State law (NJSA 18A:46-2), provides that the Commissioner of Education shall appoint and work with a council of no more than fifteen members. The members of the Council work in collaboration with the director of the Office of Special Education. In addition, there are several resource representatives from various state agencies. Appointments to the council are made in accordance with guidelines established in P.L. 94-142 and the reauthorized IDEA amendments. Members are appointed for a minimum of two-year terms that can be renewed for a maximum of three terms. Each appointment to the council must be confirmed by the State Board of Education.
2022-2023 State Special Education Advisory Council - Appointed Members
Paul Barbato, Psy.D. (Chairperson)
Dr. Paul Barbato is the Director of Special Services in the Dumont public schools. Dr. Barbato serves on the following: NJ State Special Education Advisory Council (Chair), New Jersey Association of Pupil Services Administrators (Immediate Past President), New Jersey Special Education Administrators Association (Board Member), NJ Principal and Supervisors Association (Special Education Committee), and the Bergen County Special Services School District Advisory Committee (Board Member). Dr. Barbato was awarded the 2014 Special Education Administrator of the Year from NJASA, NJAPSA, and the Centris Group. Dr. Barbato is also a Board member of Dumont's Stigma Free Committee. Dr. Barbato serves as an Adjunct Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey City University, and Hudson County Community College in New Jersey. Dr. Barbato is also a New Jersey Leaders to Leaders (NJL2L) and New Jersey EXpedited Certification for Educational Leadership (NJEXCEL) Mentor and teaches within the NJEXCEL and New Jersey Teacher Leader Certification (NJTLC) Programs of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisor Association (NJPSA).
Mrs. Debbie Esposito (Assistant Chairperson)
Debbie Esposito is the Project Director for START Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities at SPAN Parent Advocacy Network (State Parent Information Center). Her current role also includes being Project Coordinator for the Family Engagement in New Jersey Tiered System of Supports- Early Reading. Debbie has been on the council for five and half years and holds the role of assistant chair. Debbie also identifies as a parent of a student with a disability.
Harold Abraham, Ed.D.
Dr. Harold Abraham is a Principal/Supervisor of Special Education. As a formerly classified student himself, he possesses firsthand experience of what the learning process is like for students with disabilities. Currently he is the principal, district safety specialist, and district testing coordinator at Norwood Public Schools. Dr. Abraham was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Achievement in Administration & Supervision Award for his innovative programming in the school setting. He has earned a Doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction, a Master’s in Special Education, a second Master’s in Educational Leadership, and a Bachelor of Science. Dr. Abraham also maintains a role as a professor in the Educational Leadership Program at Montclair State University and sits on the Board of Trustees for New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education (NJCIE).
Pam Brillante, Ed.D.
Dr. Pamela Brillante is a Professor at William Paterson University in the Department of Special Education, Professional Counseling and Disability Studies. As a previous NJDOE County Supervisor of Child Study Teams, as well as Early Childhood Special Education Specialist for the NJDOE Office of Special Education Programs. In addition to her work in early childhood special education, Pam has written books and taught the concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to general education and special education teachers. Previously, Pam worked with a federal grant with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired providing training and technical assistance on using assistive technology in the classroom. Pam is an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Division of Early Childhood for the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) promoting high quality early childhood programs.
Eniola Ajaya, Ph.D.
Eniola Ajayi is the Assistant Superintendent of Bridgeton Public School District. She sits as the 3rd Chair for Ph.D. Dissertation at the College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2019. Eniola has also had previous experience as a special education teacher, Learning Disability Teacher Consultant (LDT-C), Director of Special Education, Preschool Principal, District Section 504 Officer, and Homeless Liaison. She is a member of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) and New Jersey Arts Education Collective (NJAEC). She received the “Best Research Award” from the College of New Jersey (2003), Governor’s Teacher Award when employed with Trenton Public Schools (1993), and a nominee for the Special Education Administrator of the Year Award (2021). Eniola describes her passion as a focus on effective strategies for the social and emotional wellbeing of staff and students, ensuring equity across educational settings and needs, representing multicultural and diverse social-economic communities, and universal curriculum to address the needs of at-risk students - including gifted and talented students, general education students, and special education students.
John Worthington, Esq.
