Last year’s PTA president said it was an easy job, just run a few meetings, so you said yes and got elected. But now they’ve dropped off this big box of PTA files and sped away like they had robbed a bank, and maybe you’re beginning to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself in for. Don’t panic—read on for nine tips on how to survive your first few months as a new PTA president.
- Get to know your Region or District Director. Every PTA in Illinois has a support person. For most PTAs, this is your Region Director (or perhaps District Director in Chicago). If your region doesn’t have a director, it might be the Vice President of Membership or someone appointed to be your PTA’s contact. While they may contact you from time to time to remind you about tax filing deadlines, grant opportunities, and other matters, they are also there to help you. If you have a question, don’t know how to handle a situation with a board member, or are looking for ideas for an event, your PTA’s support person is there to help.
- Get trained. You wouldn’t go to a surgeon who hadn’t been to medical school and you wouldn’t let your elementary school kid fix the brakes on your car because they don’t have the training to do the job. Likewise, you should get trained to run your PTA. While you may think it’s “just a PTA,” to the IRS, your PTA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and with that comes legal responsibilities. Illinois PTA offers numerous training opportunities, either from state leaders online or from your district or region either in-person or online. It’s the same training everywhere, so even if the training in your region doesn’t work for your schedule, if you hear about a training course in a neighboring region that fits your schedule, feel free to attend that one.
- Meet with your board. One of the hardest things for some PTA presidents to learn is that they don’t have to do it all. You have a PTA board (your officers and committee chairs) to help you. Plan to meet with your board over the summer to set expectations and plan for the year ahead. While you could have this meeting after school starts, having it in the summer lets you avoid the chaos of the start of the school year and the start of Scouts, soccer, fall baseball, and all the other fall activities.
- Meet with your principal. A good working relationship between a PTA president and a principal can be a huge advantage. Reach out to your school’s principal to find a quiet time to meet before school starts to get to know each other, to discuss how the PTA calendar and school calendar will fit together, and to find out what goals they may have for the school year (there may be a PTA program to support them).
- Plan your membership drive. Members are what makes your PTA happen, so use PTA’s membership materials to have a successful membership campaign. Some of those people who join your PTA as members this year will likely be volunteers, committee chairs, and officers in future years. PTAs that increase their membership are recognized by the Illinois PTA.
- Plan your PTA calendar. One of the best handouts to have at your membership table is a calendar of everything your PTA will be doing during the year—events, programs, PTA meetings, and more. Work with your board to decide what you want to do this year, set tentative dates, and confirm with your school principal that those dates will work with the school calendar.
- Plan your budget. Once you know what your PTA wants to accomplish during the year, it’s time to create a budget. Figure out what your events will cost as well as your other PTA activities for the year, determine how much fundraising must be done to meet those costs, and then decide what fundraisers you need to meet those revenue goals.
- Be an advocate. PTA’s mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” Remember, though, that advocacy is not just speaking to legislators. Your PTA can advocate locally within your school or in your school district. Illinois PTA’s Local Unit Advocacy Toolkit can help you advocate whenever an issue arises that your PTA wants to speak out on.
- Plan your first PTA meeting. Your first PTA meeting of the year is the one that everyone comes to, and if you’re a first-time PTA president, you’re probably a little nervous running your first meeting. Taking some time to plan ahead on how your first meeting will go and the things you need to cover will help make it run smoothly and quickly, both things that encourage people to come back for the next PTA meeting.
Photo © 2008 by Jim Linwood under Creative Commons license.