News from the Illinois PTA Convention—School of Excellence Program

At first glance, Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville looks like a school that would be struggling to get families involved. The Pre-K through fourth grade school has just under 400 students, and 91% are from low-income families, 100% receive free lunch, 75% are Hispanic, and 53% are English Language Learners.

And a few years ago, it was a school struggling to involve families. The PTA was made up of three to five parents most years, all of whom were alumni of the school 30 years earlier, and PTA meetings might have a dozen parents show up. Hispanic families rarely came into the school.

Today, Kreitner PTA has as many as 200 people attending their PTA meetings, membership is up nearly 600%, student achievement is improving, and 95% of parents would recommend the school to others, based on the 5 Essentials Survey. What caused this dramatic change at Kreitner? The short answer is the National PTA School of Excellence program, described by Kreitner PTA treasurer and Special Education teacher Greg Hobbs simply as, “The best thing a PTA can do.”

Starting the Process

At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, PTA leaders and staff from Kreitner shared how they had used the National PTA School of Excellence program to engage the families at their school and transform both their PTA and their school. The School of Excellence program begins with the PTA choosing a focus for their efforts. At Kreitner, that focus was family engagement because everyone involved felt that issue was critical to everything else they wanted to happen at the school.

The next step in the process is to survey families about the school. The program offers an online survey, but only about 70% of Kreitner families have internet access at home, so the PTA felt that the online survey wouldn’t work for them. They set up a paper survey with the questions in English on one side of the paper and in Spanish on the other side. To encourage families to return the surveys, they offered a drawing for a Walmart gift card from among those who responded. PTA leaders then spent a fair amount of time entering those responses online.

Surprising Results

The results of the survey were surprising to both PTA leaders and school administrators. The School of Excellence survey is designed to give schools and PTAs a mapping of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing a “Roadmap to Excellence” that the PTA can use to work towards their goal. PTA leaders and school administrators had long assumed that the reason Hispanic families did not come to PTA meetings or events was due to the language barrier. What the survey showed, however, was that these families did not feel welcome at the school or in the PTA.

Transforming a PTA and a School

Based on the results of the survey and using the Roadmap to Excellence, Kreitner PTA developed a plan to welcome every family into the school. They began by working with their school district to translate PTA materials into Spanish and convinced the district to pay for a translator at their PTA meetings.

They worked to get teachers on board with the PTA as well. Their “Building a Strong PTA” membership drive had each teacher who joined the PTA get a cutout of a hammer with their name on it posted on their door (and classroom aides who joined added a second hammer). When families joined the PTA, a nail was added to each teacher’s door that had a child from that family. They held a drawing for a $25 gift card for classroom supplies for the teacher whose class had the highest percentage of membership by the end of October. The result was every teacher joining the PTA, including all of the traveling teachers who were only at the school part time.

Member Benefits

With all of the teachers on board and a growing number of families joining, Kreitner PTA then decided to provide some local member benefits for joining the PTA. Every year the PTA would have a fall festival that served as their primary fundraiser. Families would purchase tickets for students to participate in games and activities for $0.25 each and could purchase a hot dog for $1.00 at the festival. For PTA members, Kreitner provided PTA members a couple of activity tickets and a free hot dog for each child in the family. Families could purchase a PTA membership at the door, so some families could actually save more than they spent on a PTA membership that night alone.

While the member benefits cost the PTA at the door, they still made money at the festival through additional ticket and hot dog sales. Membership jumped to 147, up from 25 the year before. The real benefit for Kreitner PTA, though, was getting many more families coming through the school door and becoming familiar with the PTA, teachers, and staff.

Involving the Kids

So how did Kreitner PTA get 200 people at a PTA meeting? By including the kids at many PTA meetings. They helped form a dance team that does traditional Mexican dances and had them perform at a meeting. Another PTA meeting featured a schoolwide talent show, while another featured artworks for sale created by every student.

Before the PARCC assessments last spring, they hosted a PARCC Pizza Night for students and families. Families could choose to hear the program in either English or Spanish, rather than the English with Spanish translation that the PTA uses for most events and meetings. Students attended with their families and could demonstrate what they had learned that year and how they were ready for the PARCC assessment. The PTA included a drawing for one of three gift cards as well to encourage families to attend.

The End Result

Kreitner PTA completed its follow-up survey last spring and was named a National PTA School of Excellence. But beyond the recognition, Kreitner PTA leaders noted a significant milestone for the PTA. Even as more Hispanic families attended PTA meetings with the translator translating everything, PTA business was generally conducted with the English-speaking parents making motions and contributing most of the discussion on those motions before everyone voted. However, at a recent PTA meeting, a motion was made in Spanish, discussed in Spanish, and the vote conducted in Spanish, all with English translation.

That is not to say that Kreitner PTA still doesn’t face challenges. Post-election immigration fears have reduced the number of Hispanic families attending PTA and school events, and PTA leaders and school staff are working to deal with those concerns. However, everyone involved with the School of Excellence program feel that it has provided them with the tools, insight, and ability to address these challenges as well as any future ones.