John Worthington is an education law specialist for Legal One at NJPSA/NJFEA. John retired in 2018 as Director of the Office of Special Education Policy and Procedure in the New Jersey Department of Education, where he was responsible, under federal statute and regulations, to operate a system of general supervision and monitor the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 in New Jersey. Prior to becoming director of OSEPP, Mr. Worthington worked in several positions in his 30 years with the State of New Jersey, including Acting Director, Office of Special Education Programs; Manager, Bureau of Policy and Planning in the OSEP, Coordinator of Dispute Resolution and Coordinator of Policy Development in the OSEP, Director of State Board Appeals, Hearing Examiner and Editor in the Office of Controversies and Disputes, and ten years as a New Jersey Deputy Attorney General, representing the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services. John is a current member of the New Jersey bar, as well as the United States Supreme Court, Third Court of Appeals, and United States District Court, District of New Jersey Bars. John has three adult children, one of whom was a student with disabilities.
Lottie Watson, Ed.D.
Lottie M. Watson is a seasoned education administrator with a Doctorate in Teaching, Learning, Curriculum, and Educational Leadership from Northeastern University and a Master’s of Arts in Urban Education and Leadership from New Jersey City University. She identifies as bilingual and biracial. She currently leads the University Heights Charter School district as its Supervisor and Director Special Academic Programs. She is the District Anti-Bullying Coordinator and supervises the Attendance Officers and Antibullying Specialists in providing best practices and research-based guidance and strategic planning for these areas. Dr. Watson was featured on Beyond the Culture Podcast for her work in writing, procuring, and implementing the USDOE’s $3.3 Million district awarded School Climate Transformation Grant from 2019-2021 for Teaneck Public Schools. Dr. Watson maintains professional memberships to several associations and leadership groups, including but not limited to New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association, National Alliance of Black School Educators, the Association for Middle Level Education, New Jersey Association for School Administrators, and the National Association for Gifted Children.
Dorothy McMullen, Ph.D.
Dorothy McMullen is employed and tenured with Elizabeth Public Schools. She currently serves as the Director of Special Projects. A few of her responsibilities include the oversite of nursing, coordinating early intervention services, K-3 literacy interventions, and local policies around intervention and referral services (I&RS). Present projects include aligning I&RS to the New Jersey Tiered Systems of Support (NJTSS) model. This includes facilitating trainings and building capacity across multiple stakeholders. She has had experience collaborating with the NJDOE on several projects including the Facilitated IEP Program Pilot and the IDEA Data Center partnership for reducing disproportionality. Additional experience includes work as an adjunct professor at both New Jersey City University and William Paterson University for Learning Disability Teacher Consultant (LDT-C) preparation courses. As a former Director of Special Services, she has had experience collaborating with the NJDOE on several projects including the Facilitated IEP Program Pilot and the IDEA Data Center partnership for reducing disproportionality. Dorothy is also a parent of a child who has a speech-only Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and requires a 504 accommodation plan for comorbid disabilities.
Elizabeth Alves currently holds position as the President Elect, Treasurer and Scholarship Chair for the Learning Disability Association of New Jersey (LDANJ). Concurrently, she is Vice President of the Council for Affiliates for the Learning Disability Association of America where she organizes meetings and provides development in topics related to education and outreach of students with disabilities. She also works full-time as the Engagement Specialist for out-of-district program, Benway School. She provides coaching and professional development with a focus on person-centered approaches and transition programming. Elizabeth was also selected for NJDOE’s partnership with BOGGS Center for their Person-Centered Approach to Secondary Transition (PCAST) Advisory Committee. Additionally, she has experience as a Developmental Interventionist. This position allowed her to provide counseling and training for parents with a focus on educational programming and opportunity for community support. Elizabeth obtained her Master’s in Special Education with endorsed Supervisor and Early Childhood Certificates. Elizabeth also identifies as a parent of a student with a disability.
Margaret McDonald, Ed.D.
