Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reflections of a PTA President

Rainbow

Image Credit – http://office.microsoft.com

As this year comes to an end, so does my PTA presidency. It is definitely bittersweet. It seems the perfect time to look back at the experience and carefully examine the ups and downs of the position.

As a new president, I came to the job optimistic and energized, ready to get to work. I walked in with certain beliefs of how things should be done, and the time commitment I had made. Little did I know that you can never fully be prepared for what is coming around the corner.

I have never been as proud of my school as I am today. Our efforts have been incredible in so many ways. We were recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school. We donated almost $10,000 to our adopted school, Hegarty Elementary, which was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. At the same time, we were able to provide financial support to our staff family that suffered in the storm. We had amazing programs including Caldecott winning author visits for our students. We had wonderful events for our families like Fall Festival and Picnic around the World. We were present in school board budget meetings and fought for important expenditures in our school. We were also involved in an effort to have our Board of Education write a resolution against high stakes testing. We educated parents on new academic programs in the district. It’s truly been a remarkable time to be PTA leadership.

The relationships formed will definitely be one of the most positive parts of my experience. I was able to really get to know my principal (@cantiague_lead) and contribute to the magic that happens every day at Cantiague. His leadership and passion inspired me to give a little more, push myself to learn and share. The teachers I worked with reinforced everything I believed about the staff. They are so dedicated and true experts in what they do. Their dedication to our children made it impossible not to give 100% in making Cantiague the best place it can be.

The families of Cantiague are the real treasure. The generosity, spirit, and commitment to providing the best environment for learning and growing is what makes our school what it is. Cantiague is a very special corner of the world where children come first….always.

I will always be grateful to the PTA presidents who came before me and the ones who will follow. To borrow a cliché, it is a true labor of love. The amount of work is unimaginable, but the payout is the same. It is my greatest hope that our incoming presidents will experience the same joy and sense of accomplishment I have gained. If you put your whole self in it, you will learn so much. Not just about the school, district, or education, but about yourself. The job isn’t for everyone, but for those up for the challenge it is so worth it.

I look forward to my new position of Past President come June 11. I know the relationships I have made will only get stronger and better. I also know that our incoming presidents will do a wonderful job and make this PTA their own. I can’t wait to see the new direction we go.

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Wishes For Our PTO Next Year

dandelion wish

As this school year comes to an end, and we welcome our new parent association board members I am beginning to think about thoughts on the upcoming year I’d like to share with our new team. A year ago, I was taking on this position with zero board experience; joined by parents much in the same position as I. I simply asked that everyone give 100% to everything they do, connect with as many families as possible…and that we will try new things and know that we aren’t going to get it all right. In the end I hoped that would translate into more participation in various ways.

This past year we raised more money than expected, increased our number of families participating, introduced (with the school) several ways for families to stay in touch with and follow the learning at school through technology, and hosted the first #ParentCamp. I couldn’t be happier, but I also believe we can always do more. So…

Next year, half of our board will remain, and I will challenge them…to do more (while keeping in mind that most work full time), make a greater impact and demonstrate that PTO’s are so much more than fundraisers. Some hopes I’ll share at our first gathering before heading into the summer…

  • Continue to build on diversity in our group. We have a more diverse group this coming year coming year than last – but we are still missing several voices. We need to reflect our school community to guarantee each neighborhood and classroom has a voice in decisions made. To do that we need to continue reaching out to all families and learning more about how they want to be involved, and inviting them to share their voice.
  • Visit, learn about, and/or get to know another school or PTO. One of my highlights from this year was connecting with and seeing how other schools and PTO’s do things.
  • Inspired by Joyce Epstein’s 6 Types of Involvement, how can we improve on or provide opportunities for each of these?
    •  Parenting: Be it basics such as food bank info or sharing resources on how to provide better emotional support.
    • Communicating: Are we communicating basic information to families of all languages? How can we make it easier for families to connect with the PTO and school?
    • Volunteering: Are we providing opportunities for dads, grandparents and community members to volunteer?
    • Learning at Home: What resources can we share with families to support learning at home?
    • Decision Making: What are ways our families can have a voice in decisions made involving how our children are educated or are involved in school outside of the class?
    • Collaborating with the Community: How can we use our community and their resources for more than donation requests? What can we do together that will make our community as a whole better?

