Strong PTA key to strengthening schools

By Tammy Scileppi

About two dozen concerned parents, PTA officers and parent advocates met to discuss the ever-increasing need for enhanced parent and school involvement in Queens’ public schools and the positive impact this would have on their children’s education last week at Queens Borough Hall.

The workshop was hosted by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a mother of two, who encouraged families to become more proactive through their schools’ Parent-Teacher Associations. Their primary role is to build strong working relationships among parents, teachers and schools and to raise money for a variety of students’ needs throughout the school year.

Part of the workshop’s goal was to provide a forum for brainstorming ideas that would help rejuvenate PTAs that had become stagnant. Participants were reminded that PTA meetings can serve as venues for discussions about a variety of educational issues, like school reform initiatives and the implementation of new programs. In fact, anyone who has a child in a local public school is already a part of the PTA and should participate, whether they have a lot of free time or only an hour to spare. This is a great way to stay on top of what’s happening at school and to connect with other parents and school leaders.

“It’s so important that we have involvement from parents in all of the schools in our borough. The strength of a school is based on its parents,” said Katz, the mother of a 6-year-old son who attends public school and of a 3-year-old son who will soon be joining his brother in the public school system.

The workshop featured helpful presentations that outlined the changing role of PTAs in Queens. District 28 family advocate Sonia Rueda presented a comprehensive overview aimed at helping PTAs achieve organizational success at the Dec.2 event and offered suggestions for more effective meetings, as well as fund-raising initiatives that would boost schools’ bottom lines.

Savvy PTA members know that social media is an invaluable fund-raising tool, while other funding options may include tapping into grant money from private companies.

While classic PTA fund-raisers like candy and bake sales and school carnivals can still be effective, they tend to be rather time-consuming for busy working parents. So, in light of ongoing issues stemming from scanty school budgets –a hot button topic at many PTA gatherings – some local schools have been opting for low-effort, high-impact funding options as out of the box ways are introduced to fill funding gaps.

Many local PTAs have increased community participation by finding ways to reach out and attract neighborhood families, while making the most of volunteers’ different styles and abilities, thus allowing them to take ownership of the process by providing them with clear project goals and explaining desired outcomes.

The nature of Queens PTAs has changed in recent years. Many have evolved into professionally run, organization-like entities that empower parents and provide students with a better overall educational experience. On the whole, today’s PTAs are a far cry from the old school traditional bake sale models of yesteryear.

Echoing this change, another Queens Borough Hall workshop presenter, District 26 family advocate Lori Butera outlined and clarified the multi-faceted clerical and fiscal responsibilities that have become essential components of Queens PTAs. Her presentation also included a discussion pertaining to bylaws as well as nominations and elections of board members.

Crucial to a PTA’s success is getting teachers and staff to join as well, and this isn’t an easy task. It takes time, energy and lots of planning to increase the number of community-oriented events that PTAs plan.

Katz said an active and well-functioning Parent-Teacher Association is vital to a school’s success.

“Parents who are strongly involved in their children’s education contribute to their kids’ success by making sure their homework gets done correctly and by promptly advising school staff of any problems their children may be having in the classroom,” she said.

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