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NJCEC Adovcacy Updates

An Example of New Jersey Strong Teamwork At Its Best (For August 2020 Newsletter)

NJCEC is committed to advocacy work and more. Stay Tuned Here to read updates from the NJCEC Advocacy Team

What can happen when you have several persons from various parts of New Jersey, of various ages, and various backgrounds with the same passion?  The answer is that when there is motivation and curiosity, “pure magic” is possible.  After attending the CEC SELS this year, a group in New Jersey was formed to “virtually lobby” to Capitol Hill for the efforts outlined on behalf of educators, students, parents, and districts in New Jersey.  CEC provided the background information, and this group was formed to create a presentation and speak on numerous appointments to various legislators and legislative staffers.


The interesting aspect of this group from New Jersey was that few had much prior contact with others in the group, before undertaking this project.  All members came from backgrounds that varied from elementary special education to higher education and consulting.  Since the synergy was so positive, the purpose of this article is to show how those with varied backgrounds and experiences can easily come together (even with no face-to-face meeting) when they all have a common purpose.  It is anticipated that this New Jersey CEC Advocacy Group will continue to produce other future successful endeavors.  All members agreed that it was a pleasure to work together and we look forward to future projects.


The members of the New Jersey group are:  Dr. Julie Norflus - Good, Dr. Danielle Kovach, Ms. Mary Ann Cahill, Dr. Elizabeth Harkins, Dr. Elizabeth Finnegan, Ms. Rebecca Muller, and Ms. Candace Stout.  To give a perspective on the varied backgrounds and perspectives, here is a brief biography of each of the presenters with their reasons for being involved with advocating at this time.


Dr. Julie Norflus – Good has held positions in K-12 education through and including higher education as well as a prior Director of Professional Development and Private Consultant for large educational publishing companies.  In the K-12 educational environment, Dr. Norflus – Good has held positions such as:  general and special education teacher, language coordinator, teacher trainer, child study team director, and director of pupil personnel services.  She presently directs the Master in Special Education program (MASE) which she designed at Ramapo College.  In addition to directing the program, Dr. Norflus-Good mentors students, teaches undergraduate and graduate classes, supervises students, and assists with student research projects.  At Ramapo College, Dr. Norfluss-Good is a member of Graduate Council, Office of Specialized Services (OSS) and other college-wise committees.


She earned her Ed.D. and MEd in Administration and Supervision from Columbia University, Teachers College, her M.A. in Special Education from Columbia University, Teachers College and her B.A. in Elementary Education and Studio Art from Hunter College, CUNY.  She has worked in New York City, New York State, and New Jersey.


Dr. Norflus-Good is called on for her expertise and is a member of various New Jersey Department of Education committees and task forces.  She is a Member of the New Jersey Department Office of Special Education Stakeholders Advisory Group, Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Advisory Committee SGTEAC, working with Office of School Preparedness and Emergency, Perking V Stakeholder Engagement Task Force, Member of the New Jersey School Health and Climate Coalition (NJSHADD).  Dr. Norflus-Good is also a member of the Association of Math Teachers for New Jersey and serves as the Special Education Liaison.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

Dr. Norflus-Good is the President of the New Jersey Council for Exceptional Children, CAAN Coordinator, Conference Coordinator, and Representative Assembly member.  In addition, she has worked with the Pioneers Division to complete research on the State of the Profession in Special Education.


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Dr.Norflus-Good is passionate about the state of the profession in special education, which was addressed in the presentation.  Also, she indicated that she has concerns about the other areas covered that included student’s social and emotional well-being and social justice.

Dr. Danielle Kovach is a third-grade special education teacher at Tulsa Trail School in Lake Hopatcong and an adjunct professor for special education at Centenary University in New Jersey.  Knowing she wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl, she began her teaching career in 1997 and has taught general and special education in all settings.  Danielle was named the 2011 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, and in 2012, she was awarded a national teaching title, the National Education Association Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence.  She was also recognized as the 2014 Council for Exceptional Children Teacher of the Year.  Dr. Kovach currently serves on the board of directors for CEC.  This group is very honored that Dr. Kovach has been voted as the new President for CEC, an honor which she has worked for and certainly deserves.


