A Voice for Change: Education and Special Needs
Pam Mirabella has a mission: to be “a voice for education.” Her passion is lobbying legislators to address the needs of all our children, especially those of our most challenged students. During the Clinton administration, Pam twice testified at the White House as to the need for adequate federal funding for Special Education
Her purpose was and still is, to serve as resource and advocate for parents and students. Pam enjoys community outreach and welcomes opportunities to speak to small or large groups about special education. Her passion and determination spring from her experiences as the mother of a special needs child.
She has recently joined her husband “Papa Mike” Mirabella in his efforts to publish children’s books with songs. Their series of 3 books focus on inclusion, belonging and compassion: Sister Butterfly, I Used to be Shy and Special People. www.MirabellaBooksWithSongs.com
Pam and Mike fondly recall their time raising their daughters Carla and Kelly.
After 18 years of speech therapy, their Down Syndrome daughter Carla graduated with a certificate of completion and was speaker of her 1991 class at De Anza High School, in Richmond, CA. She continued with the transition program at Contra Costa College in culinary arts, and worked and lived independently in Napa, CA. for 14 years. Sadly in 2008, she died of a glioblastoma brain tumor.
Their other daughter Kelly attended El Cerrito High School, then graduated with a B.S. from USC and an M.S. from California State University Long Beach, CA. Kelly is now married, has two children and resides in Dallas TX where she is Lab Manager and Senior Bio-mechanist for the Scottish Rite Hospital. She was deeply connected to her sister Carla and learned compassion and patience as her sibling.
Learning Curve for New Mom
On a cold morning December 6, 1972, their first child Carla was born at Kaiser Hospital, San Francisco. Mike and Pam were given the option by the hospital staff to give her up for adoption. This was not the option they chose. They remember the parish priest telling them that Carla was a gift, but at the time, Pam and Mike didn’t understand what gift they’d been given. They went through the five stages of grief, since their expectations of having a “normal” child were not met. And, they faced the unknown as new parents in shock and feeling overwhelmed.
New mom Pam was visited and supported by staff of Catholic Charities and the North Bay Regional Center. When Carla was about 3 months old, Pam attended her first Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting with 13 professionals at the George Miller Center in Richmond, CA. That was the beginning of Pam’s steep learning curve. The physical therapist trained Pam to focus on Carla’s gross and fine motor skills at home. By 9 months old, Carla was on the yellow bus to attend George Miller Center. Motivated to become a good parent, Pam next took child development classes at Contra Costa Community College.
Becoming and Advocate for Children
By necessity Pam was the key supporter and advocate for Carla. Pam served on the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) and was Chairperson for 6 years. She founded and is past President of Parents and Advocates for Special Education in WCCUSD and created support groups for parents and siblings of the disabled. In 1980, Pam received the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) Honorary Award.
In 1990, the Federal Law 94-142 guaranteed a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability. Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) lawyers worked as the advocates to mainstream Carla from her isolated site at Jefferson to join a Kensington Elementary kindergarten class for a few hours per week.
Leadership and Civic Activities
In 1988, Pam was elected Trustee of the Contra Costa County Board of Education and served in that position for 28 years. As Trustee she had many leadership roles:
- reactivated the Contra Costa County School Boards Association (CCCSBA);
- CCCSBA VP Programs Chair and Legislation Chair 2011-15;
- founded and chaired the California County Board of Education (CCBE) Legislation committee 1996;
- participated in National School Boards Association (NSBA) Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, DC with the California School Board Association (CSBA) and CCBE 2016.
In 1994, Pam graduated from California State University, East Bay with a BA major in Liberal Arts and a minor in Business. She authored two research papers: “School District Organization: Is Bigger Better?” – 1994; and, a ballot proposal to “Appoint versus Elect the County Superintendents of Schools”- 1993.