Creating a Social Justice Reading Group for Children and Their Families

Seeing an increase in intolerance shortly after the 2016 election, National Education Policy Center(NEPC) director Kevin Welner and associate director Michelle Renée Valladares were discussing how to address the issue with their young children. They decided to collaborate other parents and their children to create an intergenerational social justice reading group. The aim was to provide a learning experience to counterbalance the negative political comments about people of color, immigrants, and other historically disenfranchised groups.

They decided to share their experience running the reading group with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project. Through this collaboration came a new Reading for Social Justice guide.

The guide provides everything a group of parents or teachers need to set up a social justice reading group for families, covering:

  • Things to think about before starting your reading group
  • How to organize your reading group
  • How to set content and literacy goals for your group
  • How to select what books to read
  • How to run your reading group meetings

The guide shares the experiences of three reading groups from Colorado, Texas, and South Carolina. There is a recommended book list and places to find other similar lists. The appendices provide information for teachers on laying the groundwork for a reading group, a planning workbook, and a sample teaching strategy.

There are benefits in creating a reading group for both adults and children for everyone involved, including improvements in school climate, in family and community engagement, and in reading and language skills. Other benefits are:

  • Reading groups support children in processing current events and hard truths about the world around them.
  • Reading groups help children situate present events within a larger historical context of social injustice.
  • Reading groups facilitate social emotional learning.
  • Reading groups develop critical thinking and literacy skills.
  • Reading groups build family and community engagement.
  • Family engagement bolsters students’ academic performance.

Check out Teaching Tolerance’s Reading for Social Justice guide and start planning for your reading group.

Nominations and Elections—A How to Guide for PTAs

One of the critical roles given to a PTA’s general membership is the election of its officers, a process that begins with the election of the nominating committee by the general membership. Nominating and electing a good slate of officers is essential for a PTA’s success.

Nominations and Elections Timeline

Because the nomination and election of officers is a central part of how a PTA operates, most of the information you need on how your PTA conducts this process will be in your local PTA bylaws. Article VI—Officers and Their Election contains most of the details.

To determine when nominations and elections need to occur for your PTA, you have to work backwards from the election date. Section 2b of Article VI says when the election of officers is to be conducted. For most PTAs, this is the last PTA meeting of the school year. Once you know the date your PTA will be conducting the election, Section 4b of Article VI states that the nominating committee must report the slate at least 30 days prior to the election meeting. Because you will want to give the nominating committee time to do their work in determining a slate of candidates, you will need to elect the nominating committee a month or two prior to when the committee needs to make its report.

So for a PTA holding an election at their May general membership meeting, the nominating committee will need to make their report in April. That means that PTAs should be electing their nominating committee in February or March at the latest.

Nominating Committee

Section 3 of Article VI states that the nominating committee is to be elected, and Section 4 spells out how big the committee is and where its members are elected from. PTAs are encouraged to have their nominating committee made up of an odd number of people so that the committee is less likely to have a tie when voting between multiple candidates for the slate.

In general, a PTA’s executive board (officers and committee chairs) and the general membership each elect nominating committee members and one alternate from their body. The PTA president may not serve on the nominating committee. The nominating committee meets immediately after their election and determines its own committee chair.

Nominating committee members should review the duties for each office, found in Article VII of the PTA’s bylaws, to familiarize themselves with what skills the committee will be looking for in candidates for each position. Those already in an officer position and eligible for reelection should be considered by the committee, but the committee is free to nominate someone else for the position.

The nominating committee should keep all discussion of potential candidates confidential within the committee. That allows committee members to speak freely on the qualifications of each potential nominee without fear of having critical comments go beyond the committee.

The committee must have the consent of a proposed nominee to slate them, and the proposed nominee must be a member of the PTA or of the PTA for a feeder school for at least 30 days prior to the election in order to be nominated (Article VI, Section 4d). Where the committee is considering between two or more potential nominees, the committee selects the nominee by majority vote by ballot.

Nominating committee members may be considered as a nominee for an officer position. If that is the case, the committee member being considered leaves the room for the discussion of all nominees for that position and does not return until the committee has determined their nominee. The alternate member from the body (executive board or general membership) replaces the committee member who was excused during consideration of nominees for that position.

When the nominating committee decides on a candidate for a positon, they should contact that person while the committee is meeting to confirm their agreement to be nominated. The committee nominates one person for each officer position listed in the bylaws and makes its report of the nominees at least 30 days prior to the election meeting.


At the election meeting, the PTA president has the nominating committee chair again read the slate of candidates nominated by the committee. The president then asks if there are nominations from the floor, going through each position one at a time. If someone is nominated from the floor, the president should confirm that the person has agreed to be nominated and has been a member of the PTA or a member of the PTA at a feeder school for at least 30 days. When there are no further nominations from the floor, the president declares that nominations are closed.

Section 2b of Article VI states that the election is to be conducted by ballot, but that if there is only one nominee for an office, the election for that position may be conducted by voice with a motion from the floor to do so. That means that if there are two candidates for President, but only one candidate for Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, a motion can be made to conduct the election of the latter three positions by voice, but the election of the President would still be by ballot.