Sign Up Your PTA for the School of Excellence Program

Sign-up for the National PTA School of Excellence program begins in early April and runs through October 15. Keep an eye on the National PTA webpage on the program as well as National PTA and Illinois PTA social media for the launch of the 2017-2018 program. While you are waiting, you can share the results of the 2015-2016 School of Excellence program with your principal and superintendent. Those results include a 30% increase in families’ perceptions of how their child’s school is doing on all six of the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

5 Ways to Fire Up Your Middle School or High School PTA

1280px-Calhan_High_School_Senior_Classroom_by_David_ShankbonePTAs and PTSAs at the middle school and high school level often struggle. It’s not that families are no longer involved with the school, it’s that they are now spread out among athletic boosters, band, orchestra, drama, and other groups as well as the PTA. Here are some ideas to fire up families to engage with your middle or high school PTA.

  1. Focus on Communication
    Middle and high school students are notoriously uncommunicative about what goes on at school, and a newsletter would likely end up buried on the bottom of a backpack until the end of the school year. That means that families are hungry for information about what is happening at the school, and PTA is in the perfect position to be that information source.

    Create an e-mail list to send information out to families and students. Having a laptop at registration, open house, and other events where people can type in their e-mail addresses will save you having to decipher handwriting and avoid bounced e-mails. Work with your school administration to see if the daily announcements can be e-mailed out to families. It may be easier to set it up so a school secretary can send it out once the announcement sheet is ready.

  1. Make Your PTA Meetings Informative Rather than “Business-y”
    Adults already sit in lots of business meetings all day, and adding another one in the evening is not very appealing. Turn your PTA meetings into sources of information rather than conducting lots of business at them. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the annual audit, to adopt or amend the budget, to amend the bylaws, to elect a nominating committee, and to elect officers. Move all other business matters to your PTA board meetings or committee meetings. Highlight what it going on at the school both academically and with extra-curricular activities. Consider having a “vendor fair” of all the clubs and sports at the school. Have teachers spotlight new curriculum or interesting class projects. Provide presentations on student and family needs, such as staying on the college-ready path through middle and high school, how to apply to college, how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or families role in driver’s education.
  1. Cut Back or Eliminate Fundraising
    Just as middle and high school families are spread out among many student organizations, those organizations are often all raising funds for their activities, many of them at the start of the school year. Avoid the competition and fundraising fatigue by cutting back or eliminating PTA fundraising.

    PTAs should always plan their program year before determining how much money they need to raise to implement that program. Changing your PTA’s focus from buying things for the school to doing things for the school, students, and families can reduce the amount of money your PTA needs to raise. Consider making your membership dues sufficient to meet your budget. While some families may be concerned about the higher dues, many are happy to join when told that the PTA will not be coming to them with fundraising programs during the year. Look at non-dues sources of revenue such as PTA member benefits from Illinois PTA and National PTA, affiliate programs from national or local stores (e.g., a percent of each purchase is donated to the PTA), or restaurant dine-out nights. Remember that to protect their 501(c)3 status, PTAs cannot endorse commercial entities (e.g., “Eat at X restaurant because they’re giving PTA 10% of sales tonight.”) but can state that businesses are supporters of the PTA (e.g., “X restaurant is sponsoring a Lincoln PTA night tomorrow by donating 10% of all orders.”). In other words, you can’t tell people to support a business, but you can say the business is supporting the PTA.

  1. Make It Clear that Joining PTA is to Support the PTA
    Many parents, especially those fresh from active elementary school PTAs, have a fear of being asked to do things and cite that as a reason not to join the PTA. Make it clear to your families that joining the PTA is solely to support your PTA and the programs you provide. Let them know that signing up for the PTA e-mail list isn’t limited to PTA members (you’re providing information to all families, and once they see all the good things your PTA is doing, they are more likely to join). You can still do the occasional ask for help through your e-mail list, but be sure to break it down into small bits (e.g., donating paper products, plastic utensils, a dish, or drinks for a teacher appreciation breakfast).
  1. Don’t Forget the Students
    Think about becoming a PTSA if you are not one already. Middle and high school students are beginning to take more responsibility and also looking for activities that look good on college applications. Consider adding a student representative (or one from each grade) to your PTSA board. Use teacher and administrator recommendations for potential representatives, as they know which students are well-connected with their peers and what is going on in the student population. Have the student representative share what students are concerned about at your meetings. Let students sign up for the PTA e-mail list as well, since they may not be able to hear the morning announcements well in their first-period classroom.

Photo © 2008 by David Shankbone under Creative Commons license.

National PTA Back-to-School Kit Now Available

BTSK-2016-1It’s that time of year again! The 2016-2017 National PTA Official Back-To-School Kit launched on Monday, June 27. As always, it’s jam-packed with tools, resources and info—all specially designed to help you run your PTA. It’s a one-stop click for everything you need to know.

For the second year, the kit is completely digital and mobile-friendly. This means you can view the website from your phone, tablet, or other mobile devices. Having the Back-To-School Kit with you while you’re on the go is a big perk. We guarantee it will help you be more efficient and productive as a PTA leader.