We don’t always think of how something looks from another’s perspective. My first two requests are part of that reminder that we a small piece of a larger puzzle. How do the pieces fit together? The last is important to building future parent partners and leaders. Not only will this current team not always be here – but change, fresh faces and new ideas are a good thing.

As a parent, what do you want to see at your school or learn? As a PTO, how do you plan top this year?

image credit: http://www.sxc.hu


Appreciating Those Making a Difference

THANKS

 

This was a week of thanking all those who make a difference in our children’s lives. This week we all took time to thank the wonderful teachers and educators, this weekend we thank all the wonderful moms out there, and just around the corner we will be thanking the dads. Our children are surrounded by so many people who care and want the absolute best for their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual well being.

As a child, I don’t know that I fully understood how blessed I was to have teachers that were there for us not only in the classroom teaching us the skills we needed to pursue our dreams – but also there for us outside the class as a coach, friend or cheerleader. As an adult looking back, I am so greatly appreciative of all that my teachers provided me. As a parent I have been so lucky to connect with some of the most amazing educators both at my children’s schools and those I’ve learned from on Twitter. These people don’t stop learning when they receive their degree or caring when their day ends at 3:35pm. They are tirelessly giving their time and hearts to make sure our children get the best education possible, and keeping them safe when not in our care.

As a mom, I can honestly say that until you become a parent, you have no idea what it is like. I don’t care how much time you spend with children; nothing compares to the amount of time, care and heart it takes to raise a child of your own….and NOTHING is more gratifying. Every decision you make affects their lives. The toughest part? There is no class or book on the steps to being a “good” parent. You can read and listen to all the advice in the world, but in the end it comes down to you making a decision based on what you feel is best for your child/family. There are many “live and learn” moments.

I feel so lucky to say that I am surrounded by more parents and educators than I can count that not only care about their child or class, but also all the other children and schools out there. They all serve in different ways. The neighbors who pick up your child from the bus stop when you’re running late; the parents volunteering in school to provide the students with a day of fun; the parents and teachers sharing and learning from each other online and in person to find better ways support and educate our children; the dad who coaches long after his children have grown because he loves sharing his passion for the game; the teacher who lends an ear when a student has no one else to turn to; the advocates pushing to improve education.

This week I am so grateful for not only my mother & teachers – but for all the people making a difference in children’s lives every day. You all are what inspire the rest of us to do more and be the best we can be. THANK YOU!


TALI Hosted Diane Ravitch And I Was There!

Last week I was so blessed to have the opportunity to see Diane Ravitch speak to Take Action Long Island (TALI) in Woodbury, NY. The audience was filled with over 1,100 educators, parents, activists ready to learn more about the state of public education in New York and the country.

Topics of her speech included: the widespread attacks on unions (which in her words are an attack on the middle class), Race to the Top (origins and effects), High Stakes Tests, Charter Schools, Vouchers, and Cyber Schools, Teacher Evaluations (APPR), Data Mining, and ALEC. Her comments were succinct and insightful, and she provided many sources to back up her analyses.

Her explanation of high stakes testing really struck a chord with me, especially since my school aged children are right at the heart of testing years. Her words resonated one at a time, as she discussed the goal of these assessments – they don’t close the achievement gap, they measure them. She spoke of the achievement gap, which is more accurately an economic gap because it is clear that economically challenged students suffer the most from high stakes tests. She explained that tests aren’t scientific instruments, but social constructions. As many parents know firsthand, she explained that high stakes tests destroy real teaching as instruction inevitably becomes “teaching to the test”.

The educators in the room all applauded when she said that the true purpose of public education is to nurture and promote character, integrity, and citizenship.

Diane shed some light on charter schools, exclaiming they are not public schools, but private schools using public money. They cherry pick students and either kick out or deny students with IEPs and English Language Learners. These students are then sent back to public schools where all students are guaranteed an education. The problem becomes that public schools are depleted of funds because monies are going to local charters, cyber schools, and vouchers, leaving the district without proper funding for these children. The most remarkable fact she shared was that even after these schools weed out “undesirable” or challenging students, they still score lower than public schools. Charters have been wrought with scandal. There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t hear about embezzlement, impropriety, or other questionable acts. The sad truth about charters is that they have no local allegiance, only a desire to make a profit.