Conducting the election by voice vote is a two-step process. First, the motion is made and seconded to conduct the election by voice for uncontested positions. This requires a majority vote to approve. A second motion is then made to make the nominated candidate(s) the elected officer(s) for those uncontested elections.

When a ballot vote must be conducted, the President appoints three tellers to handle the election. The tellers are to:

  • Verify that the person being given a ballot is a PTA member
  • Informs each member to indicate their choice by making an “X” in the box next to the person’s name that they wish to vote for (i.e., not a check mark, but two crossing lines)
  • Collects the ballots or makes sure that they are deposited in a sealed ballot box
  • Retire to count the ballots when the polls are closed
  • Report the results of the ballot election without declaring that the individuals are elected, and hand the report to the PTA President

In order to vote in the election, a person must have been a member of the PTA for at least 30 days prior to the election. This 30 day membership requirement for both candidates and voters is to protect your PTA. It means that a crowd of people cannot walk into your PTA’s election meeting, pay membership dues, and then nominate and elect a candidate who just joined the PTA that day.

When the election is concluded, whether by ballot or voice vote, the President declares who has been elected for each position. Those newly elected officers will assume their official duties as described in the bylaws (Article VI, Section 2c).

Additional information on nominations and elections can be found in the President section of the Illinois PTA Leadership Resources.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

Children’s success in school isn’t limited to just academics. PTA has known this since our founding, focusing our advocacy efforts not just on children’s needs at school, but at home and in their community as well. Now, the education and public health sectors are aiming to better align their efforts to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development through an effort known as Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC).

The WSCC model is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) framework for addressing health in schools. The model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting the school. It consists of ten components of student health:

  1. Physical Education and Physical Activity
  2. Nutrition Environment and Services
  3. Health Education
  4. Social and Emotional School Climate
  5. Physical Environment
  6. Health Services
  7. Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services
  8. Employee Wellness
  9. Community Involvement
  10. Family Engagement

The WSCC model aligns with the Family & Community Engagement goal from Illinois PTA’s new Strategic Framework. Our goal is “Illinois PTA will look at the whole child, building bridges to other organizations and communities (ethnic, socio-economic, etc.) to provide PTA programs, education, support, and resources to all families.”

A new report recently evaluated how well the WSCC model is covered in state statutes and regulations across the country in each of the ten components. Illinois was one of ten states determined to both broad (defined as being rated moderate or comprehensive in 8 model components) and deep (defined as being rated as comprehensive in 6 or more components. Illinois’s statutes and regulations were ranked low in two components, Nutrition Environment and Services and Employee Wellness.

Advocacy Day 2019—A Challenging and Rewarding Day

Illinois PTA hosted is Advocacy Day in Springfield last Wednesday, February 6th. Though the weather did not cooperate, making travel difficult or impossible for some PTA advocates, Illinois PTA was still able to visit with every legislator’s staff and meet with a few legislators as well. A few of our advocates who had ducked in to see the House in session just before lunch ran into our new governor, JB Pritzker! If you couldn’t make it, you can still contact your legislators about our advocacy issues through our latest Call to Action.

Our three primary advocacy topics this Advocacy Day were:

School Funding

Illinois’s new Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) model provides an equitable way of distributing state funding to schools by determining what research and data shows to be the cost of educating a student coupled with a school district’s ability to meet that cost through local property taxes. What that model also shows is that 83% of Illinois school districts are below 90% of their adequate funding level, and that bringing every district to their full adequate level of funding would cost an additional $7.37 billion. While the General Assembly has committed to an additional $350 million per year for ten years, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability estimates that at that rate it will take 31 years to reach full adequate funding. Illinois PTA does not believe that it is in our children’s or our state’s best interest to not fully fund schools until 2050.

Given the financial difficulties faced by the state, one cannot talk about additional spending without being willing to talk about revenue, and that was the other part of Illinois PTA’s focus on school funding during Advocacy Day. We spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax, a position of our legislative platform for years. We also would support a potential increase in taxes on services to bring us in line with our neighboring states. Finally, we spoke in favor of eliminating the scholarship fund inserted into the EBF bill at the last minute that diverts up to $75 million in public funds for private school vouchers with no clear accountability on how those funds are being handled.

Juvenile Justice

In 2017, Illinois PTA released a report on young adults involved in the justice system, and among the recommendations adopted by the convention delegates from that report was advocating for changes in how young adults ages 18 to 24 are handled by the justice system. That report continues to generate national interest, most recently in a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University.

Based on our position on this issue, Illinois PTA spoke with legislators in favor of SB 239 and HB 1465, companion bills just introduced prior to Advocacy Day that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for misdemeanors from 18 to 21 through a phased in process. We also supported providing counsel to all alleged juvenile offenders throughout their involvement in the justice system, reducing the disproportionate representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, and assuring that juvenile court jurisdiction is based on age by eliminating automatic transfers to adult court.

Environmental Resolutions

Shortly after taking office, Governor Pritzker signed an executive order confirming that Illinois will abide by the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Based on our resolution on climate change, Illinois PTA asked legislators to make Governor Pritzker’s decision a reality by enacting legislation that would support renewable energy resources and regulate activities that contribute to the adverse effects of climate change. Illinois PTA also spoke out in favor of regulations that would prevent adverse environmental effects from fracking based on our resolution on hydraulic fracturing.