Here are the top three things you need to know about this year’s kit:

  1. This Back-to-School Kit is a Member Benefit
    Only PTA members can register and access the 2016-2017 Back-to-School Kit. Keeping helpful resources at your fingertips is one of the many ways National PTA supports you, our hardworking and deserving members. You have an important job to do and we believe this kit gives you the tools you need to be a standout leader.
  1. PTA Members Need to Register to Access the Website
    Registration is a very simple process:
  • Go to org. President Laura Bay’s welcome video and the homepage are open to everyone.
  • Once you begin to use the site, you’ll be prompted to register. There is also a “REGISTRATION” tab on the top right corner of the homepage.
  • Fill out all of the required information.
  • Once you’ve completed your registration, you’ll receive an e-mail with a link. Click the link to set a username and password.
  • After your username and password are set, you can access all areas of the Back-to-School Kit.
  1. All State and Local Leaders that Register for the 2016-2017 National PTA Official Back-to-School Kit Will Receive a Special Recruitment Tool

    Our brand new Recruitment Tool is a physical packet of information that will help you describe PTA’s goals, structure, and message. More importantly, it’ll help you recruit new members. At this time, only state and local leaders (region, council, district and local unit presidents) will receive the special recruitment tool. However, it can and should be shared with unit members.

  • When registering for the Back-to-School Kit, state and local unit presidents should provide the mailing address for where they’d like to receive this Recruitment Tool.
  • Mailing for the recruitment tools will take place from July to September 2016.
  • No additional packets can be requested at this time. However, we anticipate that many PTAs will request additional packets, and we are currently working on a plan that will accommodate those needs in the future.

Questions?

For a Back-to-School Kit FAQ, log onto PTA.org/BTSKit or contact us at BackToSchool@PTA.org. National PTA is also producing a how-to video that will walk members through the registration process.

10 Great Ways to Get More PTA Volunteers

8975602227_090ce649a2_oPTA is the largest volunteer organization in the world focused on the welfare of children. From the person sitting at a registration table at open house on up to the National PTA president, almost all of the work done by PTA is done by volunteers. Here are XX ways your PTA can get more volunteers.

  1. Target new families to your school.
    New families want to know what is going on at school, so having your PTA reach out to those families can be an important first step towards getting them to volunteer. Consider creating a PTA Welcome Packet for new families.
  1. Toot your PTA’s horn.
    Families aren’t going to know what your PTA is doing if you are not showing them and telling them. Be sure to post invitations to upcoming events on your PTA’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, e-mail list, and in your newsletter. Follow up with pictures and thanks to your volunteers after the event through all of those media. Develop a communications plan for your PTA.
  1. Find the hidden talents in your school.
    The Cub Scout program is another volunteer-led organization that has used a Family Talent Survey to identify the interests and skills that families might be able to share as part of the program. Think about the skills, talents, and interests that parallel what your PTA does to create a family talent survey for your PTA. Use it to find the artist who might be interested in helping with your PTA Reflections program or the designer who might be willing to help create eye-catching flyers and posters.
  1. Ask for feedback after an event.
    Your PTA may have those involved in planning an event review how it went afterwards and consider how it might be improved. Don’t limit your feedback to just your organizers. Survey families at an event to find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they would change as well. Be sure to include “I would like to help plan this event next year” and “I would like to volunteer at this event next year” options along with contact information at the bottom.
  1. Keep volunteer shifts short.
    Everybody at a PTA event wants to spend time enjoying it with their family. By keeping your volunteer shifts short, more people are likely to volunteer because they know they won’t be missing much time with their family. Take advantage of the Illinois PTA member benefit that provides your PTA with a free premium upgrade with Volunteer Spot.
  1. Use a procedure book to make volunteering less intimidating.
    A procedure book preserves your PTA’s knowledge about how to run an event or fulfill the duties of a board or officer position. It is also a great volunteer recruiting tool. A well-designed procedure book that includes detailed information on what has been done to plan an event in the past is like a guidebook to a foreign land, providing information on things you shouldn’t miss and potential stumbling blocks.
  1. Be sure to support your volunteers.
    Don’t just hand a volunteer a job description or a procedure book and send them on their way. Be sure to check in to see if they have any questions or issues. Show them that you value the time they are giving the PTA by giving them some of your time and attention.
  1. Talk to those that aren’t volunteering.
    There are many reasons why someone may not be volunteering for your PTA. Many of those reasons may be based on myths about volunteering for your PTA. By talking with those who aren’t volunteering, you can dispel some of those myths and get new volunteers.
  1. Add diversity to your PTA.
    Look at who your PTA leaders and members are. Do they represent the diversity of your school, not just by race, but also by age, gender, language, socioeconomic status, or other measures? If not, you have a pool of potential PTA members and volunteers that you are currently not reaching. Use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to reach out to those communities and broaden your PTA.
  1. Thank your volunteers often and publicly.
    Most people aren’t volunteering with the PTA just for personal recognition, but publicly thanking and recognizing your volunteers makes them feel valued and more likely to volunteer again.

 

Graphic © 2013 by Pump Aid Pictures under Creative Commons license.