Category Archives: Special Education

Darien SEPAC Reading Buddy Program

Darien SEPAC is pleased to present a new Reading Buddy Program. The program, piloted successfully in the winter of 2016/17 with space and books provided by Darien Library, is now open to student volunteers.

What is a Reading Buddy Program? It’s older kids (“Big Reading Buddies”) paired with younger kids (“Little Reading Buddies”) for one-to-one reading time. Research has shown that academic performance, motivation to read, reading skills, and self-confidence are all gained through participation in these programs. Two SEPAC Representatives; Lynne Andren, who has a MA in Reading and Kara Callahan, who has a MS in Special Education, run the program, with some assistance from SEPAC co-chairs Courtney Darby and Tricia Bresnahan. Both Andren and Callahan are thrilled with the idea of helping parents through the sometimes dreaded daily reading homework requirement while helping the buddies develop new friendships and foster a love of reading. The group meets once a week on Thursday afternoons from 4:00-5:00 PM. Either buddy can require support; in fact this program is perfect for a teen who is struggling with reading.  For program information or to sign-up, contact Lynne Andren ( or Kara Callahan (


Is My Child Making Progress?

Understanding Progress Monitoring

Monday, October 5th, 11 am, Royle Common Room
Please RSVP:

Dr. Susie Da Silva, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, K-12 will discuss the purpose and components of a strong Scientifically Research-Based Intervention (SRBI) model. She will outline how an effective program supports students in the most meaningful way.

Find out the answer to your questions including:
What are the assessment tools the district currently uses?
How will I be notified of my child’s progress in SRBI?
How do I know if my child is reading on grade level?

Catch up on Recent SEPAC Presentations!

Two of SEPAC’s most popular Spring events are now available online. Both events were co-sposored by the Darien Library and have been added to their special website called Darien Library TV.

ADHD and Mood Disorders:
New Strategies & Treatments
Dr. Wachtel discussed medication options, treatments and strategies to help children who struggle with mood and attention. He covered school-based accommodations and strategies. Research has shown that parents and teachers need to foster a child’s focus to maximize their ability to learn. In addition, Dr. Wachtel addressed the benefits and risks of available treatments and when to commence or postpone treatment at various stages of a child’s life. A board certified psychiatrist, Dr. Wachtel is the author of The Attention Deficit Answer Book.

Meaningful Inclusion Benefits All Students by William Henderson, Ed.D.
Dr. Henderson is a nationally recognized inclusion expert and author of The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made the School Better for Everyone. Dr. Henderson discussed approaches to develop a culture of inclusion, to provide instruction with universal design and specialized supports, and to build a community that collaborates and problem solves. He also highlighted how including students with disabilities can be a catalyst for improving teaching and learning for everyone.

Meaningful Inclusion Benefits All Students

Darien SEPAC and Darien Library are pleased to present:

William Henderson, Ed.D.
Inclusion Expert and Author

Monday, April 27th

12:00 – 1:30 PM — Public Meeting

3:30 PM– 4:45 PM — Educators Only Session

Darien Library Louise Parker Berry Community Room
Light refreshments will be served.

William Henderson, Ed.D., author of “The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made the School Better for Everyone,” will present practical strategies for developing successful inclusive schools.

Dr. Henderson will discuss approaches to developing a culture of inclusion, to provide instruction with universal design and specialized supports, and to build a community that collaborates and problem solves. He will also highlight how including students with disabilities can be a catalyst for improving teaching and learning for everyone.

As a first-year teacher, Dr. Henderson learned he was gradually losing his vision and was advised he “should get out of education.” Instead he continued to persevere and went on to become principal of the Patrick O’Hearn Elementary School which is now renamed the Dr. William W. Henderson K- 12 Inclusion School.

“In an age when the word ‘hero’ is overused, Bill Henderson clearly deserves the title. Long before most educators embraced the concept of inclusion, Bill built a school that became a model of equity and excellence.”
— Thomas Hehir, professor of practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education & Author of ”Effective Inclusive Schools, Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs.”


Upcoming SEPAC Events


Assistive Technology to Support Reading & Writing
Monday, November 24th
7:00-9:00 PM, Middlesex Middle School

A discussion with assistive technology (AT) expert Shelly Lacey-Castelot on available technology to support reading and writing — and how best to use it to enhance a child’s education. Also, strategies to secure an effective AT plan for your child. Darien Public Schools administrators Marc Marin, Director of Instructional Technology, and John Verre, Special Assistant to the Superintendent, will also participate.



Executive Function, Working Memory and Everyday Tasks
Monday, December 8th
7:00-9:00 PM, Darien Library

Executive functions and working memory are critical aspects of a child’s ability to be successful in school.  Lydia Soifer, PhD, director of the Soifer Center for Learning & Child Development, will make these complex topics understandable, and relate them to manageable everyday tasks. Darien district administration will also participate to provide answers on the role of executive function in accessing the curriculum.

