(Updated 10:52 a.m.) Communication, relationships, perspective — these themes were the essence of a special education forum led by Superintendent Joshua P. Starr Monday night at .
Third in a series of spring forums hosted by Starr, the 90-minute event drew about 350 attendees, mainly parents, teachers, school administrators and community groups that work with special needs children.
"I hope that parents had an opportunity to listen to each other and to the educators and hear what other people's perspectives are,” Starr told Patch after the forum. “This is not going to answer everybody's questions. It is the beginning of a conversation about how we can address an important issue. It should be the first of many conversations like these."
Montgomery County’s 17,500 students with disabilities comprise the largest population of students with disabilities the state, about 12 percent of the county’s public school system’s student body, according to information provided by MCPS.
After a quick presentation from Gwendolyn J. Mason, Director, MCPS Department of Special Education Services, Starr asked a five-person panel — which included Mason — to respond to a hypothetical scenario of parents who are in the process of transitioning a special needs student from elementary school to middle school.
The panelists were:
- Marcella E. Franczkowski, Assistant State Superintendent, Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services, Maryland State Department of Education
- Meredith Bove, parent
- Gwendolyn J. Mason, Director, MCPS Department of Special Education Services
- Marita R. Sherburne, Principal, Wood Acres Elementary School
- Jocelyn J. Watson, Learning Center Coordinator, Galway Elementary School
For the second-half of the program, Starr asked attendees to discuss what parts of the panelists’ responses resonated with them.
“There needs to be more consistency among schools,” said Gena Mitchell, from Table No. 15. Mitchell, who is from Bethesda, is the mother of a third grader with Down syndrome. Mitchell is president of the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County.
“And what about the parents who aren’t here?” asked Heather Sachs, of Potomac, a mother of a kindergartener with Down syndrome. She is also on the Down Syndrome Network’s board.
Amy Cropp, MCPS Supervisor of Early Childhood Disabilities recorded table No. 15’s responses, which Starr said would be compiled into a report. Starr will host a final spring forum on social and emotional learning Thursday, May 10, at Walt Whitman High School.
“What we want to know is what we're doing and what the gap is,” Starr said. “That's what we've got to look at — what we're currently doing and what we've got to improve. It's all about continuous improvement.”
This story has been updated since it was last published. Meredith Bove was the name of the parent on the panel.