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2020 Parent Empowerment Conference Welcome

Welcome to the second annual Parent Empowerment Conference brought to you by the Howard County Public Schools Department of Special Education.


[ Dr. Terri Savage, Executive Director Department of Special Education speaking. ]

Welcome to the second annual Parent Empowerment Conference brought to you by the Howard County Public Schools Department of Special Education. Last year we were excited to bring you sessions that helped you unpack the Individualized Family Service Plan known as the IFSP and Individualized Education Program known as the IEP. This year we are hosting nearly 500 parents, guardians and caregivers if not more over the next three evenings for our virtual conference. We have a variety of relevant topics planned just for you. Topics cover IEP meeting in the Virtual Environment, Instruction, data collection and progress monitoring, related and support services, and supporting your child in the home environment and much much more.

Hello, I’m Dr. Terri Savage, Executive Director for the Department of Special Education here in the Howard County Public School System. This is my 15th year in HCPSS but my 25th year in the state of Maryland. I am so grateful to be of service to you each and every day. You know never did we imagine that we would be in the middle of a pandemic in 2020, but here we are standing together and striving to be transparent about the challenges because there are many. We’re striving to build upon the successes because they count too. We’re striving to learn from the many lessons because after all that’s what makes us better. We’re striving to remain focused and, simply put, to do more than we did yesterday. It is not easy, or ever done, but it is our mission to keep at it. Let me acknowledge our parents, grandparents, guardians, caregivers, siblings and other family members for doing all you can to support our children as well as supporting our educators during these trying times. You have shared your stories, your experiences, your high and lows. Thank you. I’ll never know what it means to walk in your shoes and I won’t pretend to. But I do know this, that I applaud your perseverance and you are to be commended. You are an inspiration.

[ Photo slide of the Department of Special Education (DSE) Leadership Team. ]

Allow me to introduce you to my leadership team:

  • Janice Yetter, Director of Special Education
  • Patricia Gunshore, Coordinator of Special Education Compliance, Non-public Services and Family Support
  • Jen Harwood, Coordinator of Early Intervention Services
  • Emily Kinsler, Coordinator of Countywide Services

On behalf of our entire leadership team, we thank you for standing alongside us as we serve our learners and families. The five of us worked closely with a full staff of instructional facilitators, resource teachers, behavior specialists and analysts and paraeducators, related service program heads and providers, and support teachers; and a host of other specialists and experts in the field of early intervention and special education within our department.

Our central support team is here for you. Never hesitate to connect with us time in the good times and not so good times. Call on your case managers and administrators for the support you need. But also remember that we are here to assist you as well.

[ Slide of Family Support and Resource Center. ]

Family Support and Resource Center
Ann Scholz and Lisa Richer,, 410-313-7161

Please take a minute to jot down this contact information for our Family Support and Resource Center. You may contact our center staff and any of us whenever you find that you need additional support. They have resources that you can take advantage of like books, training, workshops, numbers for support groups, contacts with other organizations like Parents’ Place of Maryland, you name it. And they will be more than happy to share this information with you at any time.

[ Slide ‘Things to Remember.’ ]

  • Stay in direct communication with your case managers and service providers to talk through things that your child needs
  • Look for weekly emails from the Family Support and Resource Center
  • Check the HCPSS website for Frequently Asked Questions
  • Read the Parent Guides issued by the Maryland State Department of Education

To the extent possible, we will provide services and support. While we may not be able to do everything, it is our intention to constantly explore. There is an abundance of information out there that directs and guides us on what to do and working together is key.

