Judy McCary Koeppen is a speech therapist and the parent of a special-needs child, so she knows firsthand what it takes to help kids with disabilities succeed.
Koeppen is one of the founders of a new parent-teacher association representing the 1,000 students in the Redwood City School District who require some form of special-education training.
The Special Education Parent-Teacher Association of Redwood City, which holds its first meeting tonight, aims to address issues such as teacher shortages, fundraising and helping parents navigate the complicated process of getting help for their kids.
"We wanted to create a supportive environment that can provide education on how the system works and how to understand the laws and tests," Koeppen said. "There’s not a lot of support out there."
Koeppen also hopes that having a specialized PTA will show special-education personnel that the district values and supports them in a time when such specialists are increasingly scarce.
At the County Office of Education alone, more than 20 percent of special-education positions are filled by substitutes at any one time, according to Glenn Siegel, human resources director for the County Office of Education
"It’s difficult to find teachers who are highly qualified," said John Baker, assistant superintendent in the Redwood City School District. "I don’t know if universities aren’t turning enough out, or whether teachers feel they’re not up to the challenges."
Redwood City’s special-education parents are following in the footsteps of groups like the Special Education Committee in the San Mateo Foster-City School District, which formed during the 2004-05 school year in response to the district’s failure to provide on-site speech therapists.
Although relations between parents and the district arose from those tensions, the collaboration has become productive, according to committee chair Dana Fugate.
"What’s been a success is both sides understanding the frustration and opening up a dialogue," Fugate said. Her group is also able to bring in outside aid, such as holding a resources fair for parents, when the district cannot.
District officials are optimistic about the new PTA, according to Baker.
"It will help for all of us to have a true understanding of what special-education needs actually exist right now, and to collaborate together on how to meet those needs," Baker said.
The Special Education Parent-Teacher Association of Redwood City formally incorporates tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the district offices, 750 Bradford St., Redwood City.