HARVARD -- John Mara sat in front of parents at a public hearing and told them he was there to become the next special education director.
"I feel I bring a lot to the table," Mara said during the May 12 public hearing held to help choose the new special education director for the district. "I'm a parent of a former special education child, so I know what it's like to be a parent on the other side of the table."
There needs to be a partnership with administration and parents, he said.
"You're the expert of your child," he said. "I'm the expert of how the education is supposed to work. This needs to be a relationship."
As the former director of special education in Ayer public schools, Mara said he's familiar with Harvard as a community.
"It's a good school district," he said. "The thing that stuck out to me though is making sure all the kids get the necessary tools to be independent adults. That's the piece that needs to be done, not resting on our laurels."
Everything starts with the teachers, said Mara.
"We need to have conversations with the teachers," he said. "How well do you know the children in front of you? What are the three to four key elements and how can those elements grow at home as well?"
Pooling resources together with other communities is also a high priority for Mara.
"We have to have conversations with Ayer, Devens, Shirley and Nashoba," he said. "We need to build relationships together with them. If they have two (special education students in one grade) and we have two (in the same grade), maybe putting four together is better (for the children)."
Tapping into outside resources for older children to build social and job skills could benefit not only the student, Mara pointed out, but the schools and parents as well.
"I look at Job Corps as being the best-kept secret in Central Massachusetts," he said. "The key piece of Job Corps is it's free. It's Department of Labor money, (it's not funded by the school)."
When Mara was asked how he would handle teachers that weren't necessarily receptive to changing their curricula to meet the needs of special education students, he gave a specific plan of action.
"I'll be honest and tell them they're all our children. They're all Harvard public school kids," he said. "The second conversation will be a polite conversation as well. If push comes to shove, it's a civil-rights violation. I don't have a problem calling them to task."
Mara said he encourages parents to talk to the principal first. If they don't get the results they're looking for, he said feel free to call him.
"We're going to work on this together," said Mara. "Even if we disagree, it will be a respectful disagreement."
Mara is certified in elementary education, math, special needs, as an assistant principal, principal and superintendent, and as a supervisor and director of all aspects of education.