Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What About PTA?

I'm a long-time supporter of PTA but I now find what comes out of the local, state and national orgs to be somewhat confusing.
I have lost count of how many schools have gone to PTOs.  (A PTO is a parent-teacher organization that is school-based so they operate solely for the benefit of their school.)  I think there are at least five SPS schools now.

The SCPTSA has a page that explains the difference between a PTO and PTA.

I've also lost count of how many schools have no parent group.  I know this occurs generally at Title One schools where parents may be immigrants or working two jobs and don't have a a core of people to create a parent group.  I recall that some PTAs did offer to mentor schools in this situation but I'm not sure that went very far.

I bring this up because I attended the end-of-the-year meeting for the Seattle Council PTSA.   There were roughly 60 people there including Board president Leslie Harris and now-superintendent Denise Juneau.  The district was also represented by Gail Morris (Native American issues), James Bush (Family Engagement) and Carri Campbell (Communications).

I was perusing the minutes from the previous meeting and this caught my eye:

"Sherry Rudolph - Membership - Seattle Council is down 800 members."

Wow.  That is a heck of a lot of members to lose in a year or two.  Any thoughts on why, Readers?

There were elections for new board members for SCPTSA.

 They elected:
- Chandra Hampson for president (She will be the first Native American elected to this office and a means the head of SCPTSA, the head of the district and two of the seven members of the Board are all Native Americans.)  Ms. Hampson has a very good background for this kind of work and President Harris said she would be "measured and careful."  I've heard Ms. Hampson at a couple of public events and that would not be my take on her.

- Co-Vice Presidents - Emijah Smith and Manuela Slye.  Both Smith and Slye are members of district advisory and/or taskforces.

- Treasurer - Katy Banahan.

- Secretary - Lindsay Yost

A national award was made to Sacajawea Elementary for its family engagement and diversity.

Juneau gave some brief remarks.  She expressed gratitude to the Board and said her first audience is families.

She said the program she had created in Montana as state superintendent, Graduation Matters, had an 86% graduation rate and had cut drop-outs by one-third.

She said that her advisory board had found that relationships with students matter - "A caring relationship with one adult for every child."

She referenced the upcoming levies and the issues around fully-funded schools.

She did mention spending six months "listening" and that there could be revisions to the Strategic Plan.

She spoke of how well-thought of that Seattle Schools is.  One person, during the Q&A, pushed back and said that during the superintendent candidate forums that all the candidates said the same thing as she did about Seattle Schools.  The speaker questioned that attitude with the racial inequity in the district and "it's not the rosy picture" that Juneau sees.

Juneau, ever good natured, laughed and asked how long her honeymoon period would be.  She said that we point out faults and then talk about them.  She mentioned Sped and HCC and said there would need to be collaborative approaches to hard conversations.

There was a brief Q&A with one question about principals being able to deny lunch to a child who acts up in the cafeteria.

I did look up the National PTSA and saw a couple of interesting items at their webpage.
- They now have a "Gun Safety & Violence Prevention" tab right on their home page.

- They have several good grant programs to promote science fairs, math fairs and healthy lifestyles. 

- National PTA is now part of a group, Learning First Alliance.

The Learning First Alliance is a partnership of leading education organizations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America's public schools. Alliance members include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; AASA, The School Superintendents Association; American Federation of Teachers; American School Counselor Association; Consortium for School Networking; Learning Forward; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Education Association; National PTA; National School Boards Association; and National School Public Relations Association. To learn more about LFA, visit LearningFirst.org.
- They also have a fairly good Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit. Lots of good advice in here.

One section I found of interest was "Key Strategies for Specific Groups" which includes black parents, Hispanic parents, Native American parents, Asian-American parents, Pacific Islander parents, male parents, parents in the military, foster care, LGBTQ, Special Education and location (urban, suburban and rural).

Pop Quiz for readers:

I'll give you a quote from the PTSA Toolkit about a specific group - you tell me what group it was about(noting that all of these quotes were only for one specific group and not repeated; I don't have a quote for every group) - answers at the end of thread.

