Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Holiday Season

Hopefully everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. My family and I were lucky enough to be able to fly out of Syracuse during the snow to spend the holiday with my parents; in
sunny Florida! I must say it was wonderful to leave the snow and enjoy the sunshine one last time before winter. I love the way the snow looks, but really could do without the cold temperatures it brings. And now its December and on to the holiday season; this year is flying right by!!

Special Education PSTA Speaker
On December 8, Dean Tzivanis will be at the West Genesee Special Education PTSA meeting presenting information about a couple of programs Onondaga Community College (OCC) offers for students with disabilities who are planning to attend college. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and is held in the high school library. In my first blog this year I described them so please feel free to look back for details but here is a quick synopsis:

The Onondaga Pathways to Careers program at OCC aims to provide support and remove barriers for students with disabilities interested in specific technology majors at OCC. The goal is to assist students with disabilities gain the necessary academic and non-academic credentials/skills to obtain a living wage job in the CNY region.

In addition, OCC has begun the OPC Scholars Program, which provides high school seniors with disabilities an opportunity to engage in post-secondary education planning, career exploration, and learning about the different resources available to college students with disabilities.  

Both programs are relatively new at OCC, and there is optimism that this program has all the elements needed to help students with disabilities succeed in college, and in the workforce.

These are opportunities for every student who is not on track to receive a regents Diploma 
and interested in pursuing a higher education after leaving West Genesee High School.

Sports Opportunity
I had a parent share with me a wonderful sounding opportunity for students who may be interested in tennis. ACEing Autism is an organization that was founded in 2008 in Boston, MA. They have expanded to a number of cities and offer services and programs for students with autism across the country. To learn more about  ACEing Autism, click here. 

They will be holding a tennis program at Drumlins that runs January through February. Here is the link for more information on this program: Tennis at Drumlins.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Upcoming Training Opportunities

I wanted to pass on some information regarding an upcoming training.

Training for Parent Members of CSE                                  

As many of you know, there have been changes in the mandated members in a CSE meetings per NYS regulations. In the past, school districts were mandated to have a parent member sit in on CSE meetings. This parent was someone who lives in  the district and has a child with a disability who could provide support for a parent who's child was being discussed at CSE. A few years ago, the regulations changed and a parent member is no longer required.

This being said, parents can choose to ask for a parent member to join a meeting. Due to many more of our parents working or families who's students have now graduated, we have very few folks in district who are parent members. Syracuse University Parent Assistance Center (SUPAC) is offering a free training for any parent who may want to become a parent member. They are offering this training on November 29 for free. If anyone is interested, please let me know as I will need to register you.  Here are the details:


Tuesday, November 29, 2016
9:30 AM-1:00 PM

Mid-State RSE-TASC Region 6
110 Elwood Davis Rd, Owasco Room
Liverpool, NY 13088

Presented by:
Erica Morat, Regional Special Education Training Specialist
Mid-State Special Education Technical Assistance Support Centers (RSE-TASC)

Kristine O’Brien, Parent Outreach Specialist
Syracuse University Parent Assistance Center (SUPAC)
The Mid-State Special Education Technical Assistance Parent Center

The Syracuse University Parent Assistance Center (SUPAC) in collaboration with the Mid-State and Central Regional Special Education Technical Assistance Support Centers (RSE-TASC) provides this NYSED vetted training. This three and a half hour training is designed to certify individuals to become a CPSE/CSE Parent Member while ensuring that all members of the CPSE/CSE team work together effectively. The target audience is current or soon-to-be parent members of the CPSE/CSE. It is designed to assist all parent members of the CPSE/CSE in building their base of knowledge about the Committee process and to fulfill their role on the Committee as defined by New York State regulations. Participants will learn the steps of the special education process, basic vocabulary, laws, and regulations pertaining to students with disabilities and understand a child's special education rights.  ­­­As mentioned, this training is designed for those parents looking to fulfill the education requirement to become a CPSE/CSE Parent Member; however, all parents wanting to learn more about the special education process are encouraged to attend. Participants who are planning to be CPSE/CSE Parent Members will receive a certificate to share with their School District.

This Parent Member session will also be streamed live. **Only school district personnel can register parents for this online session.**

To register parents for the webinar, please email names and email addresses of your parents to Kristine O’Brien at no later than November 21, 2016.