Margaret, or Peggy, McDonald, is the former Assistant Commissioner, Division of Student Services, and Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the New Jersey Department of Education. She currently represents the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association/Foundation for Educational Administration (NJPSA/FEA) as the Coordinator of Special Projects. Peggy began her career as a teacher of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, speech correctionist, and Educational Audiologist. She was an Adjunct Professor for the Kean College of New Jersey and Union County College for Deaf Education. She began her work at the state as a consultant for students who are deaf and hard of hearing travelling the state providing technical assistance and training to educators and families. Peggy went on to support a statewide grant on transition services and acted as a liaison to the Office of Assessment collaborating on the development of the state alternate assessment and expansion of test accommodations and modifications to increase access to state tests for students with disabilities. As Special Education Director, Peggy led many initiatives to improve services for students with disabilities from age three through 21. As Assistant Commissioner, she worked to align resources and support for all students, regardless of label, and served as project director for the New Jersey Tiered System of Support federal grant. Peggy has vast knowledge of federal and state policy and procedure. Her educational certifications span across general education, special education, administrative and consultative (LDT-C) levels.
Carmen Henderson, Ed.D, LDT-C, NCED
Dr. Carmen Henderson comes to the New Jersey State Special Education Advisory Council (NJ-SSEAC) with extensive training in clinical standardized assessment measures, informal assessment measures, diagnosis, and remediation of learning disabilities. Her educational experience has focused on programming and intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder, dyslexia, early childhood development, special education policies, fostering learning outcomes, and culturally responsive practices. Dr. Henderson is the Director of Special Education in Haddonfield Public Schools in Camden County. In addition to obtaining her Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Special Education Leadership, she is also a Nationally Certified Educational Diagnostician (NCED), Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant, and has served as an Adjunct Professor for Rowan University. Dr. Henderson completed her dissertation on Factors Contributing to the Overrepresentation of Black Elementary Students in Special Education in Suburban Public School Settings. She has made contributions as a Consultant, Reviewer, and Field Researcher to the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test Fourth Edition (WIAT-4), Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamental Preschool-3 (CELF Preschool-3), Expressive Vocabulary Test Third Edition (EVT-3), and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – Fifth Edition (PPVT-5). Dr. Henderson identifies as a parent of a neurodiverse student.
Scott Longazel is a previous graduate of Harvard, Villanova, and New York University for Architecture, Management, Business Administration and Engineering. Scott’s representation for NJ-SSEAC highlights the community of parents with children who have a disability. His son, Logan, was diagnosed pre-delivery with Down Syndrome and was expected to have various complications. Professionally, Scott is the Senior Project Manager for Jacobs. His work experiences and education in engineering, construction, real estate, and business have exposed him to many different opportunities to improve our society. His highlights include the use of empirical data to drive decisions through logical frameworks. A few professional accomplishments include successful planning and execution of the U.S. Government's American Recovery Reinvestment Act funds, the planning, design, construction, and commissioning/validation of a COVID Testing Laboratory for the City of New York, and delivery of over $2 billion in design and construction. Scott continues to consult with various agencies while expanding his role in management of engineering projects for schools and higher education.
Cynthia DeFina, Ph.D.
Cynthia DeFina has a twenty-year tenure in the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists (NJASP). She was appointed as the youngest president of NJASP to date. She earned a Ph.D. in Psychology and wrote her dissertation examining special education service for a district’s preschool program over the course of several years. In 2021, she was the keynote for New Jersey City University’s (NJCU) Pedagogy Day, discussing topics related to the special education population during the Pandemic. Additionally, she presented to NJCU’s Educational Leadership cohorts on Equity and Social Justice: Supporting Schools. Her voice for NJ-SSEAC is driven by her passion for guidance and research on retention rates, student engagement, the pandemic’s impact on young children and creating goals and strategies to address equity and social justice in special education. Cynthia currently acts as Supervisor of Special Education for Secondary Education in Sayreville, NJ and coordinates Extended School Year “Camp XL” for over 400 students in Sayreville School District. Cynthia is also an Adjunct Professor for Seton Hall University and New Jersey City University. Her professional affiliations include the Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE), Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Innovations in Special Education Technology, New Jersey Principal and Supervisor Association (NJPSA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and New Jersey Association for School Psychologists (NJASP).
