Natick SEPAC invited the School Committee Candidates to share their thoughts on 3 Special Education Questions.  SC Candidate replies are listed as they appear on the March 27 Ballot.
Lisa S Tabenkin

What do you think is the greatest challenge in the Natick school district regarding special education?  How do you think this problem or issue could be addressed?

The greatest challenge in the Natick school district regarding special education is advocacy. Navigating special ed resources can be a daunting task for parents and students when you do not understand the process. The process is very cumbersome and regimented by state and federal laws. This can provide a source of frustration for parents when trying to help their children get the help then need to access an education.

While there is a lot of information on the district’s website on special education services, there needs to be a less overwhelming  way for parents to understand the process.  There needs to be small group learning sessions made available to parents on topics around the special education process.   Parents need to hear from the special education administrators and staff on how they can advocate for their children and what their rights are in the process.  Parents need to have their specific questions answered and leave those meetings with a better understanding of what they need to do to help their children in partnership with the schools.

This issue is being addressed  for the students by the district with a new initiative of teaching students how to advocate for their education needs in the 504 and IEP meetings.  The students are now able to share their perspective on what is preventing them for accessing their education and what they need to get it.  I have seen firsthand how valuable this is in an IEP meeting with my own son. He was able to speak up for himself and let the special education administration know that he was struggling and what would help him in very specific ways that were then incorporated into his IEP.  

What is your experience with inclusion and what do you think Natick can do to increase inclusive practices – especially in the middle/high schools?

All of our students need to feel included in every aspect of their school day especially if they are receiving special education services.  For years there has been a stigma attached to students who needed more help with accessing their education because those students were taken out of the classroom to receive services.   We have seen a much needed shift in that practice over time.

The Natick school district is working hard to incorporate more inclusive practices into the schools.  At the high school, there are classes being taught by a team of teachers, one general education and one special education teacher.  These teachers are in the classroom together and work with all students.  Students are leading inclusive practices through peer leadership.  Students are leading programs to ensure that all students are felt welcomed and included in all aspects of their school day.  

There are still more improvements that can be made.  In my professional work, I have been able to visit different school settings and have seen some inclusion practices that could easily be incorporated into Natick schools.  One classroom that I visited had a small table in the back of the room.  This table was for any student that was having a hard day, overwhelmed or just needed a small break from being in a larger group.  The teacher was able to keep teaching while understanding that a student needed a moment to themselves.  This student was still in the classroom not missing anything any work that was being discussed and could easily come back to their regular seat when ready without any disruption.

What is your own experience with special education (that you’re willing to share)?

My experience with special education is a personal one.   My husband and I had to learn how to advocate for our son when he was in Elementary School.  Our son’s Kindergarten teacher told us that we need to get our son evaluated for services since he was struggling in her classroom.  We spent his elementary and middle school years advocating for him in 504 meetings so he could have accommodations in the classroom that would  help him be able to access the curriculum and get supports from the teacher when needed.

Once my son entered high school it was very evident that he needed more support.   We needed to advocate for an IEP since the 504 was not providing enough help for him.  During this process, my son attended every meeting and was able to articulate what he needed to succeed. 

My experience with my son has helped me as a school committee member to advocate for students and families that are trying to or accessing special education services.


Matthew Brand

What do you think is the greatest challenge in the Natick school district regarding special education?  How do you think this problem or issue could be addressed?

I believe the greatest challenge in the Natick school district regarding special education is, and will likely always be, having all the resources students, families, and the schools need to provide the highest quality support services to all those who need it. These resources come in all forms: proper educational facilities (including adaptive PE facilities), easily accessible communication processes and tools for families, and more training for teachers (including executive function skills) to name a few. It is also important to continue to set a high bar in terms of quality and consistency of professional staff within the schools.  To many of the families with children who receive support services, I’m sure it might never feel like enough is being done. We need to make everyone feel like we are always doing all we can do to make sure that ALL students can achieve at their highest potential.

What is your experience with inclusion and what do you think Natick can do to increase inclusive practices – especially in the middle/high schools?

While I am not an educator by trade, I am a former summer camp director and worked with children for a long time. When it comes to inclusion, I believe the first step is to acknowledge that no two students learn the same way, regardless of if they receive support services or not. We have great teachers in Natick and need to continue to give them the resources they need to be able to provide different types of teaching mechanisms to different students. We also need to make sure that we have the right number of specialists in each school who can provide reading and literacy support, tutoring, and whatever our students need. In addition, we need to make sure all students feel like they are part of the community. This starts with honest conversation and education that celebrates our differences and promotes diversity.

What is your own experience with special education (that you’re willing to share)?

Like I mentioned in the previous question, I am not an educator by trade, but I am a former summer camp director (and held various other roles at camp prior to that). The camp is an overnight camp that houses over 300 campers, ages 8-15, and over 100 staff members. These kids attend camp for either 3.5 or 7 weeks. While camp is not school, it does provide educational opportunities requires the staff to understand the needs of all the children and nurture a diverse community where everyone can be successful. In my years working at the camp, I was responsible for many campers who had the camp equivalent to an IEP. We met with parents to figure out how to make their children successful at camp. We knew camp. Parents knew their children. The only way to ensure that the child would fit in and have a wonderful and productive summer at camp would be to work together and be transparent about expectations and goals.


James P Hannon

What do you think is the greatest challenge in the Natick school district regarding special education?  How do you think this problem or issue could be addressed?

There has been a lot of hard work done by the teachers and staff in the special education effort of Natick, and I commend them for their work. As with any effort like special education, there are many facets that need to be considered. The one challenge I have heard is to ensure a robust communication channel to all parties involved in the process. The need for timely, accurate information and tangible follow up is crucial for all parties. In every aspect of life communication and transparency can make or break success. I have listed to parents and the schools and look forward to working with the school committee to help increase the process for all.

What is your experience with inclusion and what do you think Natick can do to increase inclusive practices – especially in the middle/high schools?

I have been involved in many corporate environments where collaboration is essential to strive towards the total inclusion of all parties. In education, I have taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels and have worked with multiple cultures. I have learned that the most important thing for inclusion is to create a safe and learning conducive environment. I am in a Doctorate program in Education, and my thesis is on the use of project-based learning for special needs and at-risk students. The first impediment is to make sure students understand how the special needs student functions and what are the challenges they have and the tremendous strengths they bring to the table.

What is your own experience with special education (that you’re willing to share)?

I have two sisters who were trained as special education teachers. I saw them reach for new solutions every day on how to create new and innovative ideas to help their students. I have relatives with special needs and have had students in my classes with special needs. I learned early on special needs students bring far more to the classroom that can ever be imagined.