Chairs are encouraged to attend with a Parent Member. This is a free training; however, registration is required! Space is limited!  To register, go to: or register by phone at 315- 443-4336 or toll free 877-824-9555.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Fall Update

Well it certainly feels like fall these days! It's hard to believe that October is almost over. Though I really love the changing colors of fall, I am not quite ready for the cold and snow yet. Since the colder months are coming, I wanted to share with you some upcoming things families could take advantage of.

New Way to Plan for the Future

I just recently read about a new savings plan for parents of students with disabilities. It is set up in a similar fashion to the 529 account parents set up for saving for college, but is called a 529 ABLE savings account. Here is the link to find out more about it: 529 ABLE savings account.

West Genesee Special Education PTSA

I attended the West Genesee Special Education PTSA meeting this week. This group runs in similar fashion to a school PTA. They plan events and opportunities for students with disabilities and their families to participate in that accommodate students' special needs. Click here for their brochure with their meeting dates and contact information.

They have a few events planned so far this year. They go bowling, plan to have a Bowl-a-thon in the spring do sensory friendly events, will be having a resource fair later this year, and have planned a family picnic in June.

Upcoming Events

Saturday November 5, the group will be doing a Nature Walk at Orenda Springs from 1:00-3:00 p.m.. Orenda Springs is located on 4939 Lawless Rd, Marcellus.

The have a series of bowling events planned as well. They will be bowling at the Solvay Recreational Lanes on the second Sunday of the month beginning November 1 . These bowling days will start at 12;00 p.m.  The Special Education PTSA will underwrite the fee for shoe rental and 2 games for children under age 16; the cost for all others is $10 each. Drinks and snacks will be provided. Solvay Lanes is located at 1737 Milton Ave, Solvay. They can accommodate all levels of bowling and are equipped with a  bowling ramp for those who need it. 

If you would like to participate in either of these events, please email the group at so they can plan for you to attend.

I have also learned about a Sensory Friendly Jump at Sky Zone through the Special Education PTSA. On Sunday mornings at SKY Zone, 3179 Erie Blvd. East, Syracuse they have sensory friendly Jump Time from 9:00-11:00 a.m., where they turn down the sound and lights, but not the fun! The cost is $9.99 in advance and $13.99 at the door.I hope everyone has a wonderful fall; hopefully the snow will hold of just a bit longer! 


Monday, September 26, 2016

Feels Like Fall

Well, with the chill in the air the past few nights it certainly feels like fall is here, it won't be long before the leaves are falling too. I love the changing colors of the trees.

We are off to a great start this year. Darlene and I have been around to the buildings and our students and staff are all working hard already.

As a Director of Special Education, my focus is truly on helping our students with special needs receive the education they need to be successful when they graduate. That being said, there is more to helping our students and families meet their children's special needs than just at school. From time to time we get information about events in the community that are specially designed for people with disabilities. I would like to try to share as many of these as I can, so please feel free to email me if you hear of any that I can share.

Mary Poppins
One of our physical therapists saw an article on sharing that Syracuse Stage will be doing a "sensory-friendly" performance of Mary Poppins in January. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity for a family outing!

As luck would have it, our high school is also doing Mary Poppins this year in February as well. So for all you who grew up watching Mary Poppins like I did, there will be multiple opportunities to see it this winter.

Explaining CSE
I had the opportunity to do a presentation to our Board of Education last week about how CSE and CPSE work. As you know, after we do CSE meetings the Board of Education approves services for students based on the outcome of meetings. This is done anonymously; no names are on the documents. It was helpful for them to have an understanding of what goes on in our meetings as most of them have never attended one. They had great questions and were very appreciative of the information shared.

I also just wanted to remind everyone that we will now be doing all of our annual review meetings in the spring. That is, with the exception of graduating Seniors. Their meetings will be held in December to allow for them to plan for after graduation in June.

Have a wonderful week

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Welcome Back!! 
Wow, its hard to believe that summer is over and a new school year has begun! The weather certainly felt like summer this year. I prefer summer to winter, so I enjoyed every minute I could get outdoors. I hope we get to enjoy the sunshine and warmth a little longer. For all the new families in our district, Welcome to West Genesee. As we start off the school, I just wanted to pass along some updates and information.

New Staff
I am excited to share that we have a number of new staff members in our department. In our office, Rachel Gillett is our new CPSE secretary. She also handles paperwork for our non-public students and students placed in programs out of the district. As many of you know, our office is a busy place and she is adjusting to us well.

We also have a few new Special Education teachers and teaching assistants in many of the schools. I am sure you will hear from your child's teachers if you haven't already and will have the opportunity to meet them when you attend Open Houses in the next few weeks.