  1. Help families make education a priority. Educate families about the value of learning, advantages of staying in school, and opportunities that open with a high school diploma.
  2. Between 2000 and 2010, this group's population increased 43%, and the increase is 46% when mixed identities are included. This rate was faster than any other U.S. racial group.
  3. Work with community groups and organizations. Build relationships with community and faith-based organizations, youth-serving groups and businesses to expand networks of support and opportunities.
  4. Suicide among (this group) youth 18-24 years old is the second leading cause of death and higher than for any other ethnic/racial youth population.
  5. From 2000 to 2010, this group's population grew 35%, from 399,000 to 540,000, making them the second fastest growing race nationally.
  6.  Only one-half of students in this group complete high school by age 18.
  7. 30% of these students reported missing at least one entire day in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable at school. In 2011–12, state-level data indicate that between 3% and 18% of children in this group had repeated one or more grades since starting kindergarten.

1. African-American students
2. Asians
3. Hispanics
4. Native Americans
5. Pacific Islanders
6. Foster children


Anonymous said...

My daughter's school PTA members dropped when they went from sending in a check for a family membership to online membership where each parent had to join separately. That's a drop due to technical issues rather than people being less interested in the the PTA. I think the PTA is really important for providing fun community events like Halloween parties, Ice Cream Socials and such. A good PTA can bring the whole school community together which is nice when you live in a big city. Of course, their fundraising can also help with classroom support for the teachers, too.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Helen, your comment give me thought for another question - would it be better for PTA to be about family engagement of as many families in the school as possible or fundraising for the school?

I put that as an "or" question because looking at the Diversity Toolkit (which is really about family engagement), it would leave little time for fundraising.

Jet City mom said...

I was very involved with PTO at Summit.
I preferred PTO, because you were not expected to pay dues in order to vote.
More inclusive, everyone with a child at the school was a member.
I seem to remember that PTOs could carry over funds which was an advantage with programs that were parent run.

I think the primary focus should be up to the group at each school, but I saw it’s mission as parent engagement and education.
How to help parents better support their kids, and what that looked like.
As you remember, Summit was K-12, so that meant different things to different families.

It was also a challenge for parents to make monthly meetings.
As Summit was all city, students were from all over, even though it was at the NE corner.
We would hold meetings at Thurgood Marshall, to make it easier for parents in the south end to attend.
We also would provide child care and pizza, which actually seemed to help bring in more parents than relocating the meeting.

Anonymous said...

I have it on good faith that Ms. Hanson posts fairly regularly here under various pseudonyms.

Anonymous said...

Chandra Hampson is an incredibly nasty and awful person to anyone who dares disagree with her. SCPTSA is going to lose even more members. And Hampson is going to have a heck of a time getting herself elected to the school board, for what it’s worth.

Interesting from Juneau about SpEd and HCC. And concerning.


Sigh said...

Chandra can be pretty nasty on Facebook.

kellie said...

SCPTSA is an important job. Thank you to all the people who stepped up this year.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did hear Hampson may challenge Geary in her region in the next round of Board elections. Not sure Geary will run again as her attempt to get a vacant leg seat indicates her interest in other offices. But it would be interesting to see them face off.

Anonymous said...

I think family engagement is important whether it's the PTA helping out with it or another organization. If you don't have a PTA, you need something to provide a framework for family engagement. School administration and teachers have enough to do without helping out on this as well. As for fundraising, that is tricky since school communities vary economically. Maybe if schools raised over a certain amount, they could donate a % to another school. I think that would be better than eliminating fundraising which can be really important to a school.


Anonymous said...

We have kids at both a PTA school and a PTO school. There are some key differences we have noticed over the years, and overall we think a PTA usually seems better.

A PTA, a trademarked term, is chartered by a parent organization within the National PTA structure. In Washington, PTAs are chartered by the Washington State PTA, so dues to the school PTA necessarily fund the higher levels of the PTA as well. Although parents often scoff at money flowing out of the school to support higher-level PTAs, this is because they often do not know what the National PTA is good for. Turns out, PTA has done a lot of productive advocacy over the years (school lunch programs, in-school kindergartens, anti-child labor, etc.). Racial equity is a longstanding emphasis for the National PTA, which chartered the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers in 1926 and with which it merged in 1970. Not a perfect organization by any means, but a distinguished and lengthy track record all the same.

As a charter of a parent organization, a PTA has lots of safeguards built into it structurally that having a parent organization both forces and allows. Officers have to attend (a lot of) trainings the summer before they start. There are insurance requirements, audit trails, broad transparency requirements, etc.