Danielle’s role as a special educator taught her how to praise the process, challenge the impossible, and celebrate the victories. Those experiences inspired her to advocate for children with exceptionalities and to support the educators who serve them.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

As a CEC member, she is proud to be a part of an organization that promotes the success of students and youth with exceptionalities. This past week, lobbying on Capitol Hill was a testament to that mission. 


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Dr. Kovach stated, “Having the opportunity to discuss the challenges of teaching during a national pandemic brought awareness to the difficulties teachers across our state faced and will continue to encounter. I am confident that we have made an impact on a federal level and that Congress will support education in our state.”

Throughout her career in education, Ms. Mary Ann Cahill has promoted and provided academic instruction and support mostly to those in need.  Ms. Cahill is currently a special and general education teacher with the Union County Educational Services Commission and teaches at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Programs at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Through her work with students in grades kindergarten through college, she has always focused on the whole child and builds on each student’s strengths.  Ms. Cahill received the Teacher of the Year award in 2012 from Union County Superintendent’s Roundtable.  Ms. Cahill considers herself to be a lifelong learner and is a graduate of NJEXCEL through which she obtained her New Jersey certifications in administration.  In addition to helping her students achieve their best academically, while developing their emotional well-being, she thrives on collaborating with others while accomplishing educational goals. 


Ms. Cahill has held different roles on many district level committees including her past position as Chairperson of the Local Professional Development Committee. 


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

According to Ms. Cahill, being a member of the CEC enabled her to have her first experience with the Special Education Legislative Summit (SELS) when she was the State Team Leader in 2016 in Washington D.C.  She stated that she was very excited to once again participate in SELS this year to experience the rewards of advocating for children and youth with exceptionalities especially in the area of mental health.


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Ms. Cahill stated that she hoped to create a lasting impact and realization of the immediate need for funding and support required for necessary partnerships to provide services which range from prevention to trauma-informed interventions using a well-coordinated multi-tiered system of support.  As an advocate, Ms. Cahill was proud to support the SELS team’s efforts to amplify to elected officials the importance of addressing the mental health needs of the whole child which will directly impact our society going forward.


Dr. Harkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education, Professional Counseling, and Disability Studies at William Patterson University.  She is the current Program Director of the Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities Advanced Masters Program.  Dr. Harkins has extensive experience serving students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in a variety of settings.  Prior to entering academia, she worked as a special education administrator, classroom teacher, and family advocate.  Dr. Harkins’ scholarly interests focus on social justice and educational excellence for all students.  Some of her recent publications include manuscripts that examine the impacts of social and emotional health, comprehensive sexuality education, gender, race, and sexuality injustices for individuals with AASD and I/DD; and intersectional pedagogy.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

Dr. Harkins stated that CEC has offered her a place to make connections, learn from professionals in the field, and advocate for children with disabilities.  She noted that CEC is her professional “home.”


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Dr. Harkin’s part for SELS was based upon her passion about advocating for children with disabilities, especially for those who face multiple, overlapping oppressions.  She said that she strongly believes that cultural reciprocity must be infused into all of our work with students, which was her SELS focus.

Elizabeth Finnegan started working in special education in 1998, first as a teaching assistant and then as a classroom teacher.  She also worked in Early Intervention for a number of years.  Since 2009, she has worked in Higher Education teaching special education courses to prospective teachers.  Dr. Finnegan has also published research articles related to literacy for students with autism and/or intellectual disabilities.  Currently, Dr. Finnegan is a Professor of Education and the Director of Graduate Education, School of Education at St. Thomas Acquinas College.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

Dr. Finnegan stated that she is a long-term member of CEC and has attended state conferences in NJ, NY, and PA.  Dr. Finnegan has presented at conferences for CEC national, TED, and DADD.  She noted “CEC has ensured that all students including those with exceptional learning needs receive a meaningful education which will prepare them for life. “