Beyond High School
I know the school year is just beginning, but for those of you who have students who are getting towards the end of their school career with us here at West Genesee, it's never to early to start thinking ahead. I have been in contact with Dean Tzivanis at OCC who is part of a new program called Onondaga Pathways to Careers. I will be meeting with Dean in the near future to get even more information and will be sharing it with staff at the high school.

Onondaga Pathways to Career (OPC) is a new program at OCC which aims to provide support and remove barriers for students with disabilities interested in specific technology majors at OCC.  OPC provides individualized academic supports, career planning, and self-advocacy training for students who wish to earn an Associate’s Degree in Mechanical Technology, Health Information Technology, Electronic Media Communications, Computer Information Systems, Computer Science, Computer Forensics  or Electrical Technology, or a one-year certificate in Advanced Manufacturing. Our local economy is seeing high growth among companies in need of skilled workers with these credentials.

The ultimate goal of the program is to help students will disabilities (IEPS, 504, and other documented disabilities) obtain the necessary skills and credentials to gain employment in a high growth field, or transfer to a four-year college/university.

Darlene and I are eager to get out to all the buildings and see the smiling faces; we are pretty sure they will be smiling at the elementary level. The middle and high school students may be looking a little more tired as they readjust their sleep schedules!

If you are new to the district, welcome. For everyone else, please feel free too contact our office if we can help in any way.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer is Really Here!

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer; it definitely feels like summer right now! This is a summer that I am really glad we have a pool to cool off in.

We are working to get things ready in our office for September. I wanted to share a few updates with you.

Celebrating our Graduates!
As I mentioned in my last blog, one of the most rewarding days for me each year is graduation. I wanted to share with you our graduates accomplishments this year. 

We had 36 students with IEPs graduate this year and we are proud of each and every one. The following is their accomplishments:

  • Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation- 1 student
  • Regents Diploma- 15 students
  • Local Diploma- 12 students
  • CDOS Credential- 3 students
  • Skills &Achievement Credential- 2 students

Office Changes
Our summer office hours are 7:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. We will return to our usual hours of 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. in September.

Our office is losing one of our secretaries. Lisa DeSantis, who has been our CPSE secretary, is moving to the district office to be Brian Kesel's secretary as his is retiring. We will certainly miss her here!

Parent Information
Each year we mail out a copy of the Procedural Safeguard Notice which informs families of their rights under NYS Special Education Regulations. You will be receiving this notification, which was recently updated, this summer. It is on our website and can be also be accessed by clicking here.

Enjoy the summer with family and friends, stay cool, and we will see you in September!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

School Year Wrap-Up

Hopefully everyone was able to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. I would especially like to thank all of our Veterans for their service to our country.  I make a trip to the Veteran's cemetery each year to see all the flags of our local fallen heroes and visit the grave of my father-in-law who was a WWII Veteran. It is a humbling sight to see.

Special Olympics
The Special Olympics was a fun day as always. Our students had a great day and had so much fun! I think I saw just about everyone one of our students, whether in our school programs or BOCES programs, and they all had HUGE smiles on their faces! The kickoff parade was such a great start to the day; they were all so excited. We had students try events that were challenging, like the 400 meter race (believe me, that is pretty long!) and other events that were fun like the softball throw.


Its hard to believe that this school year is coming to an end, it certainly has flown by! Our WGHS graduation is on June 18 and will include many students who have worked through academic challenges to earn their diploma as well. We are very proud of all of our graduates as they complete high school and move on to college, the military or join the work force.

I am excited to attend a graduation ceremony on June 9 for our students who have completed their diplomas through BOCES. It's one of my favorite events, and I haven't missed one yet. It's a great feeling to see some of our students who have overcome huge obstacles, socially, emotionally and academically, as they complete their education with a wonderful personalized ceremony. To see see the pride on their families's faces, as well as all the students, is priceless.

Summer Activities
And as we wrap-up the year, there are always more activities for our students to partake in. I want to share just a few more links with ideas for things to do if you are still looking.

The LDA has two summer programs that I have heard good things about from parents. One is the SAIL program for students ages. Students can spend their day doing activities in the areas of art, math, technology, reading, music, study skills and social awareness. Here is the link for more information, click here.

The other program, Leaning Without Boarders, is for teens and it gives them the opportunity to enjoy real-life learning experiences. Click here for more information.

Enjoy your summer!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Goes on Outside of School.....

With the school year quickly wrapping up, I wanted to share with you some of the things that go on outside our schools that our students participate in. There are many opportunities for our students to participate in activities that are not school related; and are also fun!


