Blog Archives

How to stay in the information loop

circular image of question marks around the word knowledge Often parents don’t hear about major developments in education or public policy that impact our children until long after the chance to influence those decisions has passed. A large part of being an effective advocate for your child, or children in general, is to keep up with what is going on at the school, local, state and national levels.

School news:  Attending PTO/PTA meetings, and reading the school newsletter and other notices, can help you stay on top of things that are happening at your child’s school. Parents may have a voice in deciding how certain funds are to be spent, changes to school building policies, or even where the 5th graders will go for their optional spring field trip.

School District: Most school system websites have a “News” section where all sort of events, new developments, school board meetings, policy changes and other announcements are featured. This is a place where you can find out about the school calendar for next year as soon as it has been decided, central office staff changes, new programs and initiatives, major accomplishments, etc. If you visit the website at least once a month, you will have a greater understanding of what is going on and how things work within your local school system.

State and local public policy in North Carolina:

NC Partners has an email newsletter with information on events, State Board of Education meetings and actions, and other issues affecting North Carolina’s public schools. For more information or to subscribe, please visit the website.

NC Child is a broad-based advocacy group that describes itself as “The voice for North Carolina’s children.” They focus on the health, safety, education and economic well-being of all children in the state by engaging communities and informing stakeholders and decision-makers. NC Child distributes InfoNet, a free e-news service that provides information about state and local legislation and public policies, stories of national interest, relevant newspaper opinion pieces, as well as resources for parents and advocates.

Around the Nation:

The U.S. Department of Education has great information on it’s website about Early Learning, K-12 Educational Reforms, Family and Community Engagement, various education-related laws and guidance, Financial Aid for Post-Secondary Education and other topics. You can also sign up for email updates.

SmartBrief is a digital media company that gathers information on a wide array of subjects and offers more than 20 different newsletters focused on some aspect of education. The SmartBrief on Special Education contains articles on new developments, research findings, promising practices, training opportunities and noteworthy events from across the nation.

Disability Scoop describes itself as the “Nation’s premier source of developmental disability news.” They scour the headlines and other sources for information on “issues that matter to the developmental disabilities community.” These issues include, but are not limited to education, health, civil rights, legislation and real life success stories.

By signing up for any of these newsletters, information and news comes to you without the time and energy it takes to constantly search the web. Knowing what is going on in your community, state or in our nation will help you better understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and how our systems work. This information can also give you ideas to bring to the table and advance notice of actions that you can take in order to influence decisions before they are made. Remember, knowledge is power!

How to use school system websites

There is a lot of useful information on school and school system websites, but sometimes it is difficult to find exactly what you are looking for.   Some websites are definitely more user-friendly than others.  I’ll share some basic “how to” suggestions that I personally use.  In order to save space, I will use LEA (Local Education Agency) to refer to school systems.

Working with families of children with special needs, we frequently suggest that a parent share their concerns with someone in the central office of the LEA’s Special Education Department.  On the Home page for the LEA’s website, there is usually a tab near the top of the page, or an option listed on the menu located on the left side of the webpage, that will allow you to select “Departments” by clicking on that word.  That should give you an alphabetical listing of the various school system departments.  Most North Carolina LEAs, have an “Exceptional Children” (EC) department, but some call it “Special Education.”  If you don’t find one title, check under the other one.

When you click on EC, you will usually go to a page that will offer general information or an overview of the EC Department and the services provided to students.  Somewhere on that webpage, there may also be a list of staff, with job titles and contact information.  If you don’t see one, look for an option to click on that says something like “staff directory”, “contact information”, or  “staff contacts.”  Larger  school systems tend to have more staff, so there may be Behavior Specialists,  Program Manager/Specialist for specific disabilities, EC Zone Coordinators, or perhaps Program Managers for Preschool, Elementary, Middle or High Schools.  There will always be a Director who oversees all special education services for the entire school system, although the job titles vary a bit.

The department list can lead you to other information as well.  Information about the general education program and graduation requirements can usually be found under “Curriculum and Instruction.”  School system policies, such as the Code of Conduct (discipline guidelines), are often found under the heading of “School Board” or “Board of Education.”  Information about Schools, Transportation and Student/Pupil Assignment can be found under those headings.  If you can’t find what you are looking for on a menu, tab or department list, try entering that topic in the “Search” box that can usually be found near the top of the website Home page.  The Home page should also have a general telephone number for the LEA, most often located near the top or bottom of the page.  Calling that number should allow someone to direct your call to the right place, based on what you tell them.

It might be a good idea to visit the website of your child’s school and the one for the LEA before there is an urgent need, so that you can get familiar with what’s available and how things are organized.  If you don’t use computers very much, it may be helpful to have a student or another person assist you.  Most young people who have grown up with the internet take to it like a duck to water.  It’s time to start getting your feet wet!