Jocelyn Gottlieb, MBA
Jocelyn Gottlieb joins NJ-SSEAC as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities and a second with specific learning disabilities. After moving to Glen Ridge from California in 2015, she became involved in the Glen Ridge Association of Special Education (GRASE), which she co-chaired for two years. During that time, she developed an Abilities Awareness Week which was held across three elementary schools, engaging dozens of parents, multiple administrators, and teachers across buildings. The goal was to enhance the students’ knowledge of various disabilities and to increase their appreciation of these differences among their peers. It was a first step to a larger goal of building a school community that supports all its students equally, regardless of need. In 2020, she was elected to a three-year term for the Board of Education where she participated in the audit of special education programs. Professionally, Jocelyn achieved her master’s in business administration from Yale School of Management and received the Dean Scholarship Award for leadership academic promise and professional potential. She has worked for Homes for the Homeless in New York City, nonprofit strategy consultation firms, and Jewish Vocation Service (JVS). She is currently an Independent Consultant in Workforce Development focusing on an Economic Stability and Mobility Initiative for an affordable housing provider. Her experiences as a nonprofit leader, elected board official, parent, and district volunteer have given her a nuanced understanding of how public, nonprofit, and personal spheres intersect.
Jennifer Vecchiarelli is the current Assistant Superintendent of Special Services in Bayonne School District. With a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Jennifer is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in leadership as well. Jennifer’s professional experience includes being a special education teacher at the secondary level, an assistant principal, and then a building principal for six years before becoming the Assistant Superintendent of Special Services in Bayonne School District. Jennifer is also currently a mentor for NJPSA for new administrators and has previously taught in the education program at Georgian Court University as an adjunct professor. Her varied roles have led to progressive planning for graduation rate improvement, and alternative program planning during the transition into her administrative tenure as a building principal. Currently, as an Assistant Superintendent of Special Services, she is working collaboratively with the team to elevate programming and services district-wide that encompass social, emotional, and academic supports. Her “no limit” mantra for special education focuses her work on discipline intervention, transition planning, alternative program development, ASD and MD programming, as well as inclusive education programming. Finally, Jennifer has extensive experience with the development of professional learning for educational systems inclusive of co-teaching, engaging struggling learners, and differentiation.
State Special Education Advisory “Proxy Individuals”
A Proxy, defined in governed bylaw, is “a person who is designated by a Council member to represent them at an Advisory Council meeting in their absence. Proxy individuals are not officially Council members but are authorized to act for another Council member when that member cannot attend.”
Lori Alter holds professional affiliation and membership with the Association of Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped (ASAH), including her position as coordinator for the “Voices in Harmony” celebration for 20 schools across the state. She is a board member for the Alliance of Special Education Schools of North Jersey, present member of the Council of Private Schools for Children with Special Needs, Autism New Jersey, Autism Speaks, and the Council of Administrators of Special Education. She currently holds the position of Director for the Deron School of New Jersey. She has a Master of Arts in Education Administration from Montclair State University.
Rafeeza Shahabudeen has been a special education teacher in Newark Public School since 2000. She was originally a certified Teacher of English but gravitated towards her service for students who identified with a disability. She went on to obtain her master’s degree from New Jersey City University in 2005. Additional certifications and awards include her Principal Certification (CE) and the Project GRAD Newark Master Teacher Award. She is the head teacher for the Expanded Learning Time Program in Newark where she supervises staff and students. Additionally, Rafeeza holds membership to the Abbott Leadership Institute.
Jennifer Kaufman is the Principal a Educational Partnership for Instructing Children (EPIC) School, a school for students with autism.
State Resource Member Representatives and Agencies (Members Appointed by Representing Agencies)
Donna M. Holzschuh
New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission
1001 Spruce Street, Suite 202
Trenton, NJ 08629
Quality Assurance Specialist
Family Health Services
New Jersey Department of Health
PO Box 364
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0364
Phone: (609) 777-7778
Fax: (609) 292-3580
Office of Education
New Jersey Department of Children and Families
PO Box 710
Trenton, NJ 08625-0710
Director of Blindness Education
New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
153 Halsey Street
PO Box 47017
Newark, NJ 07101
Program Planning and Development Specialist
Program Unit- Youth Services
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services
NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development
PO Box 398
Trenton, NJ 08625-0398
Assigned: Pheobie Thomas; Alternates: Tamira Chapman and Lisa Murray
State McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program -
Office of Supplemental Programs
Division of Educational Services
New Jersey Department of Education
New Jersey McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (nj.gov)
Trenton, NJ 08625-0398
Education Program Specialist
Office of Educational Services
Department of Corrections
New Jersey Department of Education
Trenton, NJ 08625-0398