37359I learned of Team IMPACT through a family in our District, the McIntyres. Team Impact is a program that Syracuse University participates in. It is a non-profit chartered to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team.

Team IMPACT children are drafted onto college athletic teams and are a part of the team from Draft Day through to Graduation. The child joins the athletic team and the student athletes join the child's support team. Molly McIntyre, a 5th grade student at Stonehedge, was drafted by the Syracuse University Women's Hockey team this year as part of the program. Not only has Molly been able to be part of the hockey team, members of the team have also come to see Molly at a school concert she was in this spring. To see Molly's draft day and learn more about the program click here.

Double H Ranch
Another program for students with life-threatening diseases is the Double H Ranch.  This program provides year round opportunities for students and their families free of charge through camps and activities in the Adirondacks. They have summer camps, sibling camps, a winter program and a variety of other opportunities available.  Click here for more information.

Special Olympics
I would be remiss not to mention one of the highlights of the year for many of our students...... the Special Olympics!  This year the Special Olympics is on May 19th at CNS High School.  If you have not attended before its a wonderful opportunity to see our students participating in events that they love.  They have a great time every year- and I guarantee you will enjoy it the entire time you are there.  Every face has a smile on it- from athletes, to parents and all the volunteers.  Its something everyone should experience at least once!

More Opportunities to Get Out and Moving
There are also a variety of athletic opportunities set up to meet the needs of students with disabilities and give them the opportunity to participate on a team.  Challenger Baseball is one of the first team sports that comes to mind.  This program continues to grow and has recently been building a new field, named Field of Dreams in East Syracuse.  For more information on Challenger Baseball, click here.

If you are more of a soccer fan (and I have to admit I am a huge soccer fan) there is the Just for Kicks Soccer program at the Ultimate Goal in Marcellus.  This is a  developmental soccer program for children with disabilities ages 3-21.  For more information call 673-4625 or visit

Champions for Life Sports Center offers gymnastics, tennis, karate, fitness center, dance studio, indoor golf and soccer - regular and power wheel chairs are welcome. Integrated and 1:1 programs for ages 3 and up. Scholarships available for individuals with disabilities, this is a year-round center.  They are located at 453 Grant Ave, Auburn.  For more information call 252-9305 or go to

Or if sports are not your thing there is ARISE at the Farm where there are day camps and activities throughout the year .  They have a fishing pond, walking/cycling path, petting zoo, picnic area, a universally-designed ropes challenge course and adaptive & therapeutic horseback riding.  For more information go to

If horses are your thing you can check out ASTRIDE.  This is a recreational horseback riding program for people with disabilities.  They have two riding locations: Tanglewood Farm in LaFayette and Smoke Tree Farm in Lysander.  Click on ASTRIDE to get more information on their programs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's Happening at our Middle Schools

We have had some interesting projects happen at our middle schools in the last few months.

 Images are Powerful:At CMS, students in Mrs Philippone's class wrote essays using pictures of Syrian refugees entitled "Images Are Powerful". The students learned about the Syrian refugees through studying current events. They then chose a picture that they felt was a powerful image of a Syrian refugee and wrote an essay about what they thought was happening in the picture.

They used the knowledge they had gained from learning about the refugees as well as their own thoughts about what was happening. I was able to hear the students read their essay while they showed the pictures.  They did a terrific job sharing their essays- they were very well written!

SeaPerch Project: Students at WGMS just had their SeaPerch Launch and competition on April 21. The SeaPerch program was created by MIT with help from the Office of Naval Research.

The goal of the program is to give students hands-on experience with building robotic units and to encourage more students to go to college programs that include engineering and technical programs. For this Project Based Learning Unit, the students worked in teams to build underwater robotic units under the guidance of Mrs. Rice and Mr. Troendle.

The project culminated with a competition at the high school pool where the students had to guide their robots through a variety of tasks underwater.

To watch a video of the creation and competition please click here for the Seaperch Video.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Special Education Update

Kindergarten Registration has been extended until March 25
Just a quick reminder to register your child for Kindergarten if they are aging out of preschool services- even if you do not plan to send your child to Kindergarten in the fall. If they will continue to qualify for services, you will need to have your child registered in order to receive their services. Click here for registration information.

Early Literacy is Key to Success in School
There are so many benefits to reading to your child starting at a young age. It increases their vocabulary, ability to sit and attend and the biggest benefit in my eyes is the quality time to sit and give your child your undivided attention- even if for only 10 minutes; those are the times I miss now that my own children are grown.Trying to find a variety of books your child will enjoy can be a challenge, though our public libraries have a vast collection that you can take advantage of.

