Although Leslie Jeris describes herself as an "independent voice," she is also the voice of every parent who’s ever wanted the best education for her child.
Leslie, who has been an active member of SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association) in the Tarrytown school system for years, is now looking to become even more active by running for a position on Tarrytown’s school board.
One of Leslie’s biggest initiatives is the further development of special needs education in our schools. As a parent of a special needs child, Leslie sees the importance of developing a learning environment that can properly cater to children of various learning differences. The federal government requires that schools offer specialized instruction in the least restrictive environment to benefit children with special needs. "If a special education child remains in his or her home school district, that means at some point, most likely, the LRE (least restrictive environment) will be in a typical class, with typical peers, with some supports and services, i.e. sitting next to your typical learner," says Leslie.
In these "inclusion" classes the needs of all students have to be addressed. Students without learning disabilities, ESL students, and students of other various learning differences all need the proper amount of attention and instruction necessary while being in the same classroom. If a teacher is forced to focus on one particular student then the rest of the class may suffer, and a student could act up and become frustrated as a result. What makes this such an important issue is that special needs students aren’t necessarily students with obvious problems. "In this district, every class is an ‚Äòinclusion’ class, because of the diversity of our student population," says Leslie.
To make sure that each student is receiving the proper attention and instruction according to his or her learning abilities, teachers must be kept up to date on the newest teaching methods. Leslie states, "…our teachers are our greatest resource…let’s invest money into them to make them the best providers of education for our children." Unfortunately, many programs and courses offered to educators are unrealistic since they may require travelling a significant distance in order to take them. Besides working, taking care of families and other daily errands, teachers may not have the time to drive down to Manhattan or elsewhere, and give up hours of their time. Leslie proposes that teachers who can take these courses, or those who already have, in turn instruct other teachers who want to learn. That way more educators can be kept up to date on the latest teaching methods.
As a member of the School Board, Leslie hopes to put these initiatives into effect while working with the other board members, the PTA, and SEPTA. Currently, Leslie serves as an executive board member of Westchester Arc (a not-for-profit agency in Westchester that serves special needs individuals as well as their families). She also serves on the Children’s Services Committee and is a chairperson of their marketing and public relations committee. Leslie also works for the law offices of Frishman & Faber where she assists and advises families on the rights of children under federal and state special education laws.