La Cañada Unified School District is in the process of examining the way it provides special education resources for more than 400 students, and wants to hear what parents have to say.

In an open meeting held Thursday, April 24, the district invited parents of special education students to give their input on services provided and share their experiences navigating those services. The idea, said consultant Bob Farran, was to find out what could be improved upon and how.

"Our goal here is to listen and to learn, to get some input and to help the district refine their approach," Farran addressed the small crowd of parents. "It's of very great interest to hear from families how things are going."

Farran identified six areas of on which La Cañada Unified hoped to focus discussion, from interaction with staff to inclusion of their children in extracurricular activities. Parents spoke openly about past frustrations and successes with the system, and about their hopes for the future.

No one was asked to identify themselves, and names were not taken by Farran, who explained his intention to use parent feedback in a larger report to the district.

"We can't learn until we know what's good, bad and indifferent," he told them.

Dr. Tamara Jackson, director of special education, said the meeting and Farran's report are part of a review process the district is undertaking as it looks at next year's teacher training and prepares to implement new Common Core standards.

LCUSD completed a special education self-review through the California Department of Education in the 2011-12 school year and will do so again in 2015-16, she added.

"The district is committed to looking at indicators that would give us insights as to how best serve children and families with disabilities given the significant levels of mandates and chronic state and federal level underfunding of these programs," Jackson said. "Parent, as well as teacher and administrative input is always part of the process."

Parents in attendance spoke frankly about the program's bright spots — from helpful individuals to academic quality — as well as areas that could be improved, primarily in the Individualized Education Plan process, which establishes a student's learning plan.

Diana Speight, who moved to La Cañada in January from Florida, shared her satisfaction with LCUSD's programming and its effect on her 9-year-old son, Kyle.

"This is like I'm getting a private school education," she said. "He's doing so well; he's talking more."

She said she hoped to form a support group, where parents could share their experiences with others for the benefit of all.

Mary Blencowe, a mother who's interacted with the district's special education program for the past 13 years, said this was the first time she recalled parents being invited to share their experiences in a public forum.

"I think this is good," Blencowe said. "I'm glad the district is soliciting information to improve the process, because it will only benefit our kids — that's the bottom line in all of this."

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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