The PTOs we are personally familiar with, by contrast, have opted out of the superstructure that the PTA offers, usually to keep more money in house or have more control/less transparency over money, even if they don't actually say that's why. (Some very wealthy schools do have PTAs as well as a separate "foundation," which also bypasses stricter PTA oversight.) PTOs often seem to lose a lot of institutional knowledge from year to year with changeover in officers, who do not have to undergo any training, and we find "noobie" mistakes by officers are more common with the PTO model. Noobie mistakes happen in PTAs also, but institutional knowledge is passed on through training requirements in a way that seems not to happen with a PTO. PTOs as a result have struck us over the years as less efficient and more frustrating than PTAs, on the whole.

PTOs seem more insular. Because there are no local or state councils or parent organizations, PTO officers and membership have to engage with the wider community and society in different ways - if they do at all. They operate way more in a bubble, and we think it's harder for PTOs to overcome this (and often can't see the problem).

PTAs and PTOs have all the usual problems that nonprofit organizations have: there are occasional spells of drama and politics, there can be ideological disputes, etc. Without volunteers and effective leadership, both types of organization can implode.

But if I had a choice, I would opt for a PTA every time.


Anonymous said...

PTOs sound like the “charter schools” of parent engagement. The oversight and transparency that come with PTAs are generally good things, in my experience.

PTAs can set their dues low and/or offer free memberships, so the “you have to pay for a membership to vote” argument doesn’t really hold up.

I don’t understand the supposed benefits of PTOs. Fewer rules, and thus more risk?


Anonymous said...

I found the "trainings" and PTA specific regulation to be an enormous volunteer energy and time leech for no measurable benefit. I also just cannot morally settle with requiring families to join and pay dues to a larger political organization in order to have a legitimate voice and vote in the main community organization in their children's school. I've been involved in PTA and PTO and would take PTO any day. I have not noticed the PTA schools any more in touch with the wider community- the opposite really. And this century the national PTA's record has been somewhat more checkered. By high school PTA seems somewhat irrelevant, but I wish more elementaries would opt out.

PTO booster

Eric B said...

I've been on local boards of both, a PTA at an elementary school and a PTO at a high school. When I was involved with the PTA, you were not allowed to use fundraised money to cover membership. I believe that your absolute minimum dues had to be what the local PTA paid city, state, and national for each member.

When I was a member of a PTA board, the mandatory training was just coming in. The officers who went didn't see a lot of benefit, and the training times weren't very flexible. Expense wasn't so much an issue, but that PTA also had quite a bit of money in their budget. It might have been an issue for other PTAs that weren't in the same budget space. My biggest complaint about the state PTA advocacy arm was that in order to be part of setting the budget, you had to attend the annual conference, which generally cost some money. More importantly, it was a day and a half or two days out of a weekend with minimal thought to child care. Because I was responsible for child care during the day on Saturday, I couldn't go. They also took 50%+1 as enough support in a vote to go to Olympia to advocate for something. That led to the state PTA supporting charter schools at the state level.

My last year on the PTA board, there was a moderate crisis where the treasurer went out of country to do some charitable work, got sick, and was unfortunately absent for the last third of the school year. I 100% support what she did, but there were bad feelings among some parents who felt that money may have disappeared. The books were all squared away in the end with no missing money, but it was a hassle for the PTA president.

The PTO was formed in response to several things that the state PTA decided to support that the parents at the school did not, charter schools being prime among them. They also chafed at the amount of their dues that they sent away to city, state, and national, for what they perceived as a lack of support. Money that would have been spent on those dues is now funneled back into the school via grants to teachers, staff, and student clubs. the PTO hasn't had any particular crises, although sometimes recruiting officers has been an issue. I don't think this is unique to PTOs as opposed to PTAs, though.

For both, I think community engagement and community satisfaction with the PTA or PTO is about who is running the show. The PTO probably has a little more rope to hang themselves with since they don't have the structure of the bigger organization. But they also have a little more flexibility in how they support their schools. On balance, I slightly prefer the PTO, but I wouldn't say that it's the PTO way or the highway.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unclear, I'm not sure it's more risk necessarily. It is more freedom and your fundraising all goes to your school. Richard laid out the pros and cons and each school community would need to decide.