So remember these things… talk through things with your case manager and service providers to problem solve directly. There may be solutions like coaching for you or other caregivers, setting up behavioral protocols supported with print resources, issuing certain tools or materials for home and even some equipment when it is safe to do so. Look for weekly emails from the Family Support and Resource Center. This is a space where we push out essential information for you. If you’ve not had a chance to see my last several parent notes to you, look for those. They include useful information. Also, check for frequently asked questions on the HCPSS Web site. We continue to update these as we can or we layer on additional things. So this is the place to find out about it. In addition to technical assistance bulletins on a variety of things, there are guidance documents specifically designed for parents to read that come out from the Maryland State Department of Education. If you have questions about any of this, please reach out to the Family Support and Resource Center.

[ Slide African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” ]

From last March until now, our community partners, the Howard County Autism Society and the Special Education Citizen’s Advisory Committee among countless other parents and field experts have joined us in reflective conversations, brainstorming circles, feedback sessions, one on one chats, focus groups and have served on different workgroups and advisories too like Superintendent Martirano’s Special Education Advisory. These collaborations helped us with planning this conference.

Surely, we could have made hasty decisions and taken quicker steps, but staying and moving together in these times has resulted in more deliberate, continuous improvements. I hope that much of what was, no question, necessary to do in these unusual times has now strengthened our approaches overall, and we will continue many of these things when we return to normal operations. I’m talking about things like getting the most out of technology, targeting professional interventions and the list goes on.

[ Slide: “We can do more together than we could ever do alone.” - Helen Keller ]

For the past few years now, I’ve lifted up some very simple commitments. These three things speak to them and if left to chance can lead to major problems. I find in my experience, that keeping the easy to remember C’s in mind along with tight guidance, useful tools, timely tips and more can help us ensure fidelity of the procedures and practices we want in place. This is what supports highly effective teaming.

  • Courteous - interacting with one another in a respectful, empathetic and supportive manner.
  • Compliant - adhering to federal and state mandates, local policy, consistently following procedures aligned with the law and state guidance.
  • Collaboration - really working toward the same common goal, student well-being and student learning; listening, giving, learning, leading to get results.

We are committed to the three C’s and we know that we are in this together. Our team, which includes you let’s not forget, can only be as strong as the relationship among its members. We value partnership before procedures the same as we value connections before content with our students. It matters and, if we want to stay in gear we must uphold these very simple commitments.

[ Slide: Teletherapy, Disproportionality, Coaching, Program Reviews, Reading Interventions, Paraeducator Training, Small Groups, Transition, Grants, Assessments, Materials Creation, Mentoring, Disability Awareness. ]

There are so many things to share related to the doubt, there are things to lift up about assessment site efforts as well as small group opportunities. There’s professional learning that is underway and so much more as you can see, but let me leave you with a little more detail about this…

[ Slide: Introducing Behavior Talks ]

Allow me to introduce Behavior Talks. This is a series of brief trainings being created by our staff. Each module is going to share useful tips to promote student success related to behavior, social/emotional needs, organization/self-management at home, and more. This was critical feedback from parents, the need for more training and support. The series will have five to seven minute videos and you move through them at your own pace. More information will be shared with you in the weeks ahead about how to access them.

Here are some of the topics:

  • Make a Schedule-Set a Routine
  • Give Feedback and Praise
  • Encourage Communication
  • Breakdown the Task
  • Model the Bahavior
  • Set a Goal
  • Be Flexible
  • Talk About the Behavior
  • Provide Choices

Available late October 2020

They are independent of each other so you don’t have to go in order and you choose what you need.

[ Dr. Terri Savage speaking directly via video. ]

Whew! That was a lot in a short period of time, but I wanted to devote just a little bit of time to bring greetings and share a few things with you in this virtual format.

Again, thanks to everybody who gave input for planning this conference. I want you to enjoy your sessions now and take a lot of notes. Please, please don’t forget to give us your honest feedback because we want to hear your voice. If you want to revisit the powerpoints or share them with somebody, they will be posted following the conference.

Expect an email after the conference inviting you to give us your ratings and comments. We want to continue doing these kinds of things for you and again we need to hear your voice.

Our leadership team and I will see you in the sessions.

Take care. Bye.