There were positive moments when Ravitch shared the reason why this moment in public education will pass – because it’s wrong. She said we all must take action to ensure this happens. Speak up, tell politicians that high stakes tests are wrong, that basing teacher evaluations on tests are wrong, and that we won’t stand for charter schools, vouchers, and cyber schools taking our public school monies.

After an emotional hour, she responded to a question by a member of the audience. The crowd roared as she ended her talk with this sentiment – I have a dream….that all Long Island will opt out of high stakes tests.

For more information on Diane Ravitch – http://dianeravitch.com/

ALEC exposed – http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

Making the Grades, Todd Farley  – http://www.amazon.com/Making-Grades-Misadventures-Standardized-Industry/dp/098170915X

Network for Public Education website – http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/

United Opt Out National website – http://unitedoptout.com/


The ParentCamp Experience

ParentCamp

Below Lisa & I have shared our ParentCamp experiences

We first began discussing the idea of hosting an un-conference at our school for parents in the fall, at one of our monthly home & school meetings. Our principal, Joe Mazza, had attended something similar for educators called EdCamp, and hosted an EdCamp style staff meeting for the teachers. We all agreed that this style of learning could greatly benefit the parents not only in our school, but in our community. For me, I envisioned all of those parents who aren’t on Twitter, experiencing the learning and sharing like those of us who have connected on and participated in chats such as #PTchat…only this would be live, face-to-face two-way discussions.

I’m not going to go into all the planning details in this post – but I will say the hardest part was explaining what ParentCamp was about, and how it could benefit those attending. For educators, many have heard of, or attended this style of conference – but for parents this was a foreign concept.  Because this was so new to parents, we decided that it was best to line up session leaders in advance. (At actual EdCamps attendees write in sessions that they wish to lead once they arrive at the “unconference”) It wasn’t until we shared the session descriptions, that we really began to see people registering. As far as educators participating in this, it didn’t cross my mind before the event that some (or maybe many) would be uncomfortable with this style conversation – especially face-to-face with parents. We did have far fewer educators than parents attend, but the ones that attended added great balance to the conversations they participated in and were excellent leaders of discussions and not just lecturing.

At our school, we see some of our most diverse and largest turnouts at educational focused events. This was no different and no less awesome and amazing to see so many people from all different cultures, communities, beliefs and lenses sharing their thoughts and asking questions, all while not judging the other’s because of their opinions. Not only did parents attend together, but we also had a few Principals attend with their parent association leaders (the ultimate sign of wanting a home-school partnership).

To start the day off, we had Melissa Bilash as our keynote speaker. She shared snapshots of what role parents, from all around the world, play in their child’s education. This would have been a great presentation no matter where it was shared, but with such diversity in the room, I feel it was a homerun.

In the sessions I attended, I witnessed parents from different schools learning together about the potential of parents connecting through social media to how to plan for the big expense of sending their children to college. I caught a few minutes of parents and our district admin learning about iPad apps together; a custodian sharing one of the most powerful first-hand experiences with losing a child to drug use and ways we can hopefully prevent that same tragedy in our own homes or community. There was another session with teachers learning with parents about better ways we all can support our children’s emotional well being together inside and out of school (this was one of several sessions that had pro-active parents of children not starting school until this coming September).

In the session I led with a few other members of our home & school board, we started out with sharing the ways live streaming our monthly meetings has improved participation, communication and relationships in our school and finished up with the importance of, and ways to successfully lead positive, productive and constructive meetings. These views, ideas and suggestions came from a room of parents, other PTA/HSA leaders, teachers and principals from our district and a few others. I was only a portion of the conversation, everyone contributed their thoughts and experiences, and we all took away pieces that we felt would improve our own schools.

I love participating in chats on Twitter. It really is something else (and almost addicting) to be able to learn about how other people view and approach the same task as you from other parts of the country or world. BUT….I also think it’s as equally as powerful in building up a community when you have a physical room of people together sharing thoughts on how to help each other with an issue, learn a new way of communicating, or improve on current efforts.