I can say that at the state and national level they have brought in partners that I would be uncomfortable supporting. I have seen at the state level a kind of control of the agenda/conversation that I also found to be an issue that I did not like.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, can you please get a little more specific than "uncomfortable supporting" and "a kind of control of the agenda/conversation...that I did not like."



Curious said...

"President Harris said she would be "measured and careful." I've heard Ms. Hampson at a couple of public events and that would not be my take on her"
Melissa, I value your opinion. What do you mean?
And if not Hampson, would any of the co VPs have been a better fit for prez?

Anonymous said...

@ Melissa, Thanks for the clarification. I assumed more independence and less oversight would mean more risk, but maybe that's not the case.

Is the "charter school" analogy completely off base? It sounds a bit like PTOs want to do things their own way and with less oversight, kind of like charter schools. Or maybe a better comparison would be to the recent supreme court anti-union ruling, since it sounds PTOs often are formed because parents don't want to be forced to contribute to a larger public policy agenda they may not support (or that even if they do support they larger agenda, they don't want to contribute funds to it)? Do PTOs often donate money to other advocacy efforts or schools, or are they largely an "us first" type of organization.

@ Eric B, PTA general funds can't used for membership scholarships, but specially designated funds can be set up for that purpose. Funding shouldn't be a barrier to participation. Granted a high-poverty school might have more trouble raising dedicated scholarship funds from the small percentage of higher income parents, but I would think some community outreach could raise enough to support memberships for all if a school wanted to go the PTA route.

I don't know much about the national or WA state PTAs, and I'm not suggesting PTAs are necessarily better, but I think what disturbs me is my sense (perhaps incorrect) that PTOs are about keeping all the money in-house and not having to contribute to the larger effort. Is that inaccurate?

Thank you all for helping me (gradually) become less


Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not comfortable with the state PTA being a partner with McDonald's for fairly obvious reasons.

National PTA supports charter schools. National PTA supports high-stakes testing AND they are quite clear in what they think of opting out (spoiler alert: they don't like it):

"National PTA does not support state and district policies that allow students to opt-out of state assessments that are designed to improve teaching and learning. While we recognize that parents are a child’s first teacher and respect the rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, the association believes the consequences of nonparticipation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Nonparticipation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and meaningful interventions for student subgroups, which would have a disparate impact on minorities and students with special needs and widen the achievement gap. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, instructional strategies and exams, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data sets for states and schools.

States provide clear and easily accessible information to parents, educators, school districts and the community regarding nonparticipation in state assessments and the consequences it may have on students, schools and educators. States should also collect data on the number and frequency of students who opt-out of state assessments and report on the impact to instructional practices, teacher and principal evaluations and school accountability measures."

As for control, I was referring to what happened several years back at a WA PTSA convention and some Seattle delegates wanted to challenge some resolutions and were not allowed to speak (rules were cited but it was shocking to see discussion tamped down). I note that after that WA PTSA got much clearer on resolutions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ms. Hampson reached out to me long ago when Sand Point was restarting. I dropped everything to try to help including going to a lengthy Saturday meeting she had organized for parents. I tried to give them background information and advice. After that, I didn't hear much from her (which was fine) but as of late, it seems I am someone she doesn't think much of. She is entitled to her opinion but it does seem odd given my willingness to try to help her school community. A couple of months back, on a Facebook page, she publicly challenged my heritage and upbringing. I find that offensive as I think most anyone would.

I don't know that I think she will be effective because, just like her predecessor, Sebrena Burr, while she is bright and passionate on issues, she has a tendency to lecture and be somewhat strident in her tone. Last spring at an event the City organized around education, Hampson was on a panel where she seemed to lecture more than inform. It was off-putting.

She could be effective, I don't know. I don't know either of the vice-presidents, either, so I am not in a place to make that judgement about who would be most effective.

Unclear, I had not thought of a connection of a PTO to a charter school. What's interesting about that is that a PTO has less oversight than a charter school (which has some - if not great - governmental oversight). I also perceive that the principal's role in a PTO is whatever the parents want to make of it. I do think that principals are more in an equal role in PTOs than PTAs. My experience is that PTAs tend to let the principal decide where the fundraising should go.

I would not compare a PTO to a union because PTOs tend to let everyone vote and unions don't allow that unless you are a member.