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Dr. Finnegan stated, “I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in NJ SELS.  Although my part in the presentation was small,  it highlighted the need to appropriate more funding for special education. “

Ms. Rebecca Muller stated that her dedication to exceptional learners started in elementary school when she was a “special friend” to the mainstream class.  Ms. Muller’s career started as a school district liaison for students, families, and school districts to transition students from home as their least restrictive environment back to the school setting.  Some were students on the autism spectrum and others were from other countries dealing with reactive detachment disorders.  Ms. Muller’s teaching experience has included 4th grade at a community school near Washington DC, piloting a new mathematics program to increase effective mathematics instruction.  Now, in New Jersey, Ms. Muller has been teaching 7th grade as a language arts and mathematics resource teacher, and has directed a school musical, creating an inclusive environment.  In addition, Ms. Muller is teaching high school geometry and algebra.  Ms. Muller stated that these experiences drove her desire to advocate for special education students. 


She earned her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Rowan University and Certification in Educational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.  Ms. Muller’s senior thesis was “World Autism Awareness Day and Its Educational Challenges.”  This work gave Ms. Muller the opportunity to present alongside Global Education Motivators as a Representative to the United Nations to conduct the first international video conference for teachers on the subject of autism.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

Ms. Muller stated that Council for Exceptional Children has been a wonderful hub for connecting with passionate professionals.  While Ms. Muller had been involved with the International Special Education committee, she has since become more involved in her local CEC group.


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Ms. Muller chose to discuss teacher shortages for the SEL presentation because this is an area that has impacted her greatly.  Ms. Muller stated that there need to be more special education teachers, “because special education philosophies are simply best practice teaching that benefits all students.”  She further noted that experiences with the neediest students and their families allow special education teachers to bring practical experience that is essential to building relationships with their students.  According to Ms. Muller, “relationships are the foundation for all strong teaching and the special educator knows this better than most because the success of our students is dependent on it.”

Before embarking upon a career in education, Ms. Stout worked her way up the ladder through various corporate assignments as an information technology officer in the financial services and healthcare industries for organizations such as Mitsui, Citibank, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  At Citibank in New York, she was Assistant Vice-President managing Information Technology for the Corporate Realty Group, Northeast Region.  While living and working in New York City she earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration at New York University.  A few years back, Ms. Stout changed careers to do something she always longed to do, namely dedicate herself to education for special needs children.  She attended William Paterson University and received a Teacher of the Handicapped Certification, followed by a Certification as an LDTC (Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant) – also known as an Educational Evaluator.  In the education field, Ms. Stout has held positions in private, charter, and public school districts as:  special education teacher, transition coordinator, LDTC (Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant), director of special services, and school principal.  In addition she had a small private practice administering vocational and educational evaluations for students and adults with disabilities for clients in multiple states.  In the past, Ms. Stout has presented on special education transition services at conferences such as NJAPSE and LDANJ.  Also, she received the Turnaround Leadership Award for the Northern Region from the New Jersey Department of Education.


What has CEC meant to her as an organization?

Ms. Stout is a CEC member, and she is honored to be a part of an organization that advocates for youth with special needs.  Advocacy is important to her as she has directed and gained funding for self advocacy speaker’s bureaus for high school students in public school districts.  Ms. Stout noted she plans to be getting more active in this vital organization and enjoyed co-presenting and lobbying virtually on Capitol Hill with her new colleagues. 


What was she passionate about to contribute to the presentation?

Ms. Stout discussed the increased social and emotional needs to be addressed with further concerns as a result of the national pandemic crisis.  The crisis will also be facing all educators as they are trying to address the increased stress placed on the needs of the students, (with more tension reaching classified student’s needs).  She stated, “it is key to note that special education educators and advocates face looming challenges with increased funding needs in the year ahead to address learning and social / emotional concerns”.


In conclusion, when you have a group of passionate advocates who have a vivid curiosity to search for truth and who care about special education students, educators, parents, and districts, true magic can happen.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

Last Updated:  3 March, 2021

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