I hope after leaving #ParentCamp, if they didn’t already, people saw the benefits of ongoing communication between one another, at all levels. That speaking with each other a few times a year is not enough. That, conversations need to be on a deeper level, where schools and families come away with new knowledge. These conversations can and should be had, as often as possible in our communities. They don’t need to be big, grand events, nor do they need to be limited to face-to-face. The more often we all speak AND listen to each other, the better we can make decisions on what’s best for our family, schools and community.

I can’t wait for the next #ParentCamp. It is energizing and exciting to families and schools learning and working together to build stronger partnerships.

keynote

My Experience as a Parentcamp Presenter and Attendee

After being invited to lead a session at Knapp’s first Parentcamp, my reaction was – of course! It was after that immediate YES that I thought, what can I talk about? Joe and Gwen decided a good topic would be “The Blue Ribbon Experience”. While I was first uncomfortable with the topic (only because it could come across as arrogant or elitist), I realized it was a great way to highlight and discuss all the wonderful things happening at Cantiague. So, while the focus would be on the award process, the meat of the discussion would be the characteristics and evidence of excellence taking place at my school. It would also be an opportunity to hear how other schools were approaching the same tasks. At Cantiague, there is always an interest in improving, never settling for status quo.

A few weeks after confirming attendance, we found out that Tony Sinanis, my principal at Cantiague, would be joining us. What a wonderful opportunity for parents and educators to have the perspective of both home and school in one discussion. This was going to be a great session.

The discussion was very informal and fluid. It was constant stream of questions and answers, with not a second of empty space. We began with a description of what the Blue Ribbon award is, and moved onto the award process our team embarked on.

The most enjoyable part of our session was when we spoke about our teachers and staff, the programs used at Cantiague, and the fostering of literacy as a core of what we do. I felt that we were able to present a window into our school – highlighting the relationships between families, teachers, staff, administrators, and students.

I learned from our session as well. There was a principal and incoming H&S president in our discussion. Seeing that team work and dedication was inspiring. A dedicated 5th grade teacher from NJ joined us as well. While many questions did become professionally directed, we were all at the table. This was a wonderful chance as a parent to hear the discussions that often take place in a staff meeting between professionals. The conversation was authentic and real. Everyone was genuinely invested in creating the best learning experience for their students, and it was beautiful to see.

In the end, I hope that attendees were able to take away a few concepts – passion is the foundation for making a truly special school and experience for students, anything is possible – relationships can always be built and fostered, and transparency and educational opportunities that promote constant learning for all parties creates an opportunity for wonderful, creative, holistic learning.

As an attendee, I really enjoyed the ParentCamp experience. I participated in a Parent Engagement discussion led by Dr. Mazza and Tony Sinanis, and the presentation on live streaming Meetings by the Knapp H&S. I loved the format of the ParentCamp. It was very informal, with discussion continuously shifting and changing to address the questions and comments of the participants.

In the first session, the presenters began with the description of a Partnership School from Beyond the Bake Sale. Conversation quickly customized to the parents and educators in the group. Each person shared questions, experiences, and thoughts. It was a very rich experience, with many takeaways to think about.

The next session was about the benefits of live streaming H&S meetings, and bringing meetings and information to all families. The H&S shared their experiences of taking their meetings to the community. It was enlightening and inspiring to hear the benefits of meeting parents in their comfort zones, and how the experience built trust in the school. The live streaming opportunities also bring information to parents who once were unable to participate. We also discussed the importance of keeping meetings timely, respectful, and meaningful for all involved. We were fortunate to have many H&S leaders in the group. Each shared their most positive events and strategies to engage families and bring them into the fold.

Overall, I left ParentCamp feeling more strongly than ever, the importance of empowering families to engage in home/school experiences. I left with abstract and tangible ideas on how to create positive relationships with all home/school players – students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. Learning with like-minded parents and educators fueled my desire to always improve our efforts as leaders in the parent community. I can’t wait to try some of the ideas at my school!

H&S 2.0 Building Partnerships

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