Every PTO is different so I can't say who goes it alone but I would think a PTO is every bit as likely to want to help another school as a PTA. But PTOs exist because they don't believe in the "larger effort" of what regional, state and national do. Otherwise, they would probably see the benefit and stay.

Eric B said...

@unclear, thanks for identifying that loophole. At hte time at the PTA, we did not know it existed. Both the PTA and PTO that I was involved with took input from the principal on where money should go. Both also had a good relationship with the principals involved (several for the PTA, one for the PTO). If the relationship wasn't as good, I can see things getting strained quickly with either organization.

I see what you mean by comparing PTOs with charters and the Janus decision. Another, less polarizing, way to look at it is as a "buy local" movement to try to keep your economic impact in the community.

Anonymous said...

@ Eric B, The pro-PTO “buy local” argument makes some sense, although not when viewed in context of the newer thread that seems to blame private school parents for supposedly not using their resources to support the greater good (i.e., beyond their own school). Isn’t that just a different form of buy local? It sounds like a double standard—that it makes perfect sense for PTOs to try to keep all their finding and not contribute to a larger public education policy agenda, but it’s not ok for private school parents to (supposedly) not contribute to public education. What am I missing?


Anonymous said...

Wait, Chandra Hampson might actually run for school board? That is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard. She is one of the most mean-spirited people I've ever encountered. She is convinced she is smarter than everyone else and knows better than everyone else - these are not the qualities to have in a school board member.


old salt said...

I have been part of 3 PTA's & 1 PTO as well as independent booster clubs in SPS. The differences that I saw were that the PTA's spent most of their time fundraising, included fewer staff & teachers, and were less integrated into the school itself. The PTO had more staff & teachers involved, managed more volunteer hours for the school than dollars, and knew more about what was happening at school.

Concerning advocacy to the larger community, my experience was being on the legislative listserve for WA PTSA for a number of years and I got the message that Seattle opinions & advocates were not encouraged. There was a clear political agenda that didn't include Seattle and the voting was designed to make it difficult to participate. The PTO I was part of regularly organized advocacy at the district level, several times collaborating with schools from other parts of our city including some of those with highest FRL. Also several times organized advocacy to state legislators and legislative testimony around issues brought to the PTO board by teachers or students. (Never one time, in 13 years, did one of my PTA's give legislative advocacy support requested by teachers or students in our school.)

So I think your experience can vary with both groups, but I was really glad to unsubscribe to the WA PTSA legislative group and it left a very bad taste in my mouth for PTA in this state. My PTO experience was better.

Eric B said...

Unclear, I think the concern about parents going to private school is less that they are taking kids (and therefore state funding) out of the public school system and more that they are potentially less likely to support public school systems for everyone else. I don't think that's the same thing that you see with PTOs, but maybe we just need to agree to disagree at this point.

Anonymous said...

Some of the option schools that have PTOs were among the original alternative schools in Seattle that started in the 1970s. Most of these schools have a Site Council -- the members of Site Council are also the board of directors of the separately incorporated PTO, which is for fundraising. A site council will typically include parents, teachers, administrators and sometimes community reps from the neighborhood. The idea of a Site Council is to have shared governance at the school, i.e., to include all these different groups in decision making as much as possible. Thus, the fundraising is closely linked to shared priorities for how best to use the money that is raised.

I've had kids at schools with a Site Council/PTO and with a PTA and I vastly prefer the Site Council/PTO model. The biggest difference is cultural. With a Site Council structure in place, the community has a voice in developing and growing the school's culture through decisions, directing volunteers and fundraising.

Site Council Fan

Curious said...

Thank you Melissa for your honest answer about Chandra. I just had an aha! moment. I have been in meetings with her and could never put my finger on how she made me feel.
I don't know where the information about her running for school board comes from. If she runs, I hope she does not win. We need action, not lectures, even coming from a Stanford graduate. Just sayin'

Jet City mom said...

I only had direct experience with schools that were accredited through PNAIS, so I should have been more clear with my anecdote.

Anonymous said...

At Hale we went from a PTA to a PTO. Mostly due to the massive amounts of training required for a PTA and the cost of that training. Nobody wanted to run for anything because no one had the time for all that training. Plus at Hale, the PTO does not fundraise. That is what the Hale Foundation does. The PTO assists but doesn't spearhead it.