IL_splash_logoAnother source of books is the Literacy Coalition. They partner with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to provide free books to children from birth to age 5. You can register your child to receive a free book int he mail every month until their 5th birthday. Click here to sign your child up for this wonderful program.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions that you may have or you may contact our CPSE chairperson, Chrissy Smith, at 315-487-4662 and Darlene Chapin who oversees all of our elementary school programming at 315-487-4698.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

CPSE Students Getting Ready for Kindergarten

CPSE Students Getting Ready for Kindergarten

The Transition Process:
It's a big step for all children to head off to Kindergarten, but it can be a little more stressful for parents of students with disabilities. If your child is aging out of preschool services, you should have received a letter from our office informing you of the transition process.

At your child's annual review this year, there will be discussion as to if he/she will continue to qualify for special education services as they enter Kindergarten. If your child does still qualify, the types of services and supports will be decided and a new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for next year will be written for next school year.  These annual reviews will take place at the elementary school your child will be attending in the fall and there will be staff form the school there for you to meet.

Kindergarten Registration:
We also wanted to remind you that you will need to register your child for Kindergarten even if they are receiving special education services through CPSE.

Click here for appointment
If you have not yet registered your child for Kindergarten, registration is going on through March 4, 2016.  Please make your appointment to register with the Registrar's office by going to the registration link on the West Genesee home page, or by clicking here.

If you have any questions about your child's transition to Kindergarten, please feel free to call my office and speak to Darlene Chapin who works with all the elementary schools or myself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

State Assessment Update:

As you are all aware, New York State Assessments for students in grades 3-8 in ELA and Math will be coming up in April this year. These assessments are just a small piece of information on how your student is performing as we look at many types of information to gauge progress and needs.

We have recently received a memo to explain some changes in the testing beginning this year. There are three changes they are implementing for this year's tests.

  • First, educators will be more involved in the test development process. As of this fall, more educators have been involved in creating and reviewing the assessments.  
  • Second, there will be a decrease in the length of the assessments by having fewer test questions.  
  • Third, there will be a change with a shift to untimed testing. This will mean that students will have the time they need to work though the assessments.

Our students with disabilities who have testing accommodations on their IEPs will continue to use them as they currently do as these changes will not impact accommodations.

Click here to read the full memo.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Special Education Resources

Winter doesn't seem to be able to make up it's mind here in CNY this year, does it?  Last week we were battling the snow and this week its rain; I guess that's the beauty of where we live.

As you know, our District held a Community Forum on Substance Abuse last week which was well received.  Going along with the theme of community resources, I thought this would be a good month to share some information and links to resources available in our area for families and students with special needs.

Resources for Students and Families
One of the best resources out there is the Resource Manual put together yearly by Exceptional Family Resources.  This manual has a wealth of information regarding a wide variety of resource information on topics such as behavior supports, counseling, recreational activities, family supports and Medicaid to name a few. 

This manual is available electronically by clicking here.  I have highlighted just a few of the topics you will find in the resource manual.

Medicaid Support
Medicaid Services  is an area that we get many questions about. Students with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or severe intellectual disabilities are often eligible. Student's that are considered Medicaid Eligible are assigned a Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC) who helps the family determine what supports they are eligible to access and how to secure those supports.  

Some examples of these supports are respite for caregivers, nursing services for medically involved students, additional therapies at home for students with multiple needs. For more information about this process contact the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) at or our local Front Door at Central New York Developmental Disabilities Regional Office (CNYDDRO)315-793-9600.  There is more information on page 3 of the manual.

Social and Recreation Options
There are also a number of agencies and organizations that offer recreational opportunities for our special needs students. The MOST has "Sensory Days" where they keep sensory stimulation at a minimum for students who have sensory delays.  

There are activities such as horseback riding, sports designed specially for our students such as the Challenger baseball and Just for Kicks Soccer and even Friday Night Dances. These activities are all listed starting on page 36.

We know that there is a need for more support in our area in the form of counseling and other services for students with behavioral and mental health needs. This manual also has a section on counseling and mental health supports on page 17-18.  

In addition to using this reference, please feel free to contact your student's school counselor or psychologist as they also have contacts in the community they can refer you to.  

For students with significant behavior and emotional challenges at home, there is a program called ACCESS designed to support families based on a family referral. . You can view their website at or you can contact them 24 hours a day at at 315-463-1100 .

As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions we can help with.