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A group of Riverside parents have formed a new Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to advocate for special and gifted education in the area. Right now the group which is calling itself SAGE (Special And Gifted Education) just has an executive board and no other official members, but they hope that will soon change, said Tim Lauger, the president of SAGE.
SAGE came into being last fall and is hoping to recruit members. It has been meeting monthly on the last Wednesday evening of the month at the Riverside Public Library.
Lauger envisions SAGE serving as a kind of liaison between parents and the school administrations. He hopes that SAGE will eventually move beyond Riverside Elementary School District 96 into other local school districts.
"Our goal is to position ourselves around the parents, the administration and the school board, starting with District 96 and District 208," Lauger said. "The longer-term strategy is to position ourselves even more broadly in districts 94 and 95. On paper we don't consider ourselves a District 96 organization. In practice, at the moment, more of our ties are there because we all have kids in District 96."
Other members of the SAGE board include Cindy Reynolds, Rory Dominick, Kathie Kunish, Joan Anderson, Kim Perry and Mary Schlesser.
Reynolds and Dominick have been outspoken in their criticism of special education in District 96.
Last year they asked the District 96 school board to create a special committee to review special education. The school board declined but decided to include special education in the district's curriculum review cycle next year.
Lauger is the father of a Blythe Park School first-grader who is not a special education student. Lauger's son became friends with Reynolds' son last year when they were both in kindergarten. After she got to know Lauger, Reynolds encouraged him to become part of the new group she and others were trying to form.
Reynolds liked that his child was not involved in special education, so he had no skin in the game, said Lauger.
"She felt that I could help ensure that the organization could be measured in the mission that it serves, which is still evolving," Lauger said. "Having someone in the organization who didn't have their own issue to champion or their own axe to grind would perhaps bring a more impartial perspective to it and make it more attractive to the people who might feel like they're just being fought against. An attempt at impartial advocacy would be our goal."
Lauger said that SAGE is not just a front organization for Reynolds and Dominick.
"I think they realize that they and other parents needed an advocate that was perhaps different from whatever they had displayed," Lauger said. "I would call them the inspiration of it, but I would call me and then the organization the result of it."
Last month Lauger met with District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson to introduce himself and discuss the organization.
"We had a really great conversation," Lamberson said.
Lauger said his conversation with Lamberson lasted for about two hours and that Lamberson was particularly interested in how the organization could relay issues that parents had to the District 96 administration.
"I think he's hopeful," Lauger said. "He wasn't skeptical certainly."
On Friday, Lauger is scheduled to meet with District 96 Director of Special Education and Assessment Mary Polk and Central School Principal Janice Limperis, who oversees gifted education in District 96.
Lauger hopes to meet soon with Riverside-Brookfield High School Principal Pamela Bylsma.
Right now, most of the board members of SAGE have more knowledge of special education than of gifted education. Lauger said he hopes new members can bring more expertise in gifted education to the organization.
"We're addressing the two margins," Lauger said.
District 96 school board President Mary Ellen Meindl said that she welcomes the new group.
"I think that any group that gets together that thinks out how they would like to work with the school district is a good thing," Meindl said. "Parents sharing resources and ideas is always a good thing. I don't view it as a negative. I view it as a positive."