the erosion of the education we provide for all of our students. Also, Newton must keep advancing our capital improvement plan to ensure that school facilities continue to be upgraded for both regular and special education students.

As a candidate, what do you believe about inclusion in the public schools? Do you think there may be a trade off from full inclusion? Do you support total inclusion, or do you believe there are some situations where segregated groupings of special education students with specialized instruction might be appropriate?

Kathy Marchi: We are required by federal law to support all students in the least restrictive environment possible while providing the same standard of education as for typically developing students. Full inclusion achieves this for many but not all Newton students. Where it is more suited to a student’s individual need, substantially separate instruction should be considered. Our Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Student Services are studying our service models and I am committed to working with them and my school committee colleagues to find the optimal range of constructs for Newton students.