The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has awarded the statewide Massachusetts Special Education Surrogate Parent (SESP) Program contract to Collaborative for Educational Services (CES), effective July 1, 2021. CES is a non-profit educational services agency located in Northampton, MA, committed to reaching and educating learners of all ages. CES works in the Pioneer Valley and across Massachusetts to create and improve educational opportunities both in and out of the classroom and ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Through a DESE grant, the SESP Program appoints trained volunteers to act as special education decision-makers for students who have no parent or legal guardian; and offers support and technical assistance to the volunteer, guidance as to the parameters of the legal decision making authority associated with the position, and comprehensive case management services to the students involved with the program. The mission of the Program is to promote positive educational outcomes for children and youth in state custody by providing volunteers to represent their best interests in the special education process.
Students eligible for the SESP Program typically reside in a variety of living situations that may include residential schools, group homes, hospitals or pediatric nursing homes, state institutions, diagnostic placements, and shelters. There are over 730 students throughout the state currently represented by a Special Education Surrogate Parent.
In addition, the SESP Program conducts outreach efforts to DCF offices and to school districts across the state by offering training and informational materials; acting as a resource for local school districts, school placements, state agencies, and other community providers on the eligibility criteria of the students it serves, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the SESP volunteers. The SESP Program works in partnership with the Massachusetts Federation for Children with Special Needs, which is responsible for volunteer recruitment, training and support.
Karen Reuter, CES Deputy Director, noted that the SESP Program aligns beautifully with the organization’s mission, philosophy, and beliefs.
“CES has long embodied a passionate and unflagging dedication to improving opportunities, access, and outcomes for children, youth, and families, with a focus on those who have been placed most at risk of failure or who have significant learning challenges. Through the Special Education Surrogate Parent Program, we are committed to continuing this important work to ensure that students in state custody, or without a parent or guardian available, will be afforded representation in the special education process.” While CES’ main offices are located in Northampton, Massachusetts, SESP Program work will remain statewide, and participating communities will be coordinated through the current office in Westborough. During this transition, the agency will strive to keep programs and services operating smoothly for students, youth, and families across Massachusetts. The SESP Program structure and staffing will remain largely the same and the partnership with the Federation for the Children with Special Needs’ “Recruitment, Training, and Support Center” (RTSC) will continue. All current SESP assignments to students will remain in effect, with the same SESP Program case coordinator providing case management services.
The CES Program Director for the SESP Program will be Megan Ronzio. Megan has been with the Massachusetts SESP Program since 2004, beginning as a Case Coordinator, and then moving to the role of Program Director in 2012.
Megan said about the transition, “I am looking forward to becoming part of CES, and am pleased that their mission and organizational values so closely align with those of the SESP Program.” For any questions about the transition process or the program in general, please visit the SESP Program website at www.sespprogram.org or contact Megan Ronzio at 617-953-5825 or firstname.lastname@example.org