Co-sponsored with Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, SPED*NET Wilton and Darien Library.

Help Your Child — and Yourself — Conquer Stress & Anxiety

May 1st at 7:30PM at Middlesex Middle School
Please RSVP at

Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D. will discuss scientifically-documented strategies that heal the physical effects of anxiety and promote stress-resilience. Every child with a learning or developmental disability suffers from stress as an unavoidable response to daily academic and peer pressure. Chronic stress affects the body and mind: physical health, mood and self-esteem. Parents also experience anxiety, as they attempt to balance the demands of their own lives with understanding, supporting and advocating for their children. Dr. Eckerd, a licensed psychologist, will present proven tools to help you — and your child – effectively deal with this stress. Darien SEPAC is co-sponsoring this event with Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities. Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities® is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). Please RSVP at


Below are the answers from the administration to questions asked by SEPAC:

Darien Public Schools

Office of the Special Education Ombudsman


 Responses to Questions Raised by SEPAC 

Area of Focus 1: Case Reviews 

Questions: We understand that identifying children with illegal language or other practices is difficult in IEP Direct.  Is someone going through IEP’s manually?  If so, will you please clarify who that is?  What is the current timeline for when this will be done?

Responses: The ombudsman is working with central office staff and the IEPDirect representatives to identify automated approaches to the review and analysis of IEPs.  The Ombudsman is collaborating with the Superintendent to identify temporary external resources to review IEPs manually.  We expect that the automated and manual processes will be complete by the end of April.

Area of Focus 4: Parent and Community Engagement

Questions: In the last subcommittee meeting, there was discussion of administrative checks within the schools.  When will the types of checks parents will have be discussed?  Under this category?*

Responses: I believe this question concerns the mechanisms that parents could use to insure that their child’s IEP is appropriate and that it is being implemented with fidelity on an on-going basis.  This issue should be discussed in the development of approaches to parent engagement, and also in the development of Guidelines for Practice.  Currently, the Principal is responsible for the supervision of staff ion the IEP development and implementation of IEPs, with assistance from the Assistant Principal and the Case Managers in the school. We have proposed the establishment of a new position – SESS Facilitator – who would be the point person in the school’s work with parents of children with disabilities and the primary support to PPTs and school administrators in planning and implementation. * <<SEPAC IS FOLLOWING UP ON THIS RESPONSE FOR FURTHER CLARIFICATION.>>

Gamm Report Recommendations

Questions:  In her report, Sue Gamm gave a list of immediate action items.  Is someone on the subcommittee assigned to reviewing those action items and verifying their timely completion?  How many are complete?  What is the timeline for the rest?  How does this list relate to John Verre’s action plan?

Responses:  Implementing the Required Corrective Actions of the CSDE Letters of Findings, and reviewing the recommendations of the Gamm Report is the responsibility of the Special Education Ombudsman in collaboration with the Superintendent, both of whom have the requisite technical and operational knowledge and experience in special education and student services.  Our work has focused first on the requirements and recommendations with the earliest critical timelines, including case reviews and problem solving, ESY Guidelines, ELP-Kindergarten transition, data management, professional development, and guidelines for practice.  We are in the process of reviewing the other recommendations to determine appropriateness and level of priority, and will incorporate this work in the medium and long-term Action Plans.  Ultimately the implementation of adopted approaches will become the responsibility of the new Superintendent and the new Director of Special Education and Student Services.

Extended School Year Services

Questions:  Can you outline the notification and training schedule for parents and staff of the new ESY regulations?  Are you still indicating that PPTs to address ESY occur before the end of March?

Responses:  The ESY Work Group developed new guidelines for ESY services based on the CSDE Topic Brief, the input of the participants, and the advice of our consulting expert. Professional development for staff and administrators was provided during the weeks of 3/3/14 and 3/10/14. We will provide informational sessions for parents as soon as possible before the end of March. The guidelines describe the expectation that, to the greatest extent possible, many PPTs considering ESY services should be held by the end of March, and others should be held as soon as possible in April, may, and June.  SEPAC NOTE: PLEASE READ THE NEXT POST BELOW REGARDING A PARENT MEETING APRIL 9 ABOUT THE NEW ESY GUIDELINES

Rising Kindergarteners with Disabilities

Questions:  John Verre and Lynne Pierson have stated that an individualized approach will be taken for each of the families in need of a kindergarten alternative next fall. Who exactly will be determining the IEPs and schooling structure for these families?  What is the deadline for these plans to be created?  Is May 1st possible?

Responses:  The services and settings for all individual ELP students will be determined by appropriately constituted PPTs. For those students whose parents and staff believe there may be issues concerning the appropriateness of a regular kindergarten placement for individual students, Laura Straiton and John Verre will participate in the PPT process to support individualized planning. To address the urgency of planning for September placements and services, these “articulation PPTs” will be initiated during April